The common sense around reading is to only read one book at a time. Some people even insist that books must be read cover to cover. This could be called reading in serial. It is the general way that I read when I was younger. If I started another book before finishing one, teachers and parents would tell me that is a bad habit.
For the last year, I have been reading multiple books at a time. The benefits were not planned, but they have been large. They convinced me to switch how I read.
The biggest benefits I have gotten are:
I enjoy reading more. The key for me has been to pick a few books on very different topics. When I am looking for something to do with free time, it is very likely that I am willing to read at least of one of those books. Thus I end up reading more. Reading more frequently makes it into a stable habit. There aren’t large lulls in between books since I am never finishing more than a fraction of my current books. The habit is to read in general, not to read a specific book.
An increased likelihood of stumbling onto a new insight. Ideas from books stay much less contained in their author’s narrowly defined context. They mix with each other and my day to day. It constantly surprises me how I find parallels across different topics. Most good ideas are just mixing together enough ideas and seeing which combinations are actually good. Reading multiple books at once is a lab for idea generation that fits into an app (I’ve gone mostly digital).
Reading is more applicable to my life. I find the ideas and their derivative insights seep into my work and my personal life. One side effect of reading multiple books at once is that I progress through them all slower. The books have more time to bounce off of different life situations and often end up influencing them. Reading slower also helps me internalize ideas better.
I am still trying to decide what the right number of books is for me. It seems like 3-5. I typically like a psychology book, a business book, well written fiction and 1 – 2 technical books.