For as long as I can remember, I was a monogamous reader. I'd start a book and read it straight through no matter how much time that took. Even if I didn't like it, I had to finish it.
My example was my parents. Not their reading habits, but their marriage, which was often acrimonious, but like the Energizer Bunny, it kept going and going and going.
Or maybe a better model would be a high school production of Mourning Becomes Electra.
College and graduate school didn't change my book monogamy. Even when my reading load was very heavy, I never read one on the down low. That seemed shifty and wrong. Once during my MFA program I had to read Bleak House, The Wings of the Dove and two novels by Iris Murdoch all in one week, but I didn't cheat. I slogged along serially, losing sleep but determined to be faithful. My roommate later claimed I was prone to hysterical laughter that week, but monogamy can make anyone desperate, am I right?
Years later, when I was reviewing for a handful of magazines and newspapers and two public radio stations, I still didn't cheat. My motto: One man, one book.
Now I'm a total book slut. I can't seem to keep my hands off all the books piled in my study, by my bed, in the den, and sent to me by publishers. I'll try to stay focused but then a new book shows up and I go all Iggy Pop: "You look so good to me...."
This has nothing to do with competition from downloading music, Facebook or Twitter, texting, or watching the latest Blu-Ray DVD. It's the books that compete with each other. Some months I'm reading as many as five to six books at a time. That means bookmarks, Post-it notes, a pen or pencil, a napkin, a comb, a receipt or whatever else is handy will be poking out from books all around the house.
That also means some weeks I shun the New York Times Book Review. I don't want to hear about another new book in any genre, don't want any book club recommendations, don't want any recommendations from anyone. I don't want to be tempted!
So what's in my book harem right now? George R. R. Martin's Storm of Swords, a biography of Jean Rhys, a biography of the Borgias, Tim Wise's Dear White America, Simon Schama's The Story of the Jews, several books about Sweden, and probably one or two others I've mislaid.*
But I haven't gotten my mail yet today, so I have no idea what new temptation will be lurking in the box....
*book titles have been updated from the original blog posting