Joe Queenan writes in One for the Books that during his adult life he has always been reading at least fifteen books simultaneously and as he wrote that chapter he was reading 32!
Naturally I had to think about what I was reading at the moment and at first assumed that I was reading two books, An Angel at my Table by Janet Frame (her autobiography) and The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré, plus Tom Nissey’s A Reader’s Book of Days which I keep on my living room table and read a few pages in now and again. But when I started to look around, it didn’t take long for me to find The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell which I received for Christmas and even though it is extremely large, it has been buried under a variety of other books, magazines and a newspaper clipping about the new police museum in Hamburg. It’s not the type of book one reads in one sitting, but rather piece by piece and I get easily distracted by the wonderful photos, so it’s rather slow going. Should I count the gardening book I started reading in October, but then put aside? I may as well keep it out now, since it’s already March. What about Spanisch für Büffelmuffel by Christof Kehr which is also in the living room table and which I peek into once a month or so, does that count? Or Cay Rademacher’s Der Trümmermörder which I started reading out loud to Ralf while we were driving to a dog training one weekend but has not been opened since, so we’ve only gotten to page 73? That makes a total of seven. When my kids were very young I kept a book in almost every room, so whenever I had a few quiet minutes, I could read a couple of pages without ever having to waste time looking for my book, which turned out to be an excellent strategy.
Just for fun, I googled “reading several books at the same time” and got completely sidetracked reading a few of the literally millions of entries. There is even a wikiHow article on the subject, which I thought was some kind of satire at first, but it appears to be meant seriously.