I can no longer read two books at once.
This is somewhat of a crushing blow. For years, my preferred mode of literary leisure was book-diving, juggling anything between two and ten titles with all the consumate, thoughtless skill of an acrobat. I remembered plot threads and character names. I’d finish one story, plunge into the next volume and then skip back to a different author for an afternoon or week. Somehow, I always managed to keep all the balls in the air, which lead me to assume – with the blythe, unthinking arrogance of youth – that it would always be like this.
But for a while now, I’ve been in denial. I buy new books and set them aside. I start reading multiple series, but inevitably stick with only one. I dip into the pile of literature at my bedside, but only as a one-off. Slowly, inevitably, I’ve been forced to conclude that my youthful veracity was a Golden Age. I simply can’t plough through the same volume of material I could a few years ago. I’m hardly into my dotage; biologically, I’m not even that much older. So why the sudden stigma?
Regrettably, it all comes down to time. At school, I had two hours daily of train-travel, plus lunch time, plus evenings, to devote to books. Sometimes I’d even sneak one into class. I didn’t have to cook, shop, clean, work or do any of the things which now eat up my hours; but more importantly, my head was less cluttered. Even at university, I had short-term memory to burn: no distractions beyond the necessity of occasionally ending a vigorous session of Mario Kart: Double Dash and sloping off to class.
Still, the grey miasma of One Book Syndrome lifts on long holidays. During my honeymoon in New Zealand, it was just like old times: six new books, no waiting, with a string of purchases held ready in the wings. But until my next sojourn, it’s just going to be me and an endless parade of one-on-one.
At least I’ve got Kate Elliott’s brilliant Crown of Stars to dull the pain.