Bookmark: The importance of staggering books

A couple of weeks ago, I finished “Dombey and Son,” my second slow read of the year. When I turned that last page, I felt bereft. Oh no, I thought; I’m done! Now what?

Such a great novel. Such great characters. And how typical of Charles Dickens to leave no mystery, no questions, but to tie up every loose end and finish the story of every character. (I knew Mr. Toots was going to marry Susan, I just knew it.)

It’s hard, after finishing a book that captivates and consumes, to plunge into something new, don’t you think? That book you just finished is still in your mind.

And yet there’s no bleaker feeling than having nothing to read. That feeling of being “between books” is unsettling. It makes me feel, sometimes, that I will never read another book. I pace. I fret. I play a lot of solitaire on my phone.

But of course there is an easy solution: Always have more than one book going.

And so when I finished “Dombey,” I had options: I was only halfway through the other novel I was reading, and only about a quarter of the way into a book of narrative nonfiction.

It’s much easier to keep going with something you’ve already started than it is to just start something new. This is one reason why I always stagger my books.

I compare it to my philosophy of owning dogs: Two at a time.

Because when one dies — as, sadly, dogs eventually do — you already have another dog to keep you going. And after a while you realize that the only dog ​​needs a buddy, and voila! You’re back to two. At least that’s how it’s always worked for me.

There are other happier, less death-centered reasons to read more than one book at a time.

We have different moods for reading. These moods are mysterious and yet there’s no denying their power.

Sometimes we feel like tackling something difficult. Sometimes we’re just looking for entertainment or to spend a bit of time.

Sometimes we’re sitting on the front porch under a blanket and it’s pouring down rain and we don’t want to get up for hours, and we need something that will keep us thickened all afternoon. (“Dombey” was good for that, but so is just about any mystery.)

And then at night, I want to read something soothing that will help me fall asleep and have pleasant dreams. (I do not recommend mysteries for this. Definitely not thrillers, anyway.)

All of this brings to mind the poem by Winnifred Welles about dogs and weather: “I’d like a different dog for every kind of weather,” she wrote. “A narrow greyhound for a fog, a wolfhound strange and white… to run with in the night.”

The same is true for books.

Do you read more than one book at a time? Or do you prefer total immersion in one and then on to the next? (And if so, how do you figure out what next to read?)

Write me, books@startribune.com. Include your name and city and we’ll discuss this again in a future column. And now, I have a dog to walk. Two dogs, actually. And three books to read.

Laurie Hertzel is a senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. @Stribbooks.

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