I read several novels at once -- well, side by side. At least four of them.

In a way they provide me with a highly varied social life, as if I dined with different groups of people on different occasions, breakfast with a collection of W. Somerset Maugham characters, lunch with a group assembled by Philip Kerr and Daniel Silva, and so forth. All these people live their stories in these novels and I feel like I visit with them as I read the books, a bit here, a bit there. Quite fascinating bunch, in different locations, at different historical periods, bring to my table different skills and talents. Often the novel's locations are those I have visited in the past but now I don't need to go through airports and train stations but draw on memories and the novelists' imaginative descriptions.

I discovered this way of enriching my social life some time ago and continued the practice once its benefits became evident to me. It's as if I had a pretty large selection of friends and acquaintances with whom I can spend time and whose experiences I can draw on as I live my relatively solitary life now. Aside from the nearby members of my family and a few local and spread out friends, I have all these fictional characters whose lives I share. There is tragedy, comedy, ordinary drama, political and military intrigue, history and adventure, what have you! Rome, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Budapest, San Francisco, and many more unfold before me with the help of the authors whose works I read.

Every day I have some time to spend with others, most of these others come out of the novels. I am told that it is actually good for my aging mind to be tuned in to such a variety of people and events and all of what they bring into my life.

It is also quite realistic since if I did have a wide circle of people with whom I spent time, they, too, would provide this kind of variety. There is, of course, what DVR technology makes possible, namely, recording a bunch of shows, programs, movies, etc. and watching parts of these when one has time to do so. Because it is possible to watch a bit and then pause to watch something else. And once one has had one's fill of fiction, one can check out the news and some documentary -- I am especially fond of wildlife and travel programs but because I don't have the time to watch for the entire length of the recording, I can stop midway through and return later.

I think you get the point. Maybe my way fits you too. There are lots of options to select from.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization of Chapman University in Orange, Calif.