Sunday, February 10, 2013

When Do You Give Up On a Book?

It is a simple fact that there are more books in print today than any of us will ever be able to read in one lifetime (and this doesn't even take into account the new books that will come out during our lives). Faced with a finite amount of time in which to read, one question that must be asked is at what point is it acceptable to give up on a book and move on to another?

In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, librarian and author Nancy Pearl (of "Book Lust" fame) gave the following suggestion:

"On the spur of the moment, with no particular psychological or literary theory in mind to justify it, I developed my Rule of 50: Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you're really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you're not, then put it down and look for another....

"This rule of 50 worked exceedingly well until I entered my own 50s. As I wended my way toward 60, and beyond, I could no longer avoid the realization that, while the reading time remaining in my life was growing shorter, the world of books that I wanted to read was, if anything, growing larger. In a flash of, if I do say so myself, brilliance, I realized that my Rule of 50 was incomplete. It needed an addendum. And here it is: When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book. As the saying goes, 'Age has its privileges.' And the ultimate privilege of age, of course, is that when you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover."

Certainly an interesting reading rule to live by, but I tend to know well before page 50 if I like a book or not. It is true that some only really get going once you reach the middle, but even those show enough glimpses of what is to come to make you want to keep reading. I live by more of a "Rule of 25" unless the book came highly recommended with advance warning that it starts slowly.

When it comes to abandoning a book, I actually find it harder with the "classics." Every year I start Ulysses again, hoping it will somehow click for me, and every year I bail before page 20. The thing is, I feel bad enough about quitting that I try again year after year; after all, Hemingway and Sylvia Beach loved it, so I must be missing something. But with the critically acclaimed books and/or bestsellers of today I feel no such guilt. I quit Wolf Hall ten pages in, and have no regrets at all.

So what about you, dear reader? Do you slog your way through every book you start, out of principle as much as enjoyment, or do you bail after Chapter One if it's not a page turner? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

(And I still haven't made it through Ulysses...)

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