Wednesday, June 27, 2007

50-Page Rule

I am only 50 pages into Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You. As such, I can’t fairly review the book. But I can comment on the fact that I am still only 50 pages into a 342-page young adult novel. Granted, my life has been busy for the last 24 hours—with work and trips to the airport and quality time with the family—but I still should be far more than 50 pages into the book. My struggle with this book raises an important question:

When is it okay to stop reading a book?

For years, I honestly believed if I started a book, I had to finish it. I’m not sure where I got that idea, but I do know I suffered through many bad books because of it. Only recently have I realized that I simply don’t have time to finish every book. Now, this isn’t to say that I am too busy to read. Instead, the truth is there are so many books out there that I literally cannot read them all—even if I read nonstop. So why waste precious reading time on a book I’m not interested in?

Books that I have quit reading include:
  • The Nanny Diaries—I read half the book before quitting. I had no sympathy for any of the characters—including the main character, a big no-no with me—and finally decided not to finish a book I didn’t like. I recently saw the trailer for the movie. It looked like a light romantic comedy. Is it really based on the book I quit reading?
  • Prague—I started this book, which I’d checked out from my public library, on a trip to Portland. Once again, I felt little sympathy for the characters and decided to stop reading. Naturally, a bottle of lotion spilled in my bag on the way home, damaging the library book. I ended up owning a book I never wanted to finish. I will confess, though, that months later I did finish the book—and it wasn’t worth my time.
  • The Dante Club—I know it wanted to be the next The Da Vinci Code. The Da Vinci Code is one of the most poorly written books I’ve ever read, but it did have plot. It did keep me reading. The Dante Club never captured—nor ultimately kept—my interest.
  • Anna Karenina, Suite Francaise, The Bookseller of Kabul, Reading Lolita in Tehran—I’ve started each of these books several times but have never felt engaged enough to finish them. I haven’t abandoned these books completely. Maybe one day I’ll try again, but for now they remain low on my “to read” list.

How many pages should you give a book before giving up? This is a tricky question. After finishing dozens of bad books, my current rule is 50 pages. If I’m still plodding through by page 50, I give myself permission to quit.

Of course, this can’t be a hard and fast rule. I would never have finished any of the Harry Potter series if I’d only given them the first 50—or even 200—pages. I find these books terribly difficult to get into but ultimately enjoyable. I had similar experiences with The Poisonwood Bible, Shirley, and In Cold Blood.

The 50-page rule isn’t set in stone, but everyone should give themselves permission not to finish a book. Why miss out on a great book just to say you finished a mediocre one?

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Excellent insight. I admit that I finish most books I start--only because I tend to stick to the lighter side. If only I pushed myself a little deeper, I might have reason to stop reading and move on to the next potentially deep novel.