Monday, May 17, 2010

I Wish I Could Quit You

When you start reading a book, do you HAVE to finish it even if you don’t like it? Or will you gladly cast it aside if the author has failed to engage you?

I used to be the former, and perhaps one day I will be again. But for the past decade I have been the latter. There are just too many books that I want to read. Working at a library, obviously, I’m surrounded by the possibility of the next great read. But there are only 24 hours in a day, and precious few can be spared for reading. Ergo, I’ve become choosier.

I know many people who can’t quit a book once they start it, and I used to be just like them. But I think it was more about leaving something unfinished than it was about my love of reading. I don’t think I’ve beat the habit entirely, though. I still have a problem with books in a series. Even if I didn’t like the last book, I feel compelled to read the next one.

Nancy Pearl, the librarian author who penned Book Lust as well as other tomes on recommended reading, has stated that readers should follow “the rule of 50:” if you’re under 50-years-old, you should give a book 50 pages before you decide to keep reading or to give it up. If you’re over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that is how many pages to read before deciding. I don’t follow a rule, per se, but about 50 pages seems like a reasonable time for an audition.

Pearl also argues, and I agree, that you have to be in the right mood for some books, because of their subject matter, the language used, or any other factor. For instance, when I’m really stressed out, a dense literary work is too much strain on my brain. That’s when I turn to young adult books and romance novels: still enjoyable, but ultimately less mentally taxing.

All that being said, there are times when it’s worth slogging through a book that hasn’t won me over after 50 pages. Anything the book club is reading I try to complete, as well as highly-regarded or classic literature. Sometimes the only satisfaction I get from finishing is the ability to talk intelligently about the book. (That’s the best thing I can say about Atlas Shrugged.) Other times I reach a point in a book where I’m no longer forcing myself to read and actually enjoying it. The example I always refer to is The World According to Garp. I was halfway through it before it really kicked in for me. I ended up loving it.

So every few years I crack open Anna Karenina and try again to read that Russian behemoth. Haven’t made it past 50 pages, but I’ll try again. Eventually it will take.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Great post. =) Was just talking about this with someone a few days ago and I quoted Nancy Pearl's first 50 pages rule. I typically read at least 2 chapters, sometimes 3 and if I'm not pulled in by then, well, forget it. Like you said, there are so few hours in the day that can be spent reading and so many great book waiting to be read.