I'm Not Enjoying This Book–How Many Pages to Read Before You Quit

I just ran across the answer to a question that people in my book club regularly ask, “I’m not enjoying this book.  How much should I read to give it a fair chance before I toss it aside and take up a book I really like?” So many books, so little time.

The answer is Book Lust Author Nancy Pearl‘s Rule of Fifty. She says: “People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books.  If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up.  If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.  Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!”

Another suggestion:  start skimming.  At least you can participate in conversation about the book.  I just did that with Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  It’s a vampire story, so you’d think it would hold one’s attention, but I it so convoluted, long, and full of explanatory letters, I became very impatient.

Or, take the book chunk at a time.  I just started thumbing through the gigantic Autobiography of Mark Twain which is less narrative and more bits, pieces and reflections.  It gives great insight into Twain’s character and I’m going to be quoting from it a lot.  I’m prone to stick with this volume because hefting it gives me enough exercise to forego the gym.  My aching biceps.


2 thoughts on “I'm Not Enjoying This Book–How Many Pages to Read Before You Quit”

  1. My response to the question varies based on the obligation and other factors that I feel when I picked up the book. If it’s a book club book, I will stick with it much longer, maybe even finish a book that I wouldn’t have, because I feel obligated to the “club.” This approach has sometimes led me to like a book more after book club, than I did while reading it.

    If I have to keep re-reading a paragraph to understand it, I am likely to not subject myself, my intellect and my ego to plodding through a book for appearances sake! If I must read something for work, well then the obligation is all mine, enjoyment or not. If I purchase a book, I feel more obligated to read it, than if I check it out of the library. I’m also willing to plod through quite a bit of mediocre material, if there is the promise of some decent “bodice ripping!”

  2. Great question, Terri. I believe in the magic 140-page rule. I find that most books come to life once I’ve acclimated to the book’s universe. Like travel and new experiences generally, there’s an orientation period. During this time, geography, events and people can be confusing. You have to invest time and effort to sort out the landscape. And that can be uncomfortable.

    Terri and I went to hear an author recently who said something that aligned with this 140-page rule. She writes novels front to back, in linear fashion. She also said there’s a point where she creates enough of the universe, puts together enough detail, to find her bearings, to settle in. I wondered: Is that moment for the author close to that moment when I, as the reader, settle in?

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