Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Reading: 20 is the new 100.

I've always been a dutiful reader, slogging my way through books for days, weeks, sometimes even months thinking, "I have to finish this." I've always known why I felt that: it's part of my makeup to be The Good Student. And good students of literature always finish what they read.

Well, I've got news for you. I really don't care anymore about being the good student. What I do care about is getting back to a place where reading is a joy for me, because for a long time it hasn't been that way. There are many times that I find myself 100 pages into a book and picking it up every night with a sense of obligation, not anticipation.

That was my old rule: 100 pages. I'd read 100 pages before I decided to finish, because I know that some books need to be given some time to warm up. No more.

So now I have a new mantra. It's "Twenty Pages." That's the limit now. I will give a book twenty pages before I decide whether it's worth my valuable time. Sometimes it may be less, but never more.

That goes for books I'm reviewing for this blog, including books that I've been asked to review. It also includes books that I've announced that I will be reading and writing about on my own. If you don't hear about it within a reasonable amount of time, that means it didn't make the cut.

Now sometimes just because I don't finish the book doesn't mean that it's a bad book. It may be just the type of book that I'm not interested in, or it starts out in a way that I can't follow. A book I picked up yesterday at the library had received rave reviews and from what I gather it's a very good read. But it begins with a group of people - druids - conducting a ceremony. Even though I love reading English history, the time of druids is not one of my favorite subjects. Now, granted, if I waited and read another 100 pages, I mind find myself riveted to the book. But I'm not willing to plow through 80 more pages of druids to find out. I closed the book after 11 pages.

What was the turning point for me? Was it a certain book that put me over the edge?

Not really. The epiphany came when I rearranged my books the other day after my purchases after the weekend. I realized that I had at least two shelves of books that I had purchased over the past year, and that I haven't been able to even open them - even after a year.

What about all of you? What's your page limit?


Richard Prosch said...

I'm in the same camp. Always used to try and finish everything. Now I give it a few pages, then probably 50 or so. If I don't like it by then it's gone.

Richard R. said...

First, I have to ask, are those YOUR bookshelves? I'm really jealous of them! Besides looking great they're high and deep, and and the space you have for them implies a big room. I'm full of admiration.

Now, about that "rule" on reading. I've heard so many versions of it I've come to the conclusion there's no perfect number of pages. For years I've used 40. Some, like Richard in the previous post, use 50. I think 20 is too few, I want to give the author a little more room than that, so 40 or 50 works for me.

But there's more to it that that. Sometimes I know it's ME, not the book, that's the problem. My mood, what's going on in my life, how I'm feeling (well or sick or tired), what I've just read and what I have waiting on the shelf, even the weather can influence my reaction to a book. So some books I discard after the 40 pages, but not all. Some go into a limbo with a bookmark in them and a promise to try again. If that doesn't happen in six months or so, I give up, but not infrequently, something about a book draws me back to it, and I go back and read more. I still may not finish it, but it gets a second chance. Of the books I quit at my Page Rule, about 1 in 10 get saved. The rest? They're history, by which I mean out of the house. I may write a brief review, do a cover scan but that's it. The book goes to... somewhere. Donated, sold, traded, gifted, even occasionally tossed.

Of the books I set aside, half to two-thirds of them get finished, and turn out to be books I'm glad I read. Even with all this, and I sort of make it up as I go, no rule is set in stone, there are far too many books in the in basket than the out, and the shelves, my small space compared to the photo, overflow.

Randy Johnson said...

I have no set limit of pages, but I do have a three strike rule. If I can't get into a book, I set it aside and go to something else. Later I try again. See rule # 1. If I can't interest myself in the book a third time, I'm done with it.

I figure any given time, it might be my mood that prevents a book from striking with me. But after three times, it isn't me!

Travis Erwin said...

Like you I sued to read all of everything I started. I too am impatient now but I have not set page limit. If I trust the author I will stick with it to the end but if I do not know them I give up rather easily.

Evan Lewis said...

I, too, want to know if those are really your bookshelves. Looks like Lance Casebeer's basement, except all the books were standing up. I once had shelves in every room but the bathroom, but wedded bliss put an end to that.

Laurie Powers said...

Seems like everyone has their own versions of this rule. Some of you think 20 is too few, but it works for me. Maybe I'll give it 30. And no, those aren't my bookshelves. That's the Illiad Bookshop in the Valley, from what I recall. I really don't think I could handle that many books in my house, regardless of how much I love to read. I have my limits.

Walker Martin said...

If Laurie ever gets to the point where she has a massive amount of books like in the photo, she will have to fight off male book collectors with a baseball bat.

Every guy dreams of finding a female collector who is also a serious book collector, but they are very few and far between. Frankly, most women are non-collectors and all they want is for their husbands and boyfriends to sell the books and clean up the clutter.

I base the above observations not only on my own marriage, but on the dating and marriage records of hundreds of collectors observed over decades!

Laurie is one in a thousand.

Steve M said...

Totally understand your switch Laurie. I've been doing something similar for a longtime. I'm also being much more selective in which books I'll accept for reviews. Time to read them being on of the deciding factors.

Chris said...

I don't have a rule or anything. I'm a little dismayed by people who only give books a page or two, but 20+ seems fair. Some books just take more of a slog for me to get through, and will have my reading others simultaneously, but it's pretty rare that I don't finish what I start. Maybe one a year, if that.

Laurie Powers said...

Wow, thanks Walker. Although I have to confess that I'm still one of those females who dislike clutter and would want my collection to agree with my "decor."

Steve, yes, part of the reason I'm cracking down is the pile of books I've been asked to review.

Chris, I agree that only a couple of pages is extreme. By twenty I think I pretty much know whether a books going to keep me going.

I guess part of this whole thing of 20 pages is that I've always suspected that I have a mild case of ADD (but then who doesn't?), and if a book isn't going to keep me at 20, it's not going to keep me at 40, 100, 150, etc. etc.

Barry Traylor said...

I think I am guilty of skimming until a book gets back on track for me.
Funny thing about some books is that I have to be in the mood for a certain type. Back when I discovered Robert E. Howard and was reading my way through the Conan stories a friend asked me to read Tolkien. I tried and tried and just couldn't get into it. Then some years later on a rainy week at the beach I picked them up and could not put them down.
The only thing Walker with having a wife that is a book collector might be having to fight for shelf space.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I'm a slogger, and have finished many books that I felt didn't deserve my attention. Usually these were books I started because they had something about that piqued my interest and it was the pursuit of that aspect that kept me going. I was once sent some books from a vanity publisher's victim's publicist. Never got more than three pages into any of them.
I hope you like my first 20 if/when you start it. No hurry, though.