Life’s too short to read bad books

If there is one thing that we Schipulites all have in common, it’s a love of reading. (I would also add cupcakes, LOL cats, and “that’s what she said” jokes, but some people hate joy.) We all have books around our desks, track our reading across multiple platforms, and have standing permission to grab a hot new business title from the local book store. In addition, we’re all pretty tenacious folks who hate to give up on something we start.   Some might even call it “stubborn”.

It’s those traits that can sometimes lead a person to be curled up on the couch, book in hand, slogging through a downright boring book. Oh sure, it’s not interesting and you’re not going to get much from it, but hey – you gotta finish, right? No one likes a quitter! And maybe it’ll turn around in the next chapter or so. If not, well, lesson learned. At least you get to move another one to the read pile.

That was me. Dragging my way though books that just weren’t doing it for me. That feeling of immense satisfaction gained from moving a book to the read stack was so motivating that even the worst books could hold down a spot on my nightstand. I couldn’t quit them. And often I was miserable for it. What was supposed to be a great way to relax and expand my thinking turned into a chore, a bother, and an obligation.

Fortunately I read a lot of blogs too, and one day stumbled upon a feature article over Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust. In it, she shared her “50 page rule” – if the book doesn’t grab you in the first 50 pages, give it up and move on to the next one. It’s not defeat. It’s knowing what you like and not trying to force it.   I loved it. In just a few words I got the confirmation that it wasn’t just me; and permission to put down the bad books. At the time I had just come from struggling with Infinite Jest, the highly-confusing massive tome of a novel by David Foster Wallace. I was just starting with a new novel and already at page 20 I was finding it over-written and lacking in story. I thought of Nancy’s rule and vowed to give it the 30 pages more – and was rewarded with an unexpected page-turner.

Most recently, I picked up a historical look at the game of poker – a subject I am deeply interested in – and began reading on a plane. Even with my handy Nook nearby, full of a dozen or so others, I found myself again trying to force my way through some very dense material. It’s history, and it’s poker – I have to love it right? It’s going to get more interesting, I just know it. Upon my return home, I left the book on my nightstand, ready to be picked up the next evening. When the time came though, I found myself going for the remote instead. Didn’t want to read it, yet didn’t want to give up. And then I remembered Nancy, and her sage advice. Life’s too short. Maybe the book and I weren’t getting along right now, but it didn’t mean we were doomed forever. I could set it aside, grab another, and try again some other day.

So thanks Nancy Pearl, for your wise “50 page rule”. It’s saved me yet again from literary heartache.

One Reply to “Life’s too short to read bad books”

  1. that's a very good rule and i could have applied it to a lot of books in college. especially when it came to my geology course. i will definitely try applying it in the future.

    btw, what did think of the Wallace book?

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