Today I learned about Nancy Pearl’s rule of 50 for abandoning books. I felt a certain kinship as I read it because if I don’t like a book after about 30-50 pages, I will put it down with no guilt whatsoever. I figure I am too old to read books I don’t like. Sometimes, once in a great while, I will return to a book I abandoned, pick it up again and enjoy it because I’m in a different headspace. However, for most cases, I think Ms. Pearl has the right idea.
Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another. (Always keep in mind that there’s nothing to stop you from going back to it later, whether that might be in six days or six years. Or 60 years. There is many a book that I couldn’t get into the first time, or even two, that I tried to read it, and then, giving it one more chance, totally fell under its spell. The book obviously hadn’t changed – but I had.)
And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know. And rest assured that, despite the sophistication of computerized checkout and check-in technology at the modern library, there’s no way that anyone there will be able to tell (even if they were interested) whether you’ve really read every page of the book you just returned.
This rule of 50 worked exceedingly well until I entered my own 50s. As I wended my way toward 60, and beyond, I could no longer avoid the realization that, while the reading time remaining in my life was growing shorter, the world of books that I wanted to read was, if anything, growing larger. In a flash of, if I do say so myself, brilliance, I realized that my Rule of 50 was incomplete. It needed an addendum. And here it is: When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book. As the saying goes, “Age has its privileges.”
And the ultimate privilege of age, of course, is that when you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.