At what point should you give up reading a book? Always an important question, it gains greater importance now that many of us have disposable time on our hands and think reading might be a good idea.
Recently, a socially distanced, mask-wearing friend who was washing his hands in a basin we keep near the gate for just such a purpose turned to me and said he had been reading a novel, but couldn’t go beyond page 85.
I don’t know what it was that broke the camel’s back, but in general, the more you read the more you are likely to continue.
If only to ensure that you haven’t wasted your time. You could of course stop at page 85, telling yourself that enough is enough and you won’t waste any more time. It’s a difficult choice.
“Nothing happens,” is a complaint early stoppers have. This school of thought was immortalised by P G Wodehouse who introduced one of his fictional writers thus: “Vladimir specialized in gray studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide.”
To read till page 380 and find you have been cheated cannot be an uplifting experience. Some helpful early readers might have warned others with a note saying, “Give up now, don’t wait till page 380.” But that’s not how readers behave. They don’t want to be the only ones to suffer.
I had a friend who bought books over 1,000 pages long and presented them to friends with the inscription: “This writer says such nice things about you. I am amazed.” Thus ensuring the book was read from cover to cover.
Sometimes the size of the book is an insurance policy against bad reviews. Critics, unwilling to wade through interminable pages, give such books a so-so review, something like, “This book must be read by all right-thinking people who care about words.” Not great, but not a disaster either.
My own technique for judging a book is to read page 60 before anything else. By then the writer should have got into his stride, sorted out his characters, and begun to hint at what is to come. If page 60 is in the spectrum from satisfactory to exciting, that’s good enough for me. Occasionally I change tactics and read page 85 first.
Sometimes the first line is all it takes. A colleague couldn’t go on beyond the start of George Orwell’s 1984, which, you remember, begins “It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
“How can clocks strike thirteen?” he wanted to know, “I hate ghost stories and I will have nothing to do with the Twilight saga.”