Ever sloughed through a painful book, wishing you had not committed to it, but feeling guilty if you put it down and pick up something new? You feel like there’s something wrong with you for not liking a book that everyone else has exuberantly recommended, so you want to finish it to keep up appearances. After all, maybe it will improve as you go? You won’t know until you get to the end, right?
The Good News
I’m going to give you some good news: you don’t need to read the entirety of a book in order to know if you like it! You don’t need to torture yourself by reading something you don’t care about. You can treat reading a book like an experiment – you don’t need to see it all the way to the end if you find it’s not going where you want it to go!
The 1/3 Rule
But there is a caveat to this – how do you know when you’ve read enough of the book to make that judgment? After all, you don’t want to throw the book out too soon.
As humans, we can be tempted to dismiss or accept something or someone at first glance (or first chapter), but we have all experienced the phenomenon of sticking around long enough to find out just how wrong we are!
I have begun liking a book right away – been hooked on the first line – and then by the time I was 1/3 through, I felt like I wanted to claw my eyes out.
I have begun hating a book right away – the slow, horrid beginning wherein things happen that I don’t care one jot about – and then by 1/3 through, the beauty of the pace and words are carrying me on a buoyant raft of joy all the way to the end.
Classics and Modern Novels are Written Differently, and Require Different Attention Spans
Classics, more than modern novels, are likely to turn us off on the first page. They begin with visions of nature, introducing the personality of a character we don’t care about yet, or ruminating on a philosophical principle, and as modern readers, we tend not to like that, for we’ve been conditioned against it. Authors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries often use gimmicks to attract the immediate attention of the reader, and the reader has to put in very little effort in order to be entertained and curious. These books begin with an action or speech of some kind – the character wakes up (Hunger Games and Metamorphosis), stones rain from the skies (Carrie), or the main character has a violently emotional thought (The Shining). These beginnings raise so much curiosity and cause an initial rush of so many endorphins, that we can be tricked into thinking we like the story; when really, we’re simply curious about the premise.
A Good Opener Doesn’t Equal a Good Book
Here’s the thing: just because a book has a good opening line does not mean the rest of the book is packed with story aspects that you will enjoy. If anything, if you are like me, you might be pulled into the story almost against your will, wishing that the author would take some more time to really let you settle into the world of the story. A ‘Once Upon a Time’ approach, so to speak, which is an approach I find much more common among the old classics. If I want a fantastical adventure that keeps me anxious and curious, I go to Dean Koontz, where the action escalates visibly, and the culmination is sure to be a death. But if I want to relax, I pick up Jane Eyre, where the story meanders, enriches, and builds with methodical subtlety, beautiful language, and even pacing.
Every person is different, and every person enjoys different types of books. But take my word for it – you won’t know if you enjoy it until you’ve read 1/3. You have to at least give it a chance. Stick with the book for at least that long, and see if you change your mind, but if not, then don’t feel guilty for moving on – you have my permission to chuck it!