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In Alan Bennett’s delightful The Uncommon Reader, HM Queen Elizabeth II discovers the local travelling library at Windsor Castle, gets hooked on books and starts to worry the equerries with her ‘odd’ behaviour. The first book she chooses is a bit of a slog but HMQ has been brought up to be polite and she always finishes everything she starts, even books.

I never quite know what to do about a book that’s a bit hard going. If it’s a book group read, I try to finish even if I hate it because otherwise it’s hard to take part in the conversation. Sometimes I continue because I am waiting for something exciting to happen and find myself at the end before it does. Othertimes I stop at page 56 and think, “blow this, I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

If you aren’t sure, here are two tools to help you choose:

1. Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50
Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire (she even has an action figure in her image) and author of the Book Lust books and Book Lust website, acknowledges that “time is short and the world of books is immense. If you’re fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100. The result is the number of pages you should read before deciding.” Following this rule, if you are over 100 you have earned the priviledge of being able to judge a book by its cover.

2. John Sutherland’s Rule of 69
Sutherland’s theory is that you should first of all read page 69. If you like it, then chances are you’ll like the rest of it too. Obviously not much good for children’s picture books.
This theory is explained in full in his book How to read a novel : a user’s guide which I have not (yet) read but I stumbled onto the concept in the Guardian newspaper’s book blog article on How to find your perfect novel. In this article Charlotte Stretch applies the theory to a number of books – with varying degrees of success.

I’m currently ‘slogging’ my way through God of Speed by Luke Davies, not quite sure whether to go on or not. I might give both these rules a go, although I am well past pages 50 and 69 . . .

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