pearl pic“Rule of Fifty”

People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,”  which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books.  If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit 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 making your decision to stay with it or quit.  Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!

29 responses to “Pearlisms

  1. Cindy McMahon

    If a friend recommended the book and tells me to stick with it just a little longer, THEN I will invest (isn’t that an appropriate word?) more time in the book, unless I can already guess the ending, and she tells me I’m pretty close.

  2. I’m with you. My mother finishes everything she starts!

  3. I call it my first-page test. If the author hasn’t grabbed me enough to make me turn the page, I’m outta there. Too many books, so little time, and I’m going to spend mine on writers who know what they’re doing from the first paragraph.

  4. Nancy pearl

    My “rule” for kids and teens and chapter books is three chapters. That usually works well.

  5. Kelly

    I love that you posted this “rule”! My family is full of avid readers and we have been sharing books with the same advice for years – give it a couple chapters and if you really hate it, then stop.

    Perhaps for children the “rule” might be 25 pages for a chapter book – but most of the time if they get that far in they won’t want to put it down.

  6. I love this, but must add …. “if we can still see the book and its cover at 100!”

  7. Brad Leathley

    My wife and I are interested in e-readers. Our issue is not about price but about making a choice that reflects our values for supporting authors and the future of content. This would include the widest range… fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, and more. How should we be thinking about making a purchase that ethically supports authorship and reinforces the freedom of the press in today’s competitive e-reader marketplace?

    • Nancy

      I am not an expert in this area by any means, but my two cents is that I would look at the Sony e-reader – I understand (perhaps wrongly) that it offers access to a wider number of titles, including newspapers, and isn’t just limited to what is at one site, like the Kindle is. Sort of like how with an IPod (and I am a huge Mac fan) you’re limited to what’s on ITunes, while if you have a regular MP3 player your options are wider. But I am very willing to be corrected about this …

      • Brad Leathley

        Thanks very much. Am interested in hearing others comment as well. Have a great week!

      • Don Crankshaw

        I have a Kindle. I checked out the Nook and the Sony Reader at work (I am with a smaller urban library.) I did not find the Nook to have any advantages over the Kindle for me. I found the Sony less user friendly.

        While I was and still am a little concerned about the limits of accessibility, I read a lot of the “classics” that you can easily download from the Guttenberg Project or other like sites for free.

  8. caroline bitz

    A few years ago I heard you speak at a state library conference. You taught that there are five “portals” one may enter a book…could you please repeat them? Thank you.

  9. This is excellent advice. My New Year’s resolution is to read each book on Time Magazine’s 100 All Time books list. I already dislike the first book on this list. Usually I would have put it down by now, but I already made the commitment to follow through on my resolution… ugh.
    I was just wondering if you have ever disliked a book as you were reading it, but still found you had gained something from the book in the end? Sorry if this doesn’t make sense haha. Love your blog by the way!

    • Nancy

      Good question about not liking a book but gaining something from it in the end – I don’t think that’s ever been the case for me. I just can’t bear to slog through a book I’m bored with or dislike. To me, it’s much more important to enjoy the reading experience. If I were you, I’d make a new New Year’s resolution! 🙂

  10. Ray King

    My wife knows you hung the moon. Is it possible to have you speak to her book club. This would be a surprise for her.

    • Nancy

      Hi Ray – I’m sorry but I no longer have time to do bookclub visits. I wish I could. And your comment about hanging the moon (a phrase I use a lot, too) made my day.

  11. Lynne

    Nancy, I hope the work on your travel book is going well. I’d like to mention a book series that made a real impact on my family’s travel experience to Italy a couple of years ago.

    My 10 year-old daughter and I read most of the Roman Mysteries series by Carol Lawerence. They were great page-turner mysteries, but full of rich, authentic, and unsanitized detail about life in first century Rome. The books are based in Ostia, the former port city to Rome. The protaganists are four children from different backgrounds and circumstances. The second book finds them in Herculaneum when Vesuvius erupts and they become friends with Pliny. Book three continues with the children as refugees in the aftermath. Another book explores the opening of the colleseum with graphic descriptions of the spectacles it contained. Our trip’s itenerary coincided with many of the key places in the books Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento. My daughter was inspired to use the author’s website to plan a day trip to Ostia, a short train ride from Rome, which has fascinating ruins in a beautiful setting. Delightful, fascinating books to read even if you can’t travel, they added great depth to our travel experience.

    • pearlspicks

      Thanks so much for letting me know about this series – I was unfamiliar with it. I’m not yet sure if I’m going to include any books for children in Book Lust to Go, but if I do, I will try to remember to include these. It sounds as if they made your trip even better…

    • Nancy

      Great suggestion – I will take a look at them. I’m not sure if I will include them in Book Lust to Go because I’m not including books for kids and teens, this time.

  12. Georgia S. McDade

    This is not a reply but a plea for help. I am trying to find a book I heard you review a long time ago. All I heard was the end of the review: the protagonist had read a book which had no ending. He was so disappointed. As a result of this experience, he began reading great books but not the ending. Please tell me the name of the book.
    Thank you.

    • Nancy

      Hi Georgia – I am working on this – do you think it was a book by Italo Calvino called If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler?

  13. Many in the publishing business need far fewer than 50 pages to judge a book.

    Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all” usually means I leave the bookstore empty handed, for I am still checking them out at the library or purchased them long ago but have not read them yet.

    The Nioga Library System put out reading list which has taken longer to complete because sometimes they list only one book for an author such as, Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, but he has other great books like Maggie, A Girl of the Streets.

    • Nancy

      Yes, I know that quotation by Thoreau well – the trouble is, he didn’t account for the mood of the reader. Sometimes a book that is judged “good” or “classic” is just something you’re not in the right mood to appreciate. And it is so true that when you limit yourself to one book by an author, you are often missing other, excellent, titles, by him or her.


  14. Evelyn Dick

    Nancy, I heard you with Kathleen Dunn on WI Public Radio. You talked about a book I cannot find. It’s about Las Vegas and I thought you said the title was The Only Girl in the Game. I’m wondering if I got the title wrong. I’m interested in buying the book for my husband.
    Thanks, Ev Dick

    • pearlspicks

      Hi Evelyn – The book is The Only Girl in the Game, by John D. MacDonald. It’s an older title (I had to find it through an online bookstore – I googled “cheap books” or “thrift books.” The novel does describe Las Vegas of the 1950s and 1960s (gangsters and conmen galore), but I’m not sure I would recommend it without reservations. It is quite dated.

  15. Haha – this is wonderful! I have a very good friend who taught me something simular years ago – but the rule of subtracting your age is just genious. Thank you !

  16. We talked about your rule in our book group today and decided that rule or no rule at our ages (62 to 80) we had enough years of experience to know when to stop reading a book.

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