Come on Baby Light My Fire

When I was in third grade, my sister gave me a book to read. This was something she did fairly often, but this time the book came with special instructions: don’t stop reading until after page 50. The book she had given me was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, my first slow-burner.

Nowadays slow-burners are my favorite type of novel, though my sister had the right idea back then. Seven-year-old me would probably have given up on Meg and her liverwurst sandwiches around page ten, moving onto a more easily-digested Baby-Sitter’s Club book without a second thought, but my sister had given the charge and to page 50 I would read (my sister is ten years older than me and at the time getting her hand-me-down books still held an irresistible glamour). If you’ve read the book you know that it starts slowly, drawing a detailed portrait of the Murry family before embarking on an inter-dimensional odyssey. You’ve got to eat the liverwurst sandwich to really appreciate the journey that follows.

My sister giving me this book, along with her apt instructions, ended up being a formative experience in my life as reader. Beyond reading an excellent book that I love to this day, and getting a three-year head start on my reading assignment (it popped up again in Miss Larsen’s sixth-grade class), sis gave me a rule to read by. Every book I have read since has been given a fifty-page grace period in which to grab me, and almost without fail the ones that need it are my favorites.

Not all books pass the fifty-page test, in recent memory The Kite Runner  was intolerably soulless and things aren’t looking good for The Windup Girl. I’ve had books grab me out of the gate and lose me well after fifty pages (The Mysterious Benedict Society). Generally, the test has served me well.

 Coincidentally, it is the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time this year. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend finding a copy. And giving it fifty pages.

What about you, do you have any rules in your reading? Do you never leave a book unfinished, or do you have a policy to drop it the minute it turns you off? An inquiring mind wants to know.

3 responses to “Come on Baby Light My Fire

  1. I used to force myself through any book I’d started reading, no matter how painful I found the experience. A good girlfriend basically told me to knock if off about a year ago, saying she doesn’t feel there’s enough time in the world to spend any of it reading stuff that doesn’t captivate. I tried her approach (give it 20-30 pages and drop it if it’s still plodding) with the next handful of books and have since adopted it myself. This has led me to do much more reading, because I read the books I love quickly and can move on just as quickly* to the next!

    * As quickly as my other obligations will allow, that is!

    • The fifty-page rule definitely helps me get the most out of my reading time, but I feel occasional guilt when I pass by one of the abandoned books (I’m looking at you Mysterious Benedict Society), or someone starts gushing about one I just couldn’t plow through.

  2. I try to finish every book I start, but I’m pretty careful about what books I start!
    If I don’t like the book, I usually read it anyway, and try to figure out what someone liked about the story enough for it to be published and recommended to me. Strange, I know, but that can be almost as entertaining for me as reading a really good book.

    Then I ask myself why I would or would not write something similar.

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