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.