I am one of those people who, once I start to read a book or watch a film, find it hard to stop until I finish it, even if the book and film are becoming tedious. Something really awful has to happen for me to stop. Tedium alone is not sufficient. Librarian Nancy Pearl, who sometimes appears on NPR as an engaging reviewer of books, says that she too used to find it hard to stop reading a book but now she has adopted a ‘rule of 50’.
Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another. (Always keep in mind that there’s nothing to stop you from going back to it later, whether that might be in six days or six years. Or 60 years. There is many a book that I couldn’t get into the first time, or even two, that I tried to read it, and then, giving it one more chance, totally fell under its spell. The book obviously hadn’t changed – but I had.)
And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know.
I realized that my Rule of 50 was incomplete. It needed an addendum. And here it is: When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book. As the saying goes, “Age has its privileges.”
And the ultimate privilege of age, of course, is that when you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.
Not a bad rule.
Now what about films? There the time commitment is obviously less but as I have got older I find myself becoming less willing to expend even that limited amount of time. I don’t have a rule for it but usually the kill switch is triggered when I find that I don’t really care about any of the characters or what might happen to them.