Reading A Bad Book and the “Page 99” Test

John Warner, a.k.a. the Biblioracle at the Chicago Tribune, talks about quitting on bad books:

I used to be one of those people who refused to give up on a book. Even in college or graduate school, if I fell behind the reading pace in a literature class, I’d circle back and finish what was assigned, not quickly enough to always save my grade, but what are you going to do?

Mrs. Biblioracle is still this way. There are times where I see her reading, and it appears that she’s experiencing a low-grade physical pain. I know she is not enjoying her current book. I will ask her how it’s going, and she will grunt like someone lifting a heavy object.

But she will finish what she starts — always.

This quality makes me feel good about my marriage.

However, I am now a comfortable book dumper. I will cast aside a book mid-sentence without a moment’s hesitation and feel good doing it. I do not mean to suggest that I am fickle, that a single flaw will bring about a separation between me and my book, but no longer am I willing to endure pages of unhappiness for the marginal payoff of reaching the end.

Me too. While I have the patience of a saint for bad movies and have even sat all the way through bad plays, I’m quick to dump a book I’m not enjoying. It needn’t even be a bad book–objectively speaking–for me to quit. All it takes to stop me is the ticking of the clock or the whisper of the voice saying “Given that your life is finite, is this really the most interesting thing you could be involved with right now?” My chosen book has to have enough charm, wit, intrigue, philosophical weight, or cheap thrills to banish those two fiends from my consciousness, or it’s over. And no, I feel no guilt.

One bit from Thomas’s column I hadn’t known about was the Ford Madox Ford “Page 99” text for judging a book’s worth:

Ford believed that you could “open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” The theory is that anyone can write an arresting first paragraph or two, but only the true pros are still on top of their games by page 99.

I don’t know if it’s a fair test, but I’m game anyway. Click the link below and you’ll find a PDF of the 99th page of Dismantle the Sun. Read it and decide for yourself about the book.

Page 99

And once you’ve done that, tell us all in comments if you’re the sort who quits on a book, or whether you’re one of those who sees it through, whatever the pain or sacrifice that the reader’s duty requires.

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