The Sunday Salon: “The Rule of 50” applied to Booker Winners

I’ve followed the Booker Prize for about 10 years, and this year I will make my goal of reading all the winners.  To do so, I need to read the 2010 winner and 9 others.  When I first posted about my 2010 goals I wrote,  “it’s going to be more difficult to achieve because 1) I’ve been putting off some of the books that I think I won’t like, and 2) some of the older titles are hard to find.  Still, it will be fun trying …”  Well, let’s talk about point #1.

This month I read two Booker Prize winners, and both were disappointing.  One of them — G, by John Berger — was one of those I didn’t think I’d like.  And I was right about that.  I only made it through 50 pages (read my review of G).  The other Booker winner I attempted this month was Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.  The book description and the jacket flap sounded so promising.  But alas, it’s written in the magical realism style, which I really dislike.  Once again, I set this aside before finishing (read my review of The Famished Road).

But I’m still counting these towards my goal. In the world of reading goals and challenges, there are no hard and fast rules.  To quote Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50:

Believe me, nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read. I live by what I call ‘the rule of fifty,’ which acknowledges that time is short and the world of books is immense. If you’re fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself 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 deciding.

If I make a reasonable effort to read a book, I’ll count it as “read.”  For books I don’t finish, my “pages read” count reflects only the number of pages actually read, not the entire book.  That’s fair, right?

So it’s been a mediocre month for my Booker Prize reading, but April is looking better.  I expect to complete Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy by reading The Ghost Road.  I also plan to read Stanley Middleton’s 1974 winner, Holiday. Fingers crossed for better Booker reading!

How do you decide whether to finish a book or throw it at the wall?

Do you “count” books you don’t finish?

Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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17 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: “The Rule of 50” applied to Booker Winners

  1. The only Booker I’ve failed to make it through so far is Wolf Hall. At the moment I’m counting it as read, but when I get close to completing the list I think I’ll go back and give it another try. It wont bother me if I don’t finish it – I just want to be able to have a feel for all the books and know what they are about – good luck!

    • Jackie, that’s what I want as well: “a feel for all the books and know what they are about,” and I agree you don’t necessarily need to read the entire book in order to get that.

  2. I really dislike giving up books, and I find myself resisting it. But I love Pearl’s Rule of 50! The older I get, the more books I give up, and I actually feel a sense of relief when I give up on a book! The books I’ve given up this year were perhaps boring, or the subject matter completely didn’t engage me, or the main character was despicable.

    • Sarah, thanks for stopping by! I hate to give up on a book as well. Last year I read 80 books and finished each one. It’s odd for this to happen to me twice, and so close together. But I agree, it can be a relief to just let it go sometimes.

  3. Laura…this was a great post and congrats for taking the Booker challenge. I plan/hope to read 6 in 2010 (none so far), but i do have them.

    I only count a book if I’ve read MOST of it. Recently, I listened to a terrible audio book, and did skip a few discs towards the end, but counted it as I wanted other to know how bad I thought it was.

  4. I absolutely count a book as read, if I tried and couldn’t finish it. I use Goodreads to keep track of my books and I give those books 1 star. To me if a book only gets one star, why would I finish it. I also put a note in the notes field that says “read some”, but I do count those books in my totals for books read that year.

    • Pam, I have a similar system although if I didn’t finish, it doesn’t get any stars. I use LibraryThing and tag the book “did not finish” (similar to your “read some”).

  5. It is SO hard for me to give up on a book! I’m a shameless optimist AND of a curious sort, always hopeful that there’s a twist or surprise that will grab me and make the book a winner, after all. I warned ya, shameless am I!

    I read one recently that just made me go ‘uugg’ at how it went on and on aimlesly, but I HAD to find out why there was this feeling of untold secrets or impending doom…so I skimmed over the last few pages only to find there were TWO secrets, one smaller one and one big twist. Needless to say, I backed up a few more pages– I confess that I did not return and read it all, just back far enough where the interest grabbed me again…

    So, because I must at least skim, I certainly do count a book as read…with a ‘but’ clause LOL!!


  6. Great post Laura. What I hate is when I’m reading a chunkster and get pretty far along and like it and then something shifts in the book or in me and I struggle to finish it, but I’ve already invested so much time in it I don’t want to quit.

    • I can relate to that, Terri! I’m in the middle of a chunkster now and while it’s interesting, my mind is starting to wander. Must. keep. going. !!

  7. I am sure you’ll get through the rest of the winners this year! Re: DNFs…I hate giving up on a book, but I will give up if I am really hating the book and have read at least 75 to 100 pages (rarely do I give up before that!). However, if I am reading a book for a book group read, even if I am really not liking it, I will usually stick with the book. Why? Because sometimes discussing it with other readers gives me some new insight into the book or allows me to find some appreciation for it.

    re: your second question – YES, I do count books I heave against the wall. If I have given the book a fair shot, I won’t penalize myself in a challenge by not counting it.

  8. Thanks for a great post. I follow “The Rule of 50”. There are just too many good books out there to suffer through something I’m not enjoying. I do not count a book as read unless I finish it.

    Good luck with the Bookers, I usually read at least a couple from each short list but find I’ve already read 4 from 2009!

  9. No, I don’t count books I don’t finish. But I also don’t waste a lot of time on books I don’t like.

    I’m hosting a giveaway on my Sunday Salon post today. I plan to give away two $10 gift cards to Amazon on Easter Sunday. I hope you will stop by and sign up!

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