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The 33% Rule

[UPDATE: Wordsmithed the rule to read better and corrected a spelling mistake. I seriously need to get a proofreader.]

A recent post by Michael May (“I Give Up: A Game of Thrones“) talks about not finishing books. He mentions a rule he got from Bookgasm…The 100-Page Rule: “If it’s not good by page 100, quit reading.”

A couple of months ago, I asked Do You Know When to Stop Reading? After that post, I thought I did. But I might have benefited from knowing The 100-Page Rule one month later when I was midway through Blindsight before I finally gave it up. I just wasn’t getting into it and I’m not entirely sure why. It has been getting very positive reviews everywhere I see it mentioned.

Halfway through a book is probably the longest I’ve lasted through an unfinished book. I’m not sure 100 pages is enough to determine likability. It really depends on the book’s size. I seem to remember Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy taking a while to get started as he took the time to spin up all the different story threads. Maybe a Percentage Rule would be better. Hmm…The 33% Rule sounds about right. For a 300-page book you get your 100-page acid test.

Officially stated, then:

The 33% Rule: If the first one-third of a book is not good, stop reading it.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

14 Comments on The 33% Rule

  1. It’s funny; I don’t often deliberately stop reading a book, but I do find myself putting down a book and then never getting back to it.

  2. My problem is that I find most books very interesting to begin with. Then, lots of books get a bit tiresome – usually after I’m 33% through. Finally some of them turns great again, while others turn really bad.

    And when a book only gets bad in the middle, I find it more difficult to stop reading it than if it was bad to begin with. What do you think about this?

  3. Generally speaking, if a book has parts that keep me interested enough somewhere in the first third, I’m willing to cut it some slack. As you say, it could just be a weak section of the story. That’s exactly what I felt with Altered Carbon; it has weaker middle.

    The hard decision for me comes when a book is consistently only marginally entertaining or not entertaining at all for the entire first third. Do I stick it out? Do I give it up? Thus the 33% rule!

    (Mind you, I only came up with that rule today. I have yet to follow my own advice. :))

  4. I will have to agree with 33%…I could not get into Vellum after 50 pages and I just finished the entire Night’s Dawn Saga and agree it was slow starting but man when it picked up!!!!

    Never ever force a read, you don’t soak up the book and forget what you read 10 pages ago…not worth it.

  5. I rarely quit ‘cold turkey’ with a book I’m not entirely enjoying. Instead, I end up putting it down and not getting back to it for several days. Eventually I just give up, but always notice it there with my bookmark and it kind of nags me to know I’m not going to finish it.

  6. On a sort-of-related topic: Do people here think most books are just too darn long anymore? At some point during most of the books I read I find myself thinking, “Don’t you have an editor to tell you that not every word you write is golden?”.

    I think part of the reason for John Scalzi’s popularity is that he doesn’t write doorstop tomes.

  7. The problem I have with putting a book down for long periods of time is one of continuity. Imagine watching an hour-long TV show five minutes at a time.

    Re: bloated books…I think fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, suffers bloat more than sf for bloat. See also our previous post Are Books Too Long?

  8. I try to finish every book I start. It may take two or three tries. It may take two or three years! But I really try!

    Sometimes it takes two or three books by an author before that author catches on with me. So many of my friends love Stephenson’s “Snowcrash”, but I couldn’t finish it (well, officially I’m “still reading it”). However, with The Baroque Cycle, I loved them!

    Bloated books? Yes, the Stephen King Syndrome has caught on. As has the Robert Jordan (endless cycle) Syndrome. I try to vary my reading. For every magnum opus I tackle, I’ll pick up a collection of short works by Lord Dunsany or the like. That’s one reason I’ve got back to that short-story-a-day project; it enables me to make sure I get a lot of reading variety!

  9. Just finished reading The Confusion (volume 2 of The Baroque Cycle), and I reckon it’s loads better than Quicksilver. So that’s about 33%, but 900 pages!

    Should you perhaps give it a little bit more than 33%? 40% to allow you to get into the middle?

    There’s not many books I give up on (I even finished a Dan Brown book!).

  10. I was about 80 pages into Robert Metzger’s Cusp when I realized there was no way it could possible end well, but I was mesmerized by the sheer number of completely batshit and implausible ideas he was pulling out of his ass at a regular rate.

    I actually liked the first slow acts of Night’s dawn because I had no idea where the story was headed but all the possibilities were compelling. As opposed to Perdido Street Station, which had me hooked for the first two-thirds before turning into a pretty formulaic monster-hunt.

  11. You know, maybe 100 pages isn’t quite enough, but it is a useful starting point (or ending as the case might be) It’s so odd to have you mention books by Hamilton. I just received his Judas Unchained for review. I had a miserable time reading this book. I was well past 100 when it really got to be a chore. At the time I figured, well, they sent it to me, I should at least in good faith read it all before I review it. But my review echoed my feelings. The book is overly large, to many sub plots and way to many people. So I didn’t do anyone any favors by slogging through this one. I guess there is nothing wrong with saying – to paraphrase – I can’t read that!

  12. I usually go with the page count–by 50 pages if it’s just not my thing, then I put it down. However, if it is my thing, I’ll give it to at least page 100. If by page 100 there’s some really missing or it just isn’t keeping my interest, then I don’t waste any more time on it.

    I used to be firmly in the camp of “I spent money on this book, I’m going to finish it no matter what”. But then I got older and my time became more precious, or maybe I just have too many things going on and can’t afford to waste time on anything that doesn’t hold my interest. Whichever the case may be, there is definitely a point where a book gets put down never to be picked up again if it doesn’t work for me.

  13. 33% is a pretty steep standard for Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings (333 pages or 15 hours of audio).


  14. …But not as steep as going through the reamining 30 hours.  🙂

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