The Rule of Five

1. Choose a book based on its author/title/cover design

2. Read the blurb

3. Read the last pages #afairydies (optional)

4. Read the first five pages

5. If you don’t feel compelled to read page six – move on to another book. If you have looked up and it’s page 36 – this one’s a reader!

Everyone has different approaches for how they will read a book.  Some people insist on reading everything they choose from cover to cover regardless of whether they like the book or not. Others will use Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 of which I am a major fan – how can I not be a fan. I was fortunate enough to meet Nancy Pearl a few years ago and while we were chatting discovered that we both wanted to be Miranda Melendy in The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright when we were kids (I digress). But I have lately found that I can’t even apply this rule. I have found that I am now applying my very own Rule of Five in which you judge a book by its cover, get hooked by its blurb, discover the outcome and let those first five pages lead you to a more permanent reading decision.

Of course, there is always an exception to the rule: if you have been told that a particular book is set reading for school/university/work – suck it up and read the bloody thing.

Now for all the bookgroups out there chanting “Exempt me! Exempt me!” – bookgroups are not exceptions to the rule. Life is too short even for bookgroup members. If page six is unbearable download the cribnotes, even if the book had been your choice. If your bookgroup members disparage your choice to not continue reading I would suggest that you find another bookgroup.

So what has led me to this Rule of Five? Late in February, I decided to read Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Kiss. Many people I know have praised her books to me. They love her and adore her writing but, as I am not a big fan of paranormal romance (I have previously read MaryJanice Davidson, JR Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon), I have not pursued reading much in this sub-genre. In March, however, I was attending the NSW Readers Advisory Seminar on Fantasy and though I had read several fantasy titles in preparation I thought it would be best that I attempt a title that crossed over with my favourite genre – romance. I was quite enthusiastic in reading this book as I looked forward to discussing it with friends. It starts in a train station, there was some sort of gadget involved in the capture of an errant (was it) angel, there was narrative comparing her capturing tactics with her friend’s tactics etc etc. And then I vagued out and I can’t remember anything beyond that. I was on page five when I gave up and moved on to read a fab kids fantasy book called Urgum the Axeman by Kjartan Poskitt.

Once I gave up reading this book I tweeted the following:

Only one person objected. The other five who answered all agreed and felt that it was fine to give up and move on…and in one case, seemed to suggest that five pages were admirable.

A week later, I was struck again by the importance of a book engaging the reader in those first pages while I was listening to Brent Weeks at the NSW RA Seminar answering an audience question on how to make books appealing to reluctant readers. He spoke about how he consciously has action in the very first page of his books as he knows that this is a hook for many readers, himself included.

This led me to think of my favourite books and there isn’t a single one that I would say I struggled past the first pages. I remember reading Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi in a single inhalation and I did the same with Jennifer Crusie’s Charlie All Night, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, Matthew Rubinstein’s Solstice, Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score, and the list goes on and on. I was not distracted after opening these books. I did not feel the need to put my book down and call a friend just to have a break and, in some reading cases, I wholly forgot to feed my children.

Another point I’d like to make is the attention given by the literary world to the first line of highly regarded books. There are books published on first lines, there are websites dedicated to them and there are infinite trivia quizzes on that all important first line. That first line is the hook and those first five pages are the bait that should draw you into the rest of the book.

I then think about the books that I have picked up, I have liked their covers, I have liked their premise based on a good blurb yet for some elusive reason, be it the writing style, unlikeable characters, too much violence or some vague intangible element, I have decided to move on to a greener reading pasture.

Giving up on a book in its opening pages does not mean that the book is not good. It may have some wonderful qualities and you may decide to revisit the book, or some other book by that author, at some later stage, as I plan to do eventually with Nalini Singh’s books. It just wasn’t the right book for you at this point of your life.

So I beseech you all to not slog through a whole book; don’t labour the first 50 pages. Let your senses take over and make a snap judgement on whether to read on in those introductory five pages.

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3 thoughts on “The Rule of Five

  1. Great post.

    I use a combination of the rule of five and of fifty. Sometimes you need to read a chunk (around 50 pages) to discover if you are going to want to read the rest. Dirt music is a good example of a book which needs more the 50 pages than the five pages. Mostly though I read about five pages (or the electronic equivalent) and if it is not working it is not working (this is true whether it is a recipe book or a novel). I may try again another time as perhaps it was my mood rather than the book that was at fault. If I notice I am skimming rather than reading I also realise I probably should stop.

  2. I wish I had known about the Rule of 5 a long time ago! In the last couple of years I have forced myself to put down a book that I’m not enjoying and move onto something else. In fact, now I take great delight in telling my book group that I didn’t finish one of our book choices!

    I am trying to extend my reading habits to genres I normally avoid, I seem to have run out of steam and enjoyment of my ‘standards’. Great post, really love your writing 🙂

  3. @Ellen I like the idea of using a combination of the rule of five and fifty. There are books that do sink the hook from the beginning but that is where the book peaked. Skimming books is a whole other ball game for me as it is often a book that I feel compelled to read.

    @Sally Thank you! It’s taken me over 35 years of reading to decide upon having a rule of five. And if someone gave me this rule when I was 20 I would have dismissed them as a lightweight 🙂

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