Many writers put much effort into the first five pages of their stories, or maybe even the first chapter or even the first line. But what if I told you I don’t usually read a book based on the first five pages or even the first line. In fact, I’ve read excellent first lines and not continued the story or was totally oblivious to the beauty of a well-written opening. Maybe this makes me a poor reader or simply one who’s hard toe please. Either way, I don’t usually read a book based off the first chapter. (I’m also a bookworm who is terrible at casually browsing books in libraries and bookstores, but that’s another story).
So, you might ask: How do I decide
if a book is good enough to read? Well, typically, there are three ways I find
a book to read: 1) it’s required reading for class (I’m an English Literature major),
2) it was recommended by a friend/author, or 3) I stumbled upon it online and
read reviews. Sometimes the book’s cover may make me want to buy it even more.
That’s right. I said it. Not the title. The cover.
Once I have the book in my hands
(usually I borrow it from the library unless I trust the author/recommender) I
may or may not read it, but I don’t base it on the first five pages but the
first thirty pages. If a story doesn’t pick up after then, I may get bored and
return the book, or I may continue just to see if it ever does pick up. (I once
got two thirds of the way through a boring book and finally put it down when I
realized it would never get better.)
Perhaps I’m not as overwhelmed by
curiosity as other people. Until I actually care about the protagonist or other
characters, mere curiosity isn’t enough. (This is why, until recently, it was
literally an impossible for me to get through the Mission Impossible movies.
Somebody just died in the first five minutes? Who was that anyway?)
With the books I pick up, I will
read the first three chapters or the first fifty pages before I decide whether
or not it is worth reading. By then, I will have some idea who the characters
are and if they are worth spending 300+ pages with.
While books may be competing with
movies for people’s attention, most people who intentionally sit down to read a
book are likely have longer attention spans than those who don’t read at all.
Sure, there are reluctant readers, and I applaud authors who write books for
them. Rick Rordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians
is an excellent example of a series specifically geared to children/young
adults with a short attention span.
Nonetheless, plenty of classics exist
that don’t suck readers in from the first five pages. Take the Lord of the Rings, for example. It took
me almost an entire year to read The
Fellowship of the Ring because I took month-long breaks between chapters.
Right now, I’m still struggling through the Silmarillion.
And this is coming from an avid Tolkien fan who has LotR marathons at least once a year and could never choose between Middle
Earth and Narnia.
Similarly, I don’t remember the
opening lines of The Book Thief or Inkdeath. And neither of these books were
particularly fast reads. But they are stories I enjoyed over a longer period of
Ultimately, I don’t read all books
because they are fast-paced adventures (though some portions certainly may be
fast-paced). I tend to read books because they have quality. While having a
gripping opening to a book may help in some cases, it is not the end-all-be-all
in a quality literature. Some days, I want a book that will grab my attention by
the first chapter and hold it to the end, and other days, I’ll sit down to
enjoy a story over the course of several days. That’s when I’ll read the first
How long does it usually take you to
decide whether or not you’ll read an entire book? What are some books you
enjoyed despite the opening pages/chapters?
Literary references: Rick Rordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, J.R.R.
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Simarillion, and
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Cornelia