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5 Rules for Reading and NOT Reading Books

September 19, 2013
What am I more likely to read?  Jane Austen novels, a Russian classic, or a comic book with pretty pictures?

What am I more likely to read? Jane Austen novels, a Russian classic, or a comic book with pretty pictures?

As a writer, it’s sometimes painful to go back and read old stuff that I’ve written.  It’s even worse if somebody else reads it.  A few days ago somebody found the first post that I wrote for Dysfunctional Literacy and left a comment.  It was complimentary (way nicer than the post deserved), but when I went back and reviewed the post (and a few others after that), I was mortified. 

The posts were poorly written.  I referred to myself as “we” and mentioned the people who read this blog (there weren’t any back then) as “dysfunctional literates.”  I’m kind of embarrassed by that now.  I’m tempted to go back and edit or delete everything from the first year, but I also think there’s nothing wrong with seeing how this blog has progressed over time. 

Even though the quality of writing was poor, some of my early topics were pretty good.  The first couple posts I wrote were about the rules I have for reading books.  Life is short, and I know I won’t have time to read everything that I want, so I need to some rules to make my reading as efficient and enjoyable as possible.  Since I don’t want to just repost poorly written blog material, I’ve rewritten the posts into one, kept a few lame jokes, deleted a bunch of stuff, and added a rule. 

So if you want to read like me or are curious about what my rules for reading are, here they are: 

Rule #1- There are exceptions for every rule. 

Yeah, that’s not as dramatic as Fight Club’s rule, but at least my Rule #2 is not the same as Rule #1. 

Now that I think about it, stating that every rule has an exception isn’t really a rule, so I’m no longer going to use that as Rule #1. 

New Rule #1- No more than three books per series. 

I don’t read any series that goes over three books, or if I begin reading such a series, I stop after three books.  Seriously, how many stories truly deserve more than three books?  Not many do.  If The Lord of the Rings could be told in three books, then so should just about any other story.  Even The Bible is only two books, and if God only needs two books, then who do we think we are to write more books in a series than God? 

And if I’m going to read a series with more than three books (hey, there can be exceptions, remember?), the series has to be completed before I start reading it.  I reluctantly began reading A Game of Thrones a few years ago, despite the series being more than three books.  Then I realized that George R. R. R. R. Martin hadn’t finished the whole thing yet.  Then I heard that the latest books get sidetracked, and now I’m wondering if Martin wrote himself into a convoluted situation that he can’t get himself out of.  I used to read Marvel Comics, so I know all about convoluted storylines, and I don’t need that kind of nonsense in the novels I read. 

Rule #2- No books more than 500 pages long. 

How many stories are truly worth the effort it takes to read (much less write) 500 pages?  A few might be worth it, but not many.  Usually a novel longer than 500 pages means that the editors didn’t do their jobs (or in the case of 19th century Russian authors, the translators didn’t do theirs either). 

Yeah, The Bible is over 500 pages long, but that’s God for you. If any author is allowed to get longwinded, it’s God.  I pretty much allow God to write what He wants without complaining about it.  God can make His own rules. I once found a typo in The Bible and got into an argument with my English teacher over it.  Who was I supposed to believe about spelling, my English teacher or God? 

Rule #3- No more than 3 books per author. 

There are a lot of great authors out there, and I’d like to read as many of them as possible.  Most authors who write lots of books follow a formula.  If you’ve read two or three of their novels, you’ve read them all.  When I think like that, I don’t yearn for the latest Stephen King horror/fantasy or the newest James Patterson schlock that somebody else probably wrote. 

I don’t have anything against schlock.  I love schlock.  I write schlock.  I just want a variety of schlock in my life. 

Rule #4-No books with bad dialogue. 

This is probably the only subjective rule of the bunch because reasonable people can disagree about the quality of dialogue.  You can’t really disagree about whether or not a book is 500 pages or not or whether or not a series has more than three books in it.  I guess you COULD argue about it, but reasonable people would look at you funny. 

Even though it’s subjective, dialogue is important to me.  If the characters don’t sound authentic, then I can’t put myself in the story.  I have a problem reading YA fiction because hardly any of the authors have a feeling for the way kids/teenagers/young adults talk.  I’m almost surprised that teens/young adults put up with that, but then again, everything is new to them. 

Some of the dialogue in The Bible is kind of corny, but I’d never admit that to God.  As far as I’m concerned, God writes great dialogue, but humans mess up the translation.  

Rule #5- Sample many, finish few 

I’m a big believer in NOT finishing books.  I used to complete every novel I started just for the sense of accomplishment, but then I started to accomplish real things in life (I hope that doesn’t sound like an insult to people who finish books no matter what because I mean that as a reflection of me and not other people).  Reading shouldn’t be a chore (unless you’re in school), and I’m getting old, and if I don’t want to finish a book (or eat my broccoli), then I don’t have to. 

I’m proud of the number of books I haven’t finished.  I used to lie to people and say I’d read the books that I had actually stopped reading, but conversations are more interesting if I’m honest and say “I started that book but couldn’t finish it.” 

*****

I like my rules for reading, but I also know they wouldn’t work for everybody.  Some people have a certain number of books they want to finish within a certain time.  Some readers want to consume every book by their favorite authors.  Some refuse to read any books written by certain authors.  Some readers might not even have any rules at all for reading books. 

But enough about me!  What rules do you have for reading or NOT reading books?

22 Comments
  1. I feel compelled to finish a book that I start. There are very few that I get so disgusted with that I stop reading. From your rules, I guess that you missed the Harry Potter series (which I really enjoyed)…more than 3 and more than 500 pages.

    • Most (if not all) of the Harry Potter books came out before I made my rules, but I still couldn’t get past page 8 or 9 of the first one because of the name “Dumbledore.” “Dumbledore” was like fingernails on the chalkboard for me, except fingernails on the chalkboard don’t bother me as much. The “Dumbledore” rule is probably worse than my “no more than three books in a series” rule.

  2. I definitely agree that YA novels (with a couple exceptions–John Green!) can be really unrealistic. The Russian editor thing, too. I once had plans to read all of Anna Karenina…it didn’t pan out. The only thing I know I will NEVER read, though, is any more Edith Wharton. I read Ethan Frome and sort of liked it, and then I watched a heated presentation about how Ethan Frome is by far Wharton’s best (and least depressingly pointless) novel. There was a lot of evidence. Not gonna refute it. Other than that I’m pretty open, though I’m tentative about vampires as a general rule.

    • I might have to read some (no more than three) of John Green’s books. I’d read The Fault in our Stars, but I’m afraid of a kids with cancer book. However, if it has good dialogue, I’ll at least start it.

  3. Never ever abandoned a book if possible!

  4. Very guilty of sticking to a book FAR beyond the point of losing that last shred of interest. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series comes to mind…and occasionally into my nightmares…Game of Thrones: enough said.

  5. I leave books or skim them if they start to suck (or I just go until I get to the sexy parts). Sometimes it helps to read other authors in between series books, it helps break up the monotony.

  6. Oh, my mistake. I said “interest.” I meant dignity. 😀

  7. Reblogged this on Message in a Blogger and commented:
    Well it’s worth a first read 2me

  8. I tend to really have no rules for reading. LOL Maybe that is my problem. I don’t necessarily have to finish every book I read but I don’t really not finish them either. I’m also really really guilty of starting a book and thinking in my head “blah blah blah” and skipping to the last chapter to read how it ends to find out if it’s worth reading the “guts” of the story. (yeah I know slap on the wrist) The only books I tend to actually finish are the ones my oldest son and husband hand me and say “hey this is totally what you would LOVE” I also get on author kicks. If I finish a book by one author I usually make the next couple of books I read by that author as well unless of course there is only one book by that author. BUT looking at your rules has made me actually think about my reading habits and if I have anything that I particularly follow for reading or even for writing.

  9. God got a committee to write the bible, so you won’t get struck down if you complain. Although you’ll have to do it in triplicate. I used to feel I had to finish every book, and then I realised that maybe it wasn’t just my fault if I couldn’t get to the end. So now if I get bored I read the last few pages (but I don’t tell anybody).

  10. At last, someone else who agrees with me about Stephen King! I, like you, started reading Game of Thrones and then found out when I’d read book 7 that there were another three to come. I honestly do not like reading Game, it’s hard work, not enjoyable, but I will read the rest just to find out what happens to the central characters – unless, of course, he kills them off and then revives them later as he has a habit of doing. I felt like throwing every one of his books out the window. But enough of my moans may I recommend a series that is 5 in length at the moment and I can’t wait for the 6th – the Shardlake series written by C J Sansom. I guarantee you will not be bored (like this comment).

  11. So, no Harry Potter?

  12. My main rule for reading is that I refuse to read anything that was then made into a series of films for young people about wizards….what?, of course I’m not referring to anything in particular, who said that?

    I can get down with your rule 1 and 4 but only original rule 1, not actual rule 1. I know what you mean about the same old thing over and over again but I see a new Philip Kerr, Bernie Gunther novel and I HAVE to read it and then I love it and feel sad there isn’t another one for me to read straight away. You should give one a whirl and hey, if you don’t like it just apply rule 5, what have you got to lose?

  13. I think I disagree with pretty much everything in this post.
    I love series with more than three books, I love trilogies, I love stand-alones. And I love it even more if the series isn’t finished yet…it gives me something to look forward to…I literally measure time in book release dates. (also, technically speaking The Bible has 66 books).
    I don’t pay attention to how many pages a book has. (also, any typos found in the Bible are a result of human error, not God getting the spelling wrong).
    If I love an author, I’ll generally try to read every book/series of their’s that I can.
    Rule #4 is probably the only one I agree with…I can’t stand bad dialogue.
    As for Rule #5, I’ve only recently started not finishing books…and they have to be really bad for me to not finish them, like “I’d rather stand on this train station platform doing absolutely nothing while there is massive train delays than stand and read because the book I have with me is so bad”…if it’s not that bad, then I will finish it…I’m pedantic like that.

    …this was going to be longer, but I’m writing on an ipad, and somehow managed to delete everything and I’d pretty much forgotten what I’d written, so this is the condensed version…
    Also, many of your Bible references annoyed me…you talk about it like it’s a YA novel, when it’s not.

  14. I think the one I disagree with the most is the “No books over 500 pages.” I think there’s something to the experience of reading a book that is difficult, long, or tedious. Or maybe I just feel a sense of entitlement because of my battle with “Infinite Jest,” from which I emerged victorious. A little unsatisfied, but victorious.

    I really enjoy hearing about how other people read. I think many readers set rules for themselves, so I loved this post.

    • Thanks. I get the whole “victorious” thing. I used to be like that too, but I think I’ve lost a lot of patience in the last few years (when it comes to books), so that’s why I’ve had to make my rules.

  15. My rules, not that I’ve ever articulated them, seem to be similar to yours. I steer away from huge books, incomplete series, and rarely go to the trouble of reading more than a few books by any single author.

    I don’t like that I stop reading a book occasionally though. I feel guilty when I do. (And nearly always promise to get back to them, but rarely do.)

    But, really, I am mostly commenting because I wanted to say that this paragraph…

    “I don’t have anything against schlock. I love schlock. I write schlock. I just want a variety of schlock in my life.”

    …is great. I laughed out loud. Thanks. 🙂

  16. Well its true, some books put you off to sleep and others bore you to death. But i guess thats what makes a good book all the more special.

  17. I love your rules, DL, but when it comes to rules in reading, I honestly am an anarchist. If I’m going to start having them, I’d subscribe to rule #5 as my #1. I’m a Gemini after all!

  18. I love 19th century literature and have a degree in Russian Studies. War and Peace was a struggle, but right now I’m trying to get through Les Miserables (in English). They appear to be equals in meandering plot. I’m not sure limiting either of them to 500 words would have been the answer.

  19. When you’re right, you’re right. I agree with most of these, especially the series of books. I refused to read more than the first 3 Wheel of Time books until the series was finished and I dodged a bullet there, since it never got finished before the author died. Personally, I’m even turned off by most trilogies (Lord of the Rings is an exception) since fantasy and sci-fi authors seem compelled to write in threes. Personally, my rule for writing novels has been “no sequels”. That may change one day, but for now, I have enough original ideas.

    I don’t have time to read most books over 500 pages but as your old Rule 1 said, there are exceptions. I’m really glad I read War and Peace, Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings (of course), and Bible, of course. Of course, with the Bible, if you take out all the parts not particularly relevant to today, you’d probably be down to about 500 pages or less.

    I think the most books I’ve ever read by one author is Terry Pratchett. I’ve probably read about 20 of his books. Most of the time though, I don’t feel any compulsion to read, say, other Kurt Vonnegut books after I read Slaughterhouse Five.

    Bad dialogue sucks everywhere, unless it’s so bad you can make fun of it. By the way, if you want great dialogue in the Bible, read Job 38-41. I love how sarcastic God is with Job.

    I think I differ most from you with finishing books. I have a compulsion to finish books. I even finished Ulysses, although I did it cursing James Joyce the whole way.

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