The 20-page rule: how much time should you give a devastatingly boring book?

Novelist Mark Billingham advises readers to angrily launch a book across the room after 20 non-gripping pages – but almost 40% of people will keep going right to the end

Name: The 20-page rule.

Age: This one’s actually more about page than age.

OK then, page: Page 20, obvs.

Of a book? Of a book.

Any book? Pretty much.

And what happens on page 20 of any book? Well, that depends on the book. This is more about what happens to the book itself.

And what does happen, on page 20, to the book? You get to throw it across the room. Angrily!

Why? Because you’re not enjoying it.

And if I am? Then it’s OK to keep reading, of course.

Who’s saying this? Mark Billingham, the writer of the Tom Thorne crime novels. Speaking at Cheltenham literary festival, he said that if a book hadn’t gripped you after 20 pages, then it was OK not just to give up on it but to “throw it across the room angrily”.

Because? “Life’s too short … There are so many great books out there.” Billingham, who used to be a standup comedian, went on to say: “I couldn’t walk out on a stage at the Comedy Store and go: ‘Stick with me, I’ll get funny in about 10 minutes.’” Same with books: he says he gives up on five out of 10 that he starts.

Bet he’s never finished Ulysses. No one – literally and literarily – has finished Ulysses. Unsurprisingly, James Joyce’s notoriously difficult stream of consciousness novel featured in the top five abandoned classics in a handy infographic produced by Goodreads a while back.

Along with? Catch-22, Moby-Dick, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Atlas Shrugged. Joyce and Herman Melville also appeared on a Book Riot survey as authors of books people just pretend to have read, along with Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, and the Bible. Goodreads had some interesting stats about when people abandon books, too.

And? Billingham, we now know, is among the 15.8% of people who give up after fewer than 50 pages; 27.9% after 50-100 pages; 7.6% at 100 pages; 10.6% after more than 100 pages. “I always finish, no matter what” came in at 38.1%.

That’s me! I’ve started so I’ll finish. You and Mrs Billingham.

Is that the title of a book? It sounds like a book. No, she’s Mark’s wife. He said she persevered even if she wasn’t enjoying a book, like some kind of “war of attrition”.

Does she enjoy Mr Billingham’s books? That we don’t know. But if she wasn’t enjoying one of his she wouldn’t stop, even though he thinks she should. And then throw it across the room, angrily.

Do say: “Mind your heads, War and Peace incoming!”

Don’t say: “No, not the Kindle you idiot! War and Smashed to Bloody Pieces …”

The GuardianTramp

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