I’ve tried to read both Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow several times over the years, and I don’t think I’ve ever made it as far as 50 pages in either of them. Anything by Pynchon is an incredibly tough slog.
Do you mean Neal Stephenson, or has @cstross been writing new books that I haven’t heard of?
Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is about as readable as Gravity’s Rainbow, but considerably shorter.
Update: corrected spelling of “Pynchon”.
Update 2: @jhbadger calls Crying “way more readable” than GR; on reflection I agree.
“All my books will henceforth be 50 pages long” – it would be unbelievably challenging to accomplish a good, adult-level, fiction story in just 50 pages. I look forward to reading yours.
I give them ten to twenty pages, which is plenty for me to decide if I want to finish and rarely does a bad book improve after that point. By the time I’m fifty pages in, I’m usually pretty committed. I heartily concur with the sentiment of not feeling obligated to finish a bad book. Same for any other optional use of time. Life is too short for wasting it.
I generally try to read the books anyway, sometimes often making my way through several books in a series before giving up (The dark tower series being an example, has rave reviews from many people i know and ticks near all of the boxes for genres i like. My first attempt i got the the second book, my most recent stopped at the forth. I really tried but it felt such a hard slog to read i had to force myself to continue, when i realised i was doing that, i stopped)
There is many a book that I couldn’t get into the first time, or even two, that I tried to read it, and then, giving it one more chance, totally fell under its spell.
This is true as well though, my first read through of Terry Pratchet/Steven Baxter’s The Long Earth series i gave up on after the first book on my first try (even though i’m a big fan of both authors). I tried again a year later and binge-read the entire series in a week. Not sure what made it click the second time but not the first.
I can count on one hand the books i’ve stopped reading before finishing it (or at least the first whole book if a series), it’s very rare for me.
Derp, thanks for correcting my late night brain.
Good example! (That might also be an example where the genre itself has changed … If Tolkien were writing today, his editor would have trimmed a LOT of stuff that makes Tolkien’s work what it is!)
Mythology is a a niche genre to begin with, and that one tries to put genocidal vengeance porn and hippy wizard love plots in one book. Pick a lane, folks.
For me, this was Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island. It seemed impossibly stupid for a writer I really liked and I just quit it. But I decided to give it another go later on and found it interesting if not as good as his early stuff.
I bailed on James Comey’s book because the writing took a dump halfway through.
Oh, Lot 49 is way more readable than Gravity’s Rainbow, which is basically on the level of Joyce in terms of intentional obscurity. Lot 49 is basically a fun conspiracy thriller that mocks conspiracy thrillers, much like Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.
And this is why R. Crumb’s Illustrated Book of Genesis is perfection!
The first half of the first book of the Baroque Cycle is a serious drag. I love the series, but still resist rereading the first book because it opens that slowly.
Hesse’s Steppenwolf and Eco’s Name of the Rose would be two to remember as exceptions to this rule. Steppenwolf needs to bore you stiff in the first 106 pages to make the contrast pop when the turnaround happens. I don’t know how many people stop reading at exactly that page, but I’ve known a few, including me on my first attempt.
The thing about Pynchon, especially Gravity’s Rainbow, is to experience it as a series of clever and well-researched set piece scenes rather than as an organized “novel”.
I can think of only two books I ever just gave up on.
Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls - started out great, like an sf version of The 39 Steps. Then about three chapters in, good ol’ Lazarus Long and his whole incredibly tiresome extended family show up. Slam!
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain. A potentially good story screaming in pain underneath the weight of thousands of paragraphs of lifestyle trivia which do absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Should have been titled Forty Months of Breast Pumping.
The overriding issue is not that life’s so short; it’s that you’re dead such a long time…
I was just thinking about Foucault’s Pendulum because it is in my top three favorite books and would have failed this test. In fact few of my favorite books would pass a 50 page test on first reading.
It took me five or six tries to get into A Canticle for Leibowitz. The opening scene has an impoverished monk riding a worn-down donkey or mule across a sun-blasted desert. It reads at a donkey’s pace and goes on for so long I lost the will to continue. Finally after five years of looking at it on my nightstand I flipped through it until I found something interesting in the middle, got into that, then read it from the start knowing I had better pages ahead.
This adds the process of subtracting your age from 100 once you pass 50. That means an 80 year-old only needs to read 20 pages. I’m down to 46 pages myself.
OOPS! - this link is also included in the article. Knew I’d seen it somewhere before.