I just had the most fascinating discussion with a couple of my co-workers about how we choose a book to read.
Allison Hill, our general manager, always reads the last word on the last page of the book. Very often, she says, that word “encapsulates the entire essence of the book.” As an example, she grabbed a random book from a pile in my office and looked at the last word. The book just happened to be Fahrenheit 451, and its final word is city.
“Does that word make you want to read the book?” I asked her.
“Absolutely,” she said. She looked through Charles Bukowski’s Factotum, another book I had lying around, and approved of its final word (up), too. On the other hand, she sensed nothing good from another novel ending with the word Bay. “That just sounds pretentious,” she said. Home is always a good final word, Allison states, and she said it’s amazing how many books end with that word.
Mike Tuck, our returns coordinator, uses the page 84 test: he’ll read page 84 of a book and decide if he’s willing to give the entire book a shot based on that one page. He says the best page 84 ever is contained in Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There. “The hardback, not the paperback,” he clarifies. Why page 84? Mike says he picked up the habit from a longtime bookseller at another bookstore job he had. “By page 84, the author is past all the exposition and is into the meat of what he’s going to say.” He feels you can safely judge the storytelling and writing quality by that point in a book.
Inkie Keen, who worked at Vroman’s for over 20 years, uses the subtract-from-100 rule, which I think is a good plan. You subtract your age from 100, and that’s the number of pages you should read before you give up on a book. The older you get, the fewer pages you need to read before deciding a book just isn’t for you — it seems very sensible, and it’s a method I’ve tried myself. Then again, I’ve been known to get within 10 pages or so of the end of a book and set it down forever. “I can see where this is going,” I tell myself. I wonder how many bang-up, surprise endings I’ve missed by doing this?