The First Twenty Pages

Recently one of my friends checked out a book from the library. She meant to pick up the popular classic, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury but accidentally snagged his other novel, Farewell Summer (now that I look at the Goodreads, I realize that she got the third book in the series). She started reading and a few minutes later, while talking to another person, casually mentioned that she was going to go back to the library to return the book and get the book she actually wanted. Now this usually wouldn’t faze me in any way. I understand that it wasn’t the book she wanted. But what really inspired this post was that right after saying that, she said that the book was weird and that she didn’t like it.

Now I was surprised. I said, “But you literally just started the book.”

And she replied saying the writing was strange.

“How much have you read?”

“Like twenty pages. I can usually tell if I like a book based on the first twenty pages.”

Cue my gasping.

Donghae Gasp

Okay okay I know a lot of people can drop a book after twenty pages. But personally, I have to give it at least 50-100 pages before I can warrant giving up.

Anyways, it started this argument where she would quote some of the writing and I’d rebut it with some completely asinine reason that it’s not bad. Then the other girls at the table joined in. Two of us said that you could totally judge a book on 20 pages while the other two didn’t.

Well it made me wonder something. Can you accurately judge a novel based off of the first twenty pages?

As someone who read a lot, I argued that you couldn’t.

One of the girls said that only exception was Harry Potter because “it’s Harry Potter!”

Me:

leo what is this fuckery

While Harry Potter is a series that I like, it does not mean it can be exempted from the “20 pages and drop rule”. If I’m perfectly honest, the first time I tried to read Philosopher’s Stone, I could not bring myself to care about Hagrid delivering Harry onto the Dursley’s doorstep. It was only the second attempt at reading it that made me a fan.

So of course I tell her that that is a terrible reason.

Since then, I have considered my opinion and identified why I thought this way. And most of them are from my experiences reading.


Reason #1: Writing Habits

Writing is something that fluctuates. Sometimes it comes easily, while other times, it doesn’t. All of it is reflected in the construction of the book. Authors can never be expected to have perfect writing all the time. People might get stuck during a low-action scene and end up having to write and rewrite to meet publisher expectations. In the process, the introduction may come out weaker or something. It’s all natural!

Reason #2: The Beginning is Slow but then the Ending is Not

I also have experienced multiple books where the beginning is just slow but the second half of the novel is the most dynamic, exciting thing to read. Writing off a book at twenty pages completely robs you of the chance to experience that gradual build in tension and explosive climax.

Reason #3: Annoying Characters Might Mature

Enjoyable novels often showcase exemplary character changes. Especially contemporary novels that begin with the whiniest, weakest characters that can exist. With the hardships that characters experience throughout a novel, by the time you have reached the end, they might be completely different from the character that a reader met on page 10.

Reason #4: Dynamic Expositions Do Not Equate To a Fantastic Novel

One argument was that books with more action in the beginning are more interesting. Well I agree. But just because it does not begin with a action-y, interesting scene doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It is completely unfair to shun 99% of all romance and contemporary novels because they don’t have exciting introductions.

Reason #5: Slow Can Become Fast and Fast Can Become Slow

Reason number two explains how a slow moving book can end up with a fast-paced ending. However, the opposite is also true. A fast-moving novel can easily slow by the time a novel has ended. And do you have a better read? Not necessarily. Pacing can make or break a book and most of the time, it’s worse to start strong and fizzle out.

Reason #6: 20 pages barely covers two chapters

Books can have chapters of various lengths but 20 pages will barely cover the length of two chapters in your average novel. If I’m estimating, usually chapters will be about 9 pages in length. What do you cover in two chapters? Almost nothing. Maybe a name and introduction but that’s about it.

Let’s use Harry Potter as an example.

Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry and the Dursley’s are driving to the zoo

Chamber of Secrets: Harry just receives his letter and Dobby just disappeared from the Dursley’s house.

Prisoner of Azkaban: With the Dursleys

Chamber of Secrets: With the Dursleys but writing to friends

Order of the Phoenix: Trying to bring Dudley back home after the dementor’s attack.

Half-Blood Prince: Narcissa and the beginning of the Unbreakable Vow (if you turn like five pages)

Deathly Hallows: Dumbledore’s obituary

In all of these cases it was either the beginning of or in the middle of chapter 2. Harry hasn’t even made it to Hogwarts in all of these books.

Reason #7: Dual POVS

A book might have two or more point-of-views. Omniscient books are difficult to write well because there are so many nuances that have to be perfected. One wrong move and the boy will sound like the girl and it’s all over the place. If there are multiple point-of-views, at twenty pages you barely have had the chance to meet any of the characters properly before giving up.

I could probably think of a thousand different reasons you can’t give up so soon on a book but I think this post is already long enough. Clearly I think that you should give a book more of a chance than 20 pages before giving up but what are your opinions?

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