Page 101, or Deciding What to Read

It's always been a mystery to me. When Diana and Chestnut were tiny, they would trundle through the picture book section of the library, or the bombed out aisles of the Barnes and Noble kids section, and they'd see two books, and they'd go for one and not the other. Why? Who knew. Chestnut, in particular, had a real knack for finding books I'd never seen or heard of—that were almost always awesome.

But what drew them? And how did they know it? They still can't exactly say. Diana likes to read the backs of books, and sometimes the first few pages "to see how it seems." Chestnut is more drawn to cover illustration, read the back, "I read the first page, if I like it I keep reading."

It's not like I know how to decide. I mean, I read more reviews than they do, that's for sure. But lately I've been cast adrift, our local library in year two (!) of its renovation, with only the bookmobile to keep us company on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, if we can remember. I came home from there with an odd collection: Colm Toibin, Robert B. Parker, Richard Bachman (yeah, yeah—Stephen King), Zoe Heller, and Ann Patchett. When it's the bookmobile you take what  you can get, and sometimes it surprises you. But once I finished the Ann Patchett (Run), I was stuck: what next? And so my very nice husband came to the rescue with a little-known formula: "Read page 101."


"A guy I used to know was quoting someone else and they said that the way to know if a book is good is to turn to page 101. If that's good, the book's good."

I tried it. It was actually a lot easier to judge the differences among with the books from page 101, I can tell you that. I'm telling Chestnut and Diana. We'll see.

4 thoughts on “Page 101, or Deciding What to Read

  1. Very cool idea — I’m going to give it a try. As for Coim Toibin — I want to like him, because I love Henry James and I love the Irish, etc. etc., — but I think his books are booooooooring. And I’ve tried. I think I’m going to go and open one to page 101 and see if this theory works! 🙂


  2. I just finished Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and thought it marvellous (much better than Run).
    Must try the Page 101 theory though, it is much more efficient than persisting with a book for 40-50 pages (current rule) before discarding!


  3. Hmm, I may try that. I do have a trick to figure out how many pages of a book to read if I am not sure I want to continue. It works for everyone. You take your age and subtract from 100. That is the number of pages to read to give the book a “fair shake”. I think it kind of makes sense because as you do more reading, you are better able to judge if you want to stick out reading something. YMMV


  4. Wow, that’s complex. Plus, if you’re 100 you don’t have to read ANYTHING. But it can be tricky in a bookstore to read the whole thing, if that’s what your deciding.
    I wonder if there’s a system for poetry? Or maybe people’s system is: just don’t read it.


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