The historian and author Yuval Noah Harari noted in his 2018 talks at google that he turns down most of the books that he starts reading after about ten pages.

If there is nothing of significant interest within those pages then it’s better to move to a book that grabs your attention. He admitted that there are certainly case where some incredible insight could have been found on page 200. Yet he feels comfortable passing on books because there are so many significant and meaningful books to read. It is impossible for a human to read them all so best be selective.

I do let books go, just not often and I certainly don’t have a rule about it. If I stop reading a book it is usually because external circumstances. Even then I don’t real say “No, I’m done with this”. It is more a gradual process of neglect. I pick the book up less and less until the book find itself back at the library or in the dark untouched corner of my bookshelf. Reflecting on it, I realized that I take a bit of pride in giving books it a fair shot. After all can I really judge the significance of a text with out reading it? Could I ever apply something like the 10 page rule to my own reading habit?

Obviously the answer is both yes and no. We initially judge a text by a description, an abstract, or an association provided by an algorithm. I picked up The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin while walking through my college library book shelves struggling to wrap my head around some long forgotten chemistry problem my sophomore year. I picked it up because I liked the cover.

The Dispossessed  - circa 1974

The book, selected from a gut reaction to the artwork, was my first exposure to science fiction. Through reading it I learned that fiction allows authors the freedom to question raise questions about society in a more flexible social/political/economic structure. The space ships and lasers are only interesting because those articles existing a culture close enough to our own that we can understand the dilemmas the characters face when they decide to fire lasers at that other scape ship. Science fiction allows the authors to test the boundaries of our culture and our identity as a people.

On the other end of the spectrum there is the book The Necessity of Experience by Edward S. Reed. I found this book from a reference in another book. The cover was black, but it’s been one of the most informative text I’ve read about the big picture question of “how to live a life”. That said, the first two chapters we’re painful to get through. I understood why they were there, but they just didn’t matter to me. If I relied only on the first ten pages, I would have dropped it like a brick and I am sure I would be a different person today.

A balance is needed. I can’t quite say where that is for me at the moment. Attempting to pull of Harari’s ten page rule is beyond my capabilities at this time. I am far less read, and I don’t have the clarity of perspective regarding the information I am seeking that I can sense from Harari’s speech. Yet I’m going to try something. I’m going to commit to not picking up a new text unless I have at least 45 minutes to read. My hope is that by making the selection of a new book a formal process, which involves a fair bit of time, I’ll be confident in my decision to take it or leave it.

Let’s see how it goes.