Friday, June 15, 2007

The Rule of 50

Famous librarian Nancy Pearl spoke to hundreds of us at a conference a few years ago in Seattle. She's probably the most well-read librarian in the United States but she admitted she didn't get there by finishing every book she picked up. Oh, thank God! Once she explained her "rule of 50" I was off the hook. That old New England ethic "finish what you start, blah, blah, blah," no longer had to be followed. Presumably, after the age of 50, time's a wasting and, if a writer fails to grab your attention after 50 pages, then that writer no longer deserves your time and attention. Better yet, for every year after 50, Nancy says we can subtract the number of pages read. I'm down to 42. Look out writers!
Of course, it may not be the author's fault. Sometimes we're just not in the mood for a certain story or we've built up an expectation around a certain title that just can't be met at that time in our lives. Over the past few years I've gotten much better at setting aside a book that just doesn't grab me because, look out many others need my attention.
One such book is going back to the library tomorrow. The reviews were all excellent and Michael Wallner's April In Paris sounded right up my alley. WW II novels have always intrigued me. My aunt Jackie has always wondered why that is. She claims it was a terrible time to be a young woman but, oh, so full of meat for a writer. The plot is great. German soldier, fluent in French, is in Paris to help interrogate captured resistance fighters. At night, to escape the horror of what he sees all day, he dons another persona and wanders the streets of Paris mingling with the locals. He falls in love and begins an affair with a young woman who works for the resistanc, putting himself in an untenable situation. It immediately reminded me of a terrific foreign film I saw a few weeks ago called Black Book which had a similar theme.
I can't figure out why the book isn't grabbing me. In trying to analyze it I think it's the writing style, which is very stilted. Then I realized that the book was written in German and translated and perhaps it's the translation that isn't working for me. At any rate, I'm moving on to my prized autographed copy of Julia Glass's follow up to Three Junes. It's called The Whole World Over and it caught my attention from the first page.

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