Miskatonic University Press

My Three Rules of Reading


I have three rules of reading.

Rule 0. Stop reading a book whenever you feel like it.

I know people who say that once they start reading a book they just have to finish it even if they don’t like it. Bah! Then there’s Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50, which says you should wait to decide until you’ve finished page 50. I’ve seen something about reading (100 minus your age) pages, too—as though a ten-year-old should waste their time reading 90 pages of some tedious book just out of a sense of duty.

I’m a librarian and therefore an expert on these matters. My advice is: stop reading a book whenever you feel like it. I’ve dropped books after 400 pages (War and Peace), 90 pages, 50 pages, one page … I’ve even dropped a book midway through the first sentence. When you know, you know.

Rule 1. Only read books where direct speech is delimited in quotes.

This is OK:

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” he said, “I need some of more that …”

He gestured at the shelf.

“Cat food?”


This is not:


Hello. I need some more of that …

He gestured at the shelf.

Cat food?


I decided about ten years ago I just didn’t have time for all that. Conversation should be quoted. This has meant that I don’t read James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Cormac McCarthy, and a lot of modernists, but I don’t mind. Generally this rule works because anyone that adopts this style is probably the kind of writer I’m not going to like anyway, so it’s a good warning sign.

I know I’m missing some writers I would like, but to them I suggest: start using quotation marks.

Rule 2. Never read a book where the killer’s narrative is in alternate chapters in italics.

Chapter 4

He waited outside the bus station, watching as the overnight from Timmins discharged its tired riders. One of them would be right for him. This morning, he would kill again. He was ready. It was time.

This rule is on my mind because I just finished Robert Galbraith’s new novel Career of Evil. It’s very good, and I recommend the whole Cormoran Strike series—only three books so far, but I look forward to more. There are several chapters (but not every other one) told from the killer’s point of view (but not in italics). It just squeaked by Rule 2, and I’m glad it did.