Disappointment and the Nancy Pearl Rule

Looking for deep thoughts? Boy, have you come to the wrong place…

Disappointment: We watched The Bourne Ultimatum on Saturday night. We’d seen The Bourne Identity. Somehow, the second flick (these are flicks, not films) is way down on our Netflix list… Anyway: A little ways in, my wife noted that she didn’t remember the plot of the first flick. At the end, we agreed there was a reason: Neither of us would remember the plot of this one two weeks later, much less a few months later. Lots of action, lots of car crashes, no heart, no real plot… A flick many people would love, but it sort of felt like a waste of a couple of hours. (If you love the Bourne flicks or novels, more power to you. Just not really our thing.)

The Pearl Rule (if I have it right): When I picked up a few books at Mountain View Public Library last time around (three weeks ago–I’ll take them back later this week), one of them was George Carlin’s 2004 book. I seem to remember liking George Carlin as a comic–snarky, a little mean-spirited, but literate and funny–so expected th like the book. Five or six pages in, I realized that it wasn’t so much a book as a bunch of little observations slapped together in no apparent sequence–like a blook, but less coherent than most of those. OK by me…

Then, a few more pages in, I found that I was getting lots of dystopian views, an enormous amount of bitterness, and damn little humor. And, speaking of “damn,” a different four-letter word was being used to an extent that, frankly, comes off as a lack of a real vocabulary. That word can be effective used sparingly. When we start a movie where it’s used in every other line of dialog, we usually don’t bother–and here, it seemed to show up at least every couple of paragraphs. Sure, that reduces the shock value–but it also means the prose reads badly.

Well, OK, no problem: You’re not going to like every book you pick up, and apparently Carlin’s aged differently than I have. He’s turned into one of those who frowns upon any questionable pleasures that don’t happen to be his own while, of course, frowning even harder upon anyone who disagrees with him. And somewhere along the way, he seems to have lost his humor.

I made it to Page 38. Which is where the Nancy Pearl Rule comes in, if I remember it rightly.

That rule? Once you’ve decided to give a book a try, you should give it a fair try–which starts out as being “read the first 50 pages,” but as we age, we find that life is too short. Thus, the rule as I remember it: Read the first 100 pages minus your age–so, for me, the first 38 pages.

Over the last couple of months, I had the other half of the Nancy Pearl Rule, in both cases with Connie Willis novels. (I love Connie WIllis’ short stories, but hadn’t really been familiar with her novels.) To Say Nothing of the Dog was, for some reason, a little difficult–maybe because I was initially reading it in short spurts, which wasn’t the way to read it. But at Page 38, it was clear that I should give it a few more pages–and by Page 100, I was hooked. This month, I picked up her Doomsday Book–which is a big book (578 pages in the mass-market paperback my local library has) and “five years in the writing.” It also took a little getting into, because it is a big, serious book–but by Page 38, I knew I was going to read the whole thing. And loved it, of course.

Then there’s Donald E. Westlake and a newish Dortmunder novel, What’s So Funny? With Westlake, I don’t need 38 pages. On the other hand, his prose is of a sort where you go through 38 pages pretty quickly…and just keep turning those pages. Not big, serious books, but I do love ’em.

Now to read that serious librarianship book I agreed to review…

6 Responses to “Disappointment and the Nancy Pearl Rule”

  1. Jon Gorman says:

    I remember reading some of the Bourne books years ago. The last few books of the series didn’t hold my interest as much (I think maybe there were four and the last two are kinda blah). I remember liking the first one, which is actually pretty different from the movie, aside from the action scenes.

    I don’t know if you’d like it either though. There’s some parts that seemed stretched but there was some imagery I liked (the old soldiers who became terrorists) and also something that likely served as the inspiration for some other characters that I’ve liked in films and literature. Certainly the concept of the scarred Vietnam vet trying to adjust to other roles and the manipulation of financial interests involving US and French parties was something I haven’t seen in a lot of literature or films. Partially it is just an academic interest, being born after that particular conflict. Not taking it as literal history of course, but rather an interesting example of the fiction it spawned.

    Anyhow, I’m babbling again. Off to catch the bus.

  2. walt says:

    While I’ve never read Ludlum, I don’t doubt that the books have more substance than the movies. It’s hard to stretch a car chase out for 25 or 50 pages of a book, but not that hard to make a lengthy car-chase (or lengthier foot-chase) sequence in a movie.

  3. I too, was disappointed by the Bourne Ultimatum. Although the bit where Jason has the line of “If you were in your office, we’d be having this conversation in person” is immortal for me. But overall, too many pointless chases.

  4. Eli James says:

    I have never heard of the Nancy Pearl rule before this, so imagine how I chuckled when I read your paragraph about it.

    Most times I finish whatever book I start, save for The Water Babies, which is just damned horrible.

  5. Ruth Ellen says:

    Good to know about Doomsday Book. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Willis, but got only a couple of pages into Doomsday Book. I’ll go back and try my 51 Pearl pages. I really WANT to like it.

  6. Dale Prince says:

    No comment on the Nancy Pearl rule, but Carlin has been delivering disjointed bitterness since 1981’s “A Place for My Stuff.” But it happens to all comedians, it seems: they stop being comedians and become essayists, only not very good ones.