Beyond the first page (and more on Graham Greene)

Once years ago, when I was in a book club and it was my turn to choose the book, I chose The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (see earlier post). I had recently read it and loved it, couldn't stop thinking about it, and wanted to discuss it. I warned the group that the first 25 pages or so were a little slow and hard to get into. 

The warning was needed, and I believed the warning would be heeded as an encouragement that something good would come if they hung in there. Reading it myself for the first time, sitting around a pool on a vacation in Florida with the book open on my lap and several other options in the book bag at my side, I admit to being tempted to give it up and start something else. Something that grabbed me from the start. But staying with Greene as the story ramped up had a big pay off. Unfortunately, when I went to the book club's next meeting, not a single person had persisted through that first handful of pages and we had nothing to discuss. If I remember right, discouraged, I didn't return to that club.

Therein lies the basis for today's unbreakable rule of book publishing today: Hook 'em with the first sentence, or at least the first paragraph or the end of the first page. The magazing Poets & Writers has an interesting column in their print publication and also online called "Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin." Check it out to read the first lines of new books.

I understand this need to keep readers turning the pages from page one, but my idealistic vision that we all always don't need immediate gratification leads me to hope that the reputation of an author or the recommendation of a fellow reader might be reason to persevere in those books–published prior to this unbreakable rule–that perhaps save the best for anyone who works a bit to get to the treasure. When I recently recommended this book to my friend, as mentioned in the earlier post, it was not without this plea to hang in there and keep turning its pages.