So Many Books! So Little Time!

I don’t know about you, but I have too many books on my TBR stack but instead of reading them, I just keep adding more. I can’t help it. Often I buy books because I’ve read a tantalizing review or it’s a recommendation from a bookseller or I just want to support a fellow writer. One reader confessed to having over 4,000 books waiting to be read on her Kindle. I found that unnerving. Have we always been so cavalier?

When I was growing up, my reading source was always the library. I would pick my four books which, in those days, was the maximum you could check out at one time. This was a cherished Saturday morning trip with my Dad who was a great reader (and, years later, suffered from Alzheimer’s which broke my heart). We would spend at least an hour or two drifting among the bookshelves carefully making our selections. For me, it started with an eye-catching cover, a flick to the back to read the blurb and then a glance in the middle. It was serious stuff. When I got home and started to read one of my selections and hated it, I would still persevere and finish it. I don’t do that now.

Just speaking for myself – and apologies to those who may disagree – but having access to books at the click of a button, or arriving by Amazon Prime within twenty-four hours, has taken away some of my joyful anticipation. There was a sort of reverence to starting a new book when we all had more time and less distractions. Now, there is no commitment – at least, not from me. If a book doesn’t grab me in the first fifty pages, it’s out. Not exactly disposable, but close.

I don’t know about everyone else but I am increasingly overwhelmed by the choice and sheer number of books out there. How do we choose?

I posed that question on my Facebook page showing three different book covers of my first mystery with the original 2008 American cover, the 2012 British cover, and the 2023 French cover. Each cover appealed to a different reader but a few said if they hated a cover, they wouldn’t even bother to read it. Back cover blurbs don’t always present a true picture of the content either. Case in point – the blurb written by M.C. Beaton appears on every one of my books even though it was originally earmarked for the first.

So how do we sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff?

Enter the infamous P.69 test. This is not a new concept. It’s been around for years and was a test created by Marshall McLuhan, (The Gutenberg Galaxy, written in 1962), who suggested that book browsers turn to page 69 and read it. If that page drew them in, then read that book. The idea being that by that point in the story, the inciting incident has happened, the characters are settling in and the plot is trundling along with plenty of conflict and consequences.

Without pointing out the obvious flaws to this idea i.e. a large print edition would have a different P.69, I decided to put it to the test with three different novels.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The narrator has just arrived at Manderley and on P.69 we realize she is narrating in flashback, imagining how her life with Maxim could have been,  “growing old together” and fantasizing about their “boys. ” She reminisces on meeting the formidable Mrs. Danvers who will show the newly married pair their suite in the East Wing … not the master wing which – as those who know the story – was Rebecca’s suite of rooms that were never touched following her death.

There is a menacing foreshadowing about P. 69. I don’t know about you, but I must know what happened!

Anne Frank’s Diary by Anne Frank

I was fortunate to visit the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam a few years ago. It’s almost incomprehensible in today’s world to be able to imagine the fear and horror of those dreadful times.

P.69 falls in the middle of a diary entry for Wednesday 10th March 1943 when Anne writes of her terror of hearing the night-time anti-aircraft gunfire, of listening to the rats in the attic and of not being able to light a candle. Anne speaks of a character who lived there “before we went into hiding.” Her courage shines through the page which makes the ultimate outcome more devastating. Anne’s diary is utterly compelling because she takes us into her present and it’s impossible not to stay on her journey.

Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell

Full disclosure! I have not read ANY Ruth Rendell books and selected this one when I went to the library to put P.69 to the test. And it worked! On P.69 the protagonist – Stuart – is fascinated by a beautiful Asian woman who has an overbearing father. Stuart has followed them to a greeting card shop. When Stuart buys cigarettes and turns away just for a moment, she has gone. “To lose her now was the most appalling thing he could think of. He rushed out of the shop, staring wildly about …” The girl doesn’t know she is being watched which is chilling. The page finishes with “He couldn’t let her go. He must follow her.”

I took that book out and it’s on the top of my TBR stack!

So here are my questions: do you choose a book because you like the cover or the blurb? The first line? Do you read the first three pages before buying? Have you tried the P.69 test and what did you think?

Oh … and there is another test called the P.99 test, but that’s for another time.


P.S. For more examples of the P.69 test, visit Marshal Zeringue’s fabulous blog: The Page 69 Test

Author: Hannah

British born, Hannah originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. After twenty-five years living on the West Coast, Hannah returned to the UK where she shares her life with two high-spirited Hungarian Vizslas. She enjoys all country pursuits, movies, and theatre, reading and seriously good chocolate. Hannah writes the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries (Constable) the Island Sisters Mysteries (Minotaur) and the Vicky Hill Mysteries (Constable)

18 thoughts on “So Many Books! So Little Time!”

  1. Hannah, thanks for alerting us to the p.69 test. I’d never heard of it but it seems to present a unique way to choose a book. I usually check the author’s bio in the book and read the blurb. I find that covers and titles can be misleading so I don’t pay much attention to them although I know they can make a sale. If something about a book appeals to me I thumb through a few pages to see if I like the writing style, and even if I don’t, I often read the book and its reviews despite it not being highly recommended although, here, too, it’s pretty subjective. One of my books is sold in 11 countries but I have never seen their covers. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks again for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations on your international sales! Yes – do track down the covers. They are always so different and it’s fun. I love hearing how people select a book – I still need to figure out what to read IN the TBR stack first!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I never tried the Page 69 Test, but I tried it on a few of my own books and it was interesting to see what turned up. I usually buy a book because I know the author or I had read a good review by somebody I thought would be a good judge of the content. But often my tastes are different and I, too, have put down a book when it just didn’t click. Lately, I have been going back to some of the older writers and reading a few of their books that I hadn’t gotten to when I would buy a batch of books back when they had bookstores. Most of the books were well worth the read. One or two didn’t make the cut and I put them back on the shelf after six chapters. So we keep trying. Thanks, Hannah, for post. Read On!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of going back to older writers – especially if they stand the test of time. I’ve been rereading Mary Stewart, M.M. Kaye and Barbara Pym and just loved them. I admit that it’s a rare book that I love as much as everyone else – I think my expectations are too high when books have received rave reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Hannah. I too have SO MANY books to read! A very huge amount are audiobooks. I recently listed them and discovered that I have more than I can possibly listen to (even at 1.2 speed) that I have probable years left. A sad thought. So recently I’ve been very picky about what I listen to.
    With audio books, and ebooks, it’s hard to locate page 69. But I will try it on my Kindle and on Book Funnel. It may be interesting.
    Yes, covers matter to me. (On your 1st Vicky book test I like the US cover best, although I read the one with the England cover.) I like back book blurbs if they tell something of the story, NOT if they are just another author’s “Fantastic!” blurb (like your example).
    But these days, because I have SO many to read and less time that I like…. I find myself looking at page NUMBERS (or hours in an audiobook) before I buy. It has to be a VERY interesting book to be over 280 pages long (or 8 hours). Luckily, many mysteries fall into that category.
    I also buy to help fellow writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jackie – I’m glad I have a kindred spirit in the vast number of books to read. I hear you on page numbers. I wanted to read the Go Tell The Bees That I Have Gone by Diana Gabaldon. I love the Outlander series … but it’s 960 pages! I just can’t commit to that unless I was sitting on a plane to Australia.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It appears we all share the same dilemma – so many books, so little time. I have shelves filled with books I’ve always intended to read but still haven’t. I rarely buy books, at least print versions, anymore. I get most of my reading material (and hubby’s) from the library or on my Kindle. I’ve always followed Sol Stein’s advice to read the first three pages before deciding whether to pick it up or put it down. It doesn’t always work. I will have to try that page 69 trick, beginning with my own novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – the first three pages is a good rule of thumb. Or — in my mother’s case … she reads the LAST PAGE!! I was horrified but she’s 93 and says she would hate to pass and not know the ending. She’s got a good sense of humor …

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m still on the fence with Kindle and prefer the feel of a book in my hands. I like to flick back to passages and mark with a post-it. However, this last year I had to buy two more bookcases to house the stack of TBR books … I wonder if there is a name for addictive book accumulation!


  5. What a fun post, Hannah. And, of course, I have many bookshelves overstuffed with books, many unread. My kindle is loaded with escapist novels – escaping to a new life in the Mediterranean or a Greek Island mostly. And I always buy friends’ books. MY TBR list is very long. I’m attracted by the cover and the title, but after checking out 2 or 3 pages I pick out a middle page – p.69 seems much simpler! But I’m glad that I’m not the only with a guilty long list of TBR!


    1. I keep meaning to count my unread books to settle on a “sensible” amount. But every year, I go through that stack do a bit of culling. I do what you do – read the first 2 or 3 pages — but then I take a deep breath and those that no longer pique my interest, I donate to charity. Now I feel guilty for admitting it.


  6. I’m drawn to covers and titles. After I read the description, I make the big decision: yay or nay for the TBR list. Yes, my list is long and goes back many years. If I read a review or hear about a particular book, I may read it right away and it doesn’t even get on the list (but other books by the author may). I’ll have to try the p.69 rule. Interesting concept. Thanks for a n intriguing post, Hannah.


    1. Maggie, I think that’s the key. To read the new book straight away. Otherwise it just disappears beneath the weight of new acquisitions! Yes – I’ll be interested if you think the P.69 is helpful.


  7. I can certainly identify with the concept of so many books, so little time, Hannah. Every time I think I’m making a dent in my huge unread book pile, I wind up adding more! And I find the concept of p. 69 very intriguing. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for a mind-bending post!


    1. Thanks Linda … I just bought two more books yesterday – honestly … I’m hopeless. I’ll never get through my pile! (And I didn’t look on p.69 either!) – supporting a friend so it’s in a good cause!


  8. Sorry I’m late to the party! I cut down my always growing stack of books by giving them away, especially by taking to book club meetings…sigh LOVE books…. Great post, thanks.


    1. I’ve started to do that too. I also find that sometimes a book I’ve been desperate to read and have added to the pile, has gone off the boil if I don’t read it straight away. We have some great charity shops here and the library also has an excellent second hand book section to raise money for the library too.


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