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Missing The First Pages (Or How Starting A New Book Is Often Overwhelming)

A photo of pages of a book being flicked through

This photograph was taken by Palo.

I don’t know whether to speak of this in terms of something I ‘have’, ‘deal with’, ‘find an issue with’ or simply just neutrally. I will sometimes start reading a new book only to find, a few pages in, that I’ve not truly been reading. The first few pages have gone over my head; the only thing I’ve acknowledged is the oft-cited-to-be-important first sentence. Sometimes it’s annoying. I’ll go back and re-read those pages. Other times I simply accept that it has happened like so many times before, and that I’ll be truly into the book by the start of the second chapter. (This of course depends on chapter length – if the chapter is long I’m reading perfectly already by chapter two.)

I find this… phenomenon… happens regardless of whether or not I have high expectations for the book, but that it happens most often if I’m really excited to read it. (I reckon you can be excited to read a book with low expectations – I would be excited to read Cranford, but as I didn’t like North And South my expectations would be low.)

I’ve thought about it over and over again, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it stems from the excitement of wanting to read the book taking over the actual present enjoyment. Rarely are the first few pages of a book amazing, and indeed I’ve often found that a dull beginning can herald a brilliant book. An epic novel is always going to need to spend time on the background information. I think there is something to be said for being so excited that you want to get past that background as quickly as possible. And as much as we often lament having already read a book and being unable to ever go back to quite the same state of wonder as when we were in the midst of it, it’s natural to want the reverse before you’ve begun.

Often going back and re-reading the pages works, but sometimes it doesn’t and it’s a case of skimming them for any names, locations, and so forth, and letting the rest go. The pressure, whether felt or not, of knowing you’ve not taken the information in and knowing you should have, can have a negative impact, ultimately meaning you won’t succeed if you tried, anyway. A remedy can be found in putting the book aside for a while, but when you’re excited you don’t want to do that.

I’ve accepted this oddness in my reading, though obviously I feel guilty and sometimes a bad reader for it. But the good thing is it doesn’t impair your knowledge of the work in general, and if or when you re-read the book, the position you are in then of having read it before and thus containing a difference of excitement, means you’re far more grounded. And that happens whether you missed pages the first time or not.

Does your excitement over a book affect your reading of it in any way?


Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

April 9, 2014, 2:32 am

This happens to me ALL the time! But I don’t think the culprit for me is excitement over starting a book. I always say I feel like I am drowning in the first few pages — so many names, places, & details get mentioned when I’m not yet “anchored” in the story, so I have a hard time figuring out what is important and what might be a key detail later on. Usually I am so focused on remembering who is who, all the other stuff gets a bit lost on me and I have to go back and skim the beginning later on. Glad I’m not the only one this happens to :)


April 9, 2014, 6:48 pm

Not remembering what happens in the first few pages is something that happens to me a lot, whether I’m excited about the book or not. I think this is why early scenes in Shakespeare usually start with a bit of throw-away comedy, because the crowd has to settle down. Kind of the same way, I often have to settle into a book or else put it aside for some other year.

Margaret @ BooksPlease

April 9, 2014, 8:09 pm

I usually have to re-read the opening pages – it’s as though my brain can’t take in much detail at the start and I often wonder who the characters are, especially if a lot are introduced one after the other. And as Christine says it can be hard deciding what and who are significant. Sometimes I feel as though I’m in too much of a rush to get to the nitty gritty of a book to take in the beginning, especially if my expectations are high.

Tanya Patrice

April 10, 2014, 2:29 am

This has happened to me too on a few occasions, and I have no idea why. Sometimes I think it may be because I’m distracted when I start reading (or listening); sometimes, it may be because the book seems to start in the middle of something and I have to go back and re-read to figure out what’s going on.

Jenny @ Reading the End

April 10, 2014, 2:45 am

I think specifically I’m very bad at remembering names from the first few pages. It’s especially tricky if the author’s got more than one character whose names begin with the same letter — then I have to flip back several times in order to figure out who’s who. But overall, I think I do okay at paying attention to the early bits of a book.


April 10, 2014, 12:39 pm

The same happened to me when I began reading Game of Thrones, had to go back a few times and re-read. I think for me it depends on my mindset before I begin reading, if I just want the action to begin already I may find I’ve not paid much attention.

Actually, now I think of it, the same has happened with Americanah.

“I’ve thought about it over and over again, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it stems from the excitement of wanting to read the book taking over the actual present enjoyment.”

Definitely! I think this is the best way of putting it.

Laurie C

April 11, 2014, 11:51 am

This happens to me, too, but I think it depends on where my head is at the time I’m sitting down to read. If I’m excited about a book, I’m more focused, I think. Otherwise if I just sit down to read whatever I happen to be reading, I sometimes don’t focus on it right away, and I’m still thinking about what needs to be done, what happened during the day, or whatever!


April 12, 2014, 10:38 am

Another interesting discussion Charlie. I can’t say I’d thought about this before but I do think when I’m excited about a book I can be too eager and miss the beginning. Like wise though if I’m unsure of a book I might skim read until I feel hooked by the story. I think that’s why I love making time for re-reads because no matter how much you love a book you won’t pick up on everything first time round or even second time round.

Literary Feline

April 14, 2014, 8:09 pm

This isn’t something I really gave much thought to before, but now that you mention it, I do find myself having to go back an re-read the first couple paragraphs or pages sometimes. I am not sure it’s excitement so much as distraction or lack of immediate focus.

This discussion made me think of audio books–and how easy it is for me to miss things because I am so easily distracted. I find it a lot harder to go back and catch what I missed with an audio book–I’m usually driving so can’t rewind.


April 16, 2014, 4:49 pm

I usually find the first chapter or two of a book unsettling–getting to know characters, setting, authorial style, voice–I typically don’t settle in and “like” a book until about a quarter into it, at least. Like you, I have found that many wonderful books are slow going at first, and that’s okay by me.

I really hate those books that start off with a bang, sometimes literally. Too much, too soon, and no context.



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