1st half of novels take longer to read than 2nd half

Anybody else notice this? It seems to me that the first half of a novel takes quite a lot longer to read than the second half. Really significantly longer. The first half drags, and the second half flies by.

My guess is that, in the first half, you have so much you have to learn. The characters’ names, personalities, quirks, needs, inter-relationships, etc. In the second half, you’ve gotten good at this; you remember who Mr. Namby is as why he hates Mrs. Roodruff, and why everyone is fighting over the one-eyed goldfish.

But…anybody else? Or am I just crazy…

I think you’re onto something here. Other possible factors include that as you get more familiar with the author’s writing style it becomes more natural and easy to read, and as you become more invested in the characters and situations you get more eager to see what happens next and so you read faster.

Here are some other possibilities:

  • The actual “last half” is actually shorter than the first half – perhaps due to end matter of one form or another (acknowledgements, other novels available, preview of an upcoming novel, etc.).
  • The actual writing style of the last half actually changes: The first half is full of expository prose, which densely fills up the pages. The last half is full of dialogue that leaves lots of blank space on the page.


In the recent thread about reading speed, I commented on this. Once I have strong mental images of the key characters, places, etc. my reading speed goes up.

On the other hand, I think it just sometimes feels that way. The first half of many novels is often a long, meandering introduction and the core plot doesn’t fully take shape until well into the book. The Fellowship of the Ring is a perfect example. You can’t quite skip the first half of the book, but in my mind it doesn’t really “start” until after the Council of Elrond and I think that’s around 120 pages in.

This is very true for me, for just the reason you provide. Similarly, a book of short stories often takes me longer to read than a novel of similar length, because a short story has more introductory material (relative to total length) than a novel does.

What about trilogies?
Or even longer book series?

After getting through the first Poldark book (actually, after about the first two-thirds of it), I was able to breeze through the rest.

After starting with Patriot Games, I found the Jack Ryan/John Clark series easier to read.

The same with the Travis McGee series and all of Carl Hiaasen’s novels. Once you’ve read one, it’s easier to start in on the next.

Not a trilogy, but I went through Claudius the God much faster than I, Claudius.

For me the first half is getting to know the characters. If I like them I breeze through the second half, if not it’s a chore and usually I’ll move on to a new book.

It could also be survivor bias. You don’t start with the last half of a novel and you don’t finish a novel if it’s dragging. So the first halves of novels are slower on average because the slow second halves don’t get read.

the final moments as the remaining pages dwindle fly past too quickly, no matter how slowly you read as you savour what’s left; the beginning of the book, which you’ve read barely a week ago, feels like an age and a lifetime away. nostalgia already creeping in as you bask in the afterglow. well, the good, thick books anyway. this never happens with the thin books, so i’ve always sought after the really thick ones.

This is true for me in part because I read bigger chunks of the book in a sitting during the second half of the book. The plot is moving at that point so there aren’t as many good stopping places in the second half of the book. I’m also more interested in the outcome at that point so I’m less likely to want to put the book down.

For me, at least, if I start a book, I finish it. I do a lot of reading just to kill time or help me get to sleep. In some sense, it’s actually a perk if it’s so bad that I’d literally rather be sleeping.

For a recent example, Nook recently offered six free books if you signed up. As a result, I read the world’s most predictable (and most conflict-free) romance and a plodding, tedious detective story just because they were there.

Since I mostly read non-fiction it is definitely the case that I read the second half faster than the first half of the books. Because the back is where the index and end notes are.

For novels, I think my experience is the opposite. I find that for most novels I care less and less about finishing as I get into it and have to force myself to keep going and get more and more easily distracted. 90% of the books I never finish are novels.

Plus, when reading I don’t form mental images (there was a thread about that) so a lot of expository just means words going in one eyeball and out the other.

The best example I can think of is “Cockleshell Heroes”, one of those Bantam war series novels. The first half was devoted to the conception of the weapon and tactics to be employed. Slow and dragging. But the second part, the mission, was riveting as hell. The wife woke up at 3AM asking me what the hell was I reading.

For the Lord of the Rings, the second book for each of the trilogy parts was more dragging than the first, except the one in FOTR.

I don’t think this works. After all, there are all those wasted opening pages – forewords, acknowledgements, dedications, and all the legal indicia. I’m on pretty solid statistical ground, I think.

I think this is at least part of it.

I’m glad I’m not the only one!

Certainly true. Now, I was thinking strictly by page count. I just read a 700 page book by Guy Gavriel Kay, “Under Heaven,” which I enjoyed, but which made me conscious of this effect. The second 350 pages occupied maybe 35 or 40 per cent of my total reading time. The second half went by that much faster.

But, yes, definitely, the “middle point of the plot” in big books definitely comes much later than page X/2.

Super point! That brings it all into focus! You’re very right (or, I should say, my experience is the same!) I love anthologies of stories, but, yes, they do take longer to read. Thank you! This is the “proof of concept” post!

I agree that the second half goes faster. Explaining why is certainly a harder task, and I think you’ve definitely explained part of it. I also think there tends to be more of a what-happens-next? feel in the second half of books. When you’re introducing characters and setting the stage for the book, it can be hard to really have cliffhanger moments. But once you get a feel for where you are, you can start introducing plot elements that really push the reader to keep reading to find out answers.

Glad to help.

I dreamed a show in days gone by.
Neil Diamond didn’t sing my hit song.
A pretty girl they glorified.
And act one wasn’t so damn long.