There is good news from the recent Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. The scorekeeping for book reading has been revised. The International Book Readers Association has decided that you no longer have to read a book from beginning to end to get credit for it.
Grant Fingerlift, who heads the scoring division of the IBRA, told me that book customers can now be given credit for reading as little as half a book. He said, "We discovered while more books were being sold, people were reading less. The book consumer was demanding points for books he didn't finish. So we had to bow to the pressure. In the future anyone who reads 200 pages, fiction or nonfiction, may announce at any occasion that he has read the book."
"Everyone in America stands to gain by the rule," I said.
"There are a few regulations. For example, the half-book must remain at your bedside for at least a month and a marker must be placed in it where you left off reading. You win a five-point bonus if it gathers dust."
"I have a half-read book by my bedside called 'Presumed Innocent.' Suppose at some future time I finish it? Can I get any more points?"
"Yes, but it's rare that someone completes the book after they have read only half of it. A novel that has been only half-read eventually takes on an odor."
"Does that present a problem for you?" I asked Fingerlift.
He said, " 'Presumed Innocent' is one of the most talked-about books of the year. People all over the country claimed to have read it. But we don't know who has and who hasn't. That's why we're beefing up our investigative staff, so we can get at the truth."
"Will you accept as proof that someone has read the entire book if he or she can tell you the ending?"
"No, because many readers are starting to read books from the back, as a way of pretending they've read the book. We feel this is very bad sport, and we intend to find anyone who does it."
"Bob Woodward has written a book about Bill Casey. I never made it to the halfway mark. Can I get a score for that?"
"We'll give you 9 1/2 points for reading 200 pages, and another five points if you believe them."
"Why did the IBRA go to so much trouble to change its scoring?"
"Our only object is to encourage book buying. One of the things our research has shown us is that many people hesitate to buy books because they are afraid they will have to read them. Now we've ruled that just because you've purchased a book doesn't mean you have to open it. We feel this will make the book business much more appealing."
"I wish you had had these rules when Pat Robertson's book came out. It's still sitting on my TV set and God knows when I'll get to it."
"There are some books that do better sitting on a TV set."
"One more thing," I said. "Is the scoring retroactive?"
"Not necessarily. Our new scoring system is for those who are trying to keep up with other people's reading habits and don't have time to read every book. As long as they have good faith, we'll give them any score they want."