(My approach to blogging is to send myself emails whenever I have an idea, then sort through those emails when i have the time and decide what to write about. Some ideas have gathered dust over the past year and its time to use them or lose them.)

When do you give up on a book?  It’s an optimal stopping problem with an experimentation aspect.  The more you read the more uncertainty gets resolved the more you learn whether the book will be rewarding enough to finish.  You stop reading when the expected continuation value, which includes the option value of quitting later, falls below the value of the next book in your queue.

So here’s an interesting question.  Is that more likely to happen at the beginning or near the end of a book? Ignore the irrational desire to complete a book just because you have already sunk a lot of time into reading it. (But do include the payoff from finding out what happens with all the threads you have followed along the way.)

It easily could be that the most likely time to quit reading a book is close to the end.  Indeed the following is a theorem.  For any belief about the flow value of the book going forward, if that belief leads you to dump the book near the beginning, then that same belief must lead you to dump the book nearer the end.  Because the closer to the end of the book the option value is lower and there is even less chance that it will get better.

It sounds wrong because probably even the most ruthless book trashers rarely quit near the end.  But there’s no contradictipon. Even if the option value rule implies that the threshold quality required to continue reading is increasing as you get deeper into the book, it can still be true that statistically you most often quit reading near the beginning of a book.  Because conditional on a book being dump-worthy, you are more likely to figure that out and cross that threshold for the first time early on rather than later.

About these ads