I have a confession to make. I really hate not finishing books.
Ever since I learned to read I’ve thought that if someone has put the hard work in to write a book, then the very least you should do is to read it all the way through.
These days, with so many books to read, I just don’t have the time or inclination to finish a book if it hasn’t grabbed me by the 30% mark.
I still harbour enormous guilt about it though.
I know how it feels to stare at blank pages and try your hardest to make the right words come out. I know how it feels to agonise over every word, praying the story flows and that, somehow, you can lure your reader into your world.
So when I read a book and it’s a slog, I still want to persevere, to show the author that I do appreciate the time they took to weave this story.
But there are occasions when I just really don’t have the focus to complete a story. Maybe one day I’ll go back with a different frame of mind and be able to finish the book. Maybe.
That guilt, which I know so many bloggers share, can be crippling as it forces us to not give the book the attention it deserves and we almost come to resent the story.
Not all books are for all readers; that’s why there are so many different styles and genres out there.
Here’s a shocking piece of news: We don’t have to like every single book.
Being a reader doesn’t mean that you have to enjoy everything you read.
What is one person’s DNF can be someone else’s read of the year.
What one person can’t get into can change someone else’s life.
And that’s okay.
We are all different.
In a similar vein, I dislike the words ‘guilty pleasure’. If it makes you happy then why is it guilty? Why should we feel slightly ashamed of things we like? Because they are not seen as ‘high-brow’ or great literature?
Shakespeare and Dickens weren’t seen by their contemporaries as anything special either at the time.
So a paranormal romance or a historical bodice-ripper might be more our speed than Tolstoy. So what? Spoiler alert; he’s not around to care. Why should we?
So I’d like to put forward that we forgive ourselves.
For what we like and what we don’t like. Let’s allow ourselves to DNF a book that doesn’t bring us joy and allow ourselves to enjoy books that others might sneer at.
So here are a few that I haven’t managed to finish, they weren’t my cup of tea but they might be yours.
The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge. DNF 51%
I really wanted to love this book. From the second I saw it on NetGalley I craved it.
I loved the cover art and the description and was desperate to get a copy. Finally, NetGalley granted me an e-ARC and I was so stoked. I read the first chapter and… yeah.
I went back to it two weeks later and read more. Then a few days after that and read a bit more. Then I started over from the beginning and got to 51% before I put it down.
I just couldn’t engage with it at all.
The basic premise is Martha had an accident and now she can tell things about a person by touching their clothes. She goes to visit her Grandmother to see if she can help, only to discover that her grandmother is dead and a strange boy is living in her house. A creature is on the loose, odd things are happening and everyone has a secret.
It was supposed to be part Nordic thriller and part ghost story but, to be honest, I got halfway through and never really started to feel any kind of threat or foreboding. The links between Martha and her ancestors are just laid out there without any foreshadowing and so it falls kind of flat for me.
Perhaps a younger audience would be better for this story but it just wasn’t for me.
The Doll Factory by Elizabeth McNeal. DNF 42%
Another one that NetGalley made me want to read. Described as Picador’s most spectacular debut of 2019, I really was looking forward to it.
It takes place in London in 1850 where the Great Exhibition is underway and searching for items for its hallowed halls.
Silas, who deals in the macabre art of taxidermy, meets and becomes obsessed with a beautiful aspiring artist called Iris. Iris is selected to model for pre-raphaelite artist Louis Frost and she agrees if she can have lessons in how to paint. But as she learns and grows in her art, Silas grows ever more desperate for her and his obsession starts to darken.
Historical fiction isn’t really my forte but I adore Regency romances. I was pulled in by the idea of a dark twisted affection growing into something scary, playing out on the field that I usually love.
Iris and her twin had a fantastic backstory and many of the social norms of that era were things that I was well aware of from my Regency readings.
But I found the prose too flowery and I couldn’t stop my brain from wanting the romance aspect to come to the fore. Several of the characters were intriguing and I often thought of Sweeney Todd as I was reading it but I still couldn’t quite settle in. I might try to give it another go but, for now, I think I’ll shelve this one.
Battlestar Suburbia by Chris McCrudden. DNF 22%
This is such a disappointment. Toted as the modern answer to Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, I was requesting it before I even read the blurb.
I can’t even tell you what it was about because it felt like such a mess. There was a cleaner in space who is one step away from being homeless and a sentient breadmaker and a robotic prostitute and, to be honest, ten pages in I was bored.
I felt like he was just trying too hard to be off-the-wall and funny and didn’t quite succeed in being either.
I love Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and their irreverence and humour and this was nothing like that. I know that sometimes you have to allow characters to develop and storylines to play out but it was just too screwball.
Maybe I’m being harsh and I just wasn’t in the mood that day. Maybe if I went back I’d get sucked in and really like it. But not for now.
So there you have it. Let me know what you think about DNF and guilt. What makes you finally give up on a story? Do you ever feel guilty for it?