The Fine Art of DNF-ing

Having set myself an ambitious goal to read 10,000 books – a goal that will last me well into retirement and relies on me enjoying a long, healthy life with plenty of time for reading – you would think that putting books on the DNF (did not finish) pile would be the last thing on my mind.  One thing I’ve learnt in the last year, though, is the importance of discarding a book which is simply not working.

For me, the most important reason for making the DNF decision is that trying to read a book I’m not enjoying slows me down.  I procrastinate.  I pick the book up, read a few pages, and put it down again.  I lurk on Facebook.  I wander across the internet, reading silly things that require no brain power, and waste hours in the process.  I play games on my phone.  In other words, I throw away my reading time.  It’s silly, it’s pointless, and I’m making a concerted effort to focus my attention on all the brilliant books which are out there waiting for me rather than wasting my time on something that I’m not enjoying.

Often, one of the reasons I stick doggedly to a book I’m not enjoying is because I’m trying to think of it the same way someone else does: a friend recommended it to me, or I found it highly recommended by a blogger I love, and I think If I just persist, I’ll find what they see, and I’ll enjoy it, too.  Really, though, that’s silly.  We all love different books, and I’ve yet to meet a single person whose opinions match mine every single time.  At times, I’ve also tried to persist with a book because ‘it’s short’ or ‘I’m over halfway’ – but giving in to those impulses makes a mockery of my reasons for choosing an ambitious reading goal in the first place.  I want to read 10,000 books because there are so very many wonderful books out there – and even more that haven’t been written yet – so why would I waste my time on something I don’t enjoy?

Of course, while there are risks to sticking with a book beyond the point of enjoyment, there are also risks to discarding it too early.  Sometimes, the beginning of a book is slow or confusing, or simply doesn’t match my preconceived ideas of what the book would be about.  Sometimes I sit down with a book when I’m not in the right mood for it.  Sometimes I’m trying to read a serious, complex book when I’m tired, stressed about work, or in a noisy, crowded environment.  Sometimes I’m trying something new, and it’s uncomfortable to realise that I’m unfamiliar with the genre or uneasy with the author’s beliefs.  In all of these scenarios, persisting with the book – or revisiting it at a different time, or in a different place – can lead to a marvellous reading experience.  For example, when I first picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I was less than drawn by the first few pages.  In fact, if I hadn’t heard so much hype about the series, it probably would have failed my ‘quick skim’ test – and what a loss that would have been!

Bearing all these things in mind, I’ve begun to form some guidelines for myself so that I can artfully DNF books that aren’t worth my time right now, while persisting with those that need a little work to uncover their inner beauty.  It’s an ever-evolving list, but here is what it looks like right now:

  1. If the writing style is driving me crazy, to the point where I’m distracted from following what the author is actually saying by the way he or she is saying it, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  2. If the protagonist/s of a novel consistently make stupid choices without ever learning from them, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  3. If there are repeated historical inaccuracies in an historical novel, the book goes on the DNF pile.
  4. If a science fiction novel is deeply focused on technological aspects of living in the future, the book goes on the DNF pile.  Some readers love that stuff, but it’s really not for me.
  5. If I’ve read around fifty pages, and tried a couple of times in different settings, and the book still isn’t gripping me, it goes on the DNF pile.  I might revisit these books at a later date, or they might just be works of art best suited to a different audience.

Overkill?  Am I over-thinking this?  Or are there other rules I should consider adding, to streamline my process of getting to the good stuff as quickly and efficiently as I can?


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