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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Book Recommendation: The Search, by Nora Roberts

The Author

Nora Roberts is one of my favourite authors.  I don’t love everything she writes (Year One, I’m looking at you), and I find her earliest works to be fairly bland, generic romances – but in the last 15-20 years, she has produced an incredible number of novels, many of which have found a permanent place on my shelves.  She is an author I turn to when I feel like something light and easy to read, with enough of a plot to hold my attention, and a guaranteed happy ending.  Most of Roberts’ books have some sort of mystery intertwined with the romance, some have supernatural elements, and almost all of them have characters with interesting professions which are well-researched and integrated into the plot in realistic ways.

The Book

The Search, published in 2010, tells the story of dog-trainer Fiona Bristow and artisan furniture maker Simon Doyle.  Both live in a small island community, and meet when Simon brings his new puppy, Jaws, to Fiona for training.  Though close to others in the community, Fiona is a very private person who lives alone with her three Labradors (Newman, Peck, and Bogart), and chooses not to discuss the fact that several years ago she was the survivor of a terrible crime.

Of course, being a romance, Simon and Fiona begin spending more time together, and Fiona soon talks him into considering Jaws as a candidate for the canine search and rescue squad she coordinates on a volunteer basis.  Being a Nora Roberts book, with a side-helping of mystery and suspense, it’s not long before Fiona’s past rears its head as well, with new victims beginning to appear despite the perpetrator who attacked her eight years ago being securely imprisoned.  It seems that there’s a copycat on the loose, and there’s every reason to believe that eventually he will head for Fiona, to finish what his idol started.

Why I Love It

The Search is one of my all-time favourite Nora Roberts books, for a number of reasons.  As a dog lover, I really enjoy the way the canine characters in this book are written, and the way the human characters live with and love their pets rings very true to life.  For example, right at the start of the book, there’s a scene where Fiona goes out with one of her dogs to help find a missing toddler.  She’s successful, and brings the little guy out of the woods to his terrified parents.  The father desperately tries to hold it together, but when he’s invited to meet the dog who led Fiona to his son, he breaks down and weeps on the dog’s neck.  The dogs aren’t part of this book as window dressing; they’re integral to the plot, and they’re written very well.  As a bonus, for anyone who is wary of stories where an heroic dog sacrifices him-or-herself to save their beloved human, all of the canine characters in this one make it safely to the end!

Another thing I love about The Search is the level of detail it includes on Fiona’s work as a dog trainer, and her volunteer work in canine search and rescue.  This is a feature of many of Nora Roberts’ books: many of her characters have interesting professions, and she clearly puts considerable time into getting the details of those professions right.  There are no information dumps for the sake of showing off research, but I came away from this book with a new-found interest in canine search and rescue.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I really liked the human protagonists in this book.  Fiona is a tough woman who has fought hard to make a life for herself after a traumatic past.  She has friends and family who are a close and active part of her life (something that can often be missing in romance novels), and a career she loves.  Simon isn’t quite as thoroughly fleshed out as Fiona, but he is a charming combination of no-nonsense gruff on the outside, and considerate and sweet on the inside.  There aren’t a lot of sweet words from Simon, but when someone needs him, he’s always there.

Where To Get It

Nora Roberts is a big name, so it should be fairly simple to access a copy of The Search through your local library system.  This is a repeat read for me, so I purchased my own copy from Book Depository, and pull it off my shelf when I’m in need of an easy, uncomplicated read.

A Brief Biography of a Bookwyrm

I’ve been a bookworm as long as I can remember – and a bookwyrm ever since I first saw the ‘book dragon’ meme floating around on Facebook.  I was the kid who was genuinely excited for silent reading time at school, and who never minded seeing book-shaped packages under the tree at Christmas time.  I was the teenager who picked up ‘Gone with the Wind’ from the school library because it looked like fun, and I was the young adult who discovered Harry Potter in my first year of university and persuaded all my friends to give it a go even if it was a children’s book.

Now, as I plunge headlong towards forty, I am the sort of person who has piles of books everywhere.  Books I’ve bought and read are stacked on my shelves, still looking for a permanent home in a logical place (alphabetically by author for fiction, grouped by subject for non-fiction).  Books I’ve bought and haven’t yet read are piled haphazardly in the living room, on my bedside table, and on the top of bookshelves.  Library books cluster in cheerful piles throughout the house, sorted and re-sorted by topic, by priority, by due date.  Even my Kindle is full of books I’ve downloaded in a burst of enthusiasm but haven’t yet found the time to read – 55 of them in a folder marked ‘To Be Read,’ while others lurk in other places, forgotten until I find them while browsing.  I like to have interesting reading material always at hand, though I do sometimes wish I could find a way to make the piles more manageable.

Why have I decided to begin a blog?  Well, because out of all the reading that I do, there are certain books which stand out – beautiful books, brilliant books, thought-provoking books which I long to share with others.  There are books I want to discuss, and books I want to write about so that I can get my thoughts about them in order.  I have wonderful friends and family who read certain types of books (self-help, fantasy, historical romance), but no one who shares my interest in discussing the books I read, and no one who is quite so enthusiastic about leapfrogging across the library catalogue to sample different authors, different genres, different topics.

So here I am, slowly figuring out how WordPress works so that I can establish a little corner of the internet to share my thoughts on an eclectic array of wonderful books.  I’m sure it will take some time to get my head around what I want to do with this blog, but I hope that in time it will welcome other bookwyrms like myself, folks who might just devour a Holocaust memoir, a Jennifer Cruisie novel, and a tome of epic fantasy in one week, all with equal enjoyment.

So many books, so little time. – Frank Zappa