I’m reading a book right now that just isn’t grabbing me. The premise is intriguing, it’s well-written, the characters are interesting, and judging by Goodreads and hype in the media, it’s a pretty popular novel. For some reason, though, I haven’t found the opening chapters compelling enough that I want to get really stuck into it.
Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, maybe it’s not the type of book I’m in the mood for right now, or maybe I just haven’t been in the mood for reading at all recently. Whatever it is, I’ll get back to it eventually. I will finish the damn thing.
I refuse to DNF books. (For those unfamiliar, DNF means “did not finish” and it’s what all the hip young Booktubers are saying. And yes, I had to look it up when I first heard it, like the lame, old blogger that I am.) Even if I’m bored to tears or rolling my eyes at a predictable plot or hating all of the characters, I’ll finish a book. I’m too stubborn to give up on a novel, even if I know full well that getting to the end won’t change my opinion on it.
A lot of people have the attitude that life is too short to waste time reading books you’re not enjoying, and I get it. There are a lot of books in this world and I’ll probably never get around to finishing of all of the ones I want to read. But I can never give up on a book and leave it unread. Here’s why.
1. I want to figure out what’s wrong
There’s a myriad of reasons why I might not like a book. It could be the way its written, a failure to like or connect with any of the characters, the pacing of the plot, or simply the fact that the blurb on the back of the book has set me up to expect something totally different to the actual story.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why I’m not enjoying a book and I always feel compelled to read the entire thing to really understand why. From there, I can avoid reading more books in the future which feature the same elements I didn’t like. Plus, it might help me to avoid bringing similar elements into my own writing, which makes it a useful learning experience.
2. I want to look for redeeming features
Even if I’m not loving the book overall, there may well be elements that I do like and I might have to dig for them. Sure, a protagonist might be annoying as hell, but the rest of the cast could be interesting and complex and worth reading more about. A plot might be slow and frustrating, but the quality of the prose itself might be so good that it redeems the book. The Night Circus was that for me.
Perhaps it’s the writer in me that is thinking (read: dreaming) about the possibility of my own books being read and reviewed by lots of people one day, but I think it’s only fair to look for the positives in a novel as well as the negatives. It’s the whole constructive criticism thing, I guess. If I were to be critiquing the work of a friend to help them improve it, I’d want to highlight some good along with the bad. It shouldn’t be any different if I’m reading the published work of a writer I don’t know personally.
3. It might get better!
There have been a fair number of books I’ve read in the past that I didn’t enjoy at first, but which I ended up loving. Some of them I put down and tried again months or even years later, while others I just plodded through, page by page, until the good stuff came along. Examples of this are Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King’s It, and Life After Life by Kate Atkins.
That last one actually took me years to get through. I tried to read it on three separate occasions but it was only on the third try that I got beyond the first few chapters, and after that I was hooked. Now, Life After Life is perhaps one of my favourite books ever – I think it’s incredible. And it’s the memory of that book which always pushes me to continue reading a novel even if I’m not enjoying it because I’m scared I’ll miss out on a banging story if I give up.
4. I can’t give a book a fair review if I don’t read the whole thing
So, this may be just a personal pet peeve, but I hate reading book reviews on Amazon or Goodreads which say something along the lines of: “Stopped reading after chapter one, so boring, hate it, would give zero stars if I could.” I don’t think it’s fair to throw out a 1-star review for a book you didn’t read in full.
There are so many different aspects of a novel to consider when reviewing it and it simply isn’t possible to assess all those aspects if you only read a tiny part of it. Sure, a slow or boring or bad opening chapter is worth noting in a review, but it’s only a single aspect of the entire book and doesn’t necessarily prove that the whole book is trash. When I post my book reviews here, I want to try to be as fair and balanced as I possibly can and I know I can only do that if I read the story from beginning to end.
So there you have it – that is why I belligerently refuse to DNF books. But what about you – will you waste time on a book you’re not enjoying, or are you as stubborn as I am?Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com