I Refuse To Stop Reading Bad Books | Blog

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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?

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Author: Ellie Scott

Ellie Scott is a freelance copywriter and fiction writer from Sheffield, UK. She writes speculative and silly short stories and flash fiction. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Short Story Competition and published her first book, 'Merry Bloody Christmas: A Short Story Collection'. You can often find her hanging out on Twitter (@itsemscott), Instagram (@tinysillystories) and Medium (@elliemaryscott), or hibernating on her sofa with a book and a very large glass of gin.

22 thoughts on “I Refuse To Stop Reading Bad Books | Blog”

  1. Usually if I’m not highly invested in a book– as in I can sit it down for several days & not be itching to pick it back up, I typically don’t finish it. That said I also don’t review it then. On a few rare occasions I have gone back to a book that I was dragging through and it turned out to get better as you said. But I agree that life is too short to continue reading anything (or watching for that matter) that doesn’t hold my attention.

  2. I like your commitment to finishing a novel, even if you dont like it.Yes, it might get better, or not. I stop reading books when I cant get into the authors writing style. Im trying to improve my craft, so I tend to favor bloggers and authors writing that I feel I can learn from. If I dont like a book, I dont review it. It could be I was not in the mood for it that day. I would hate to give a bad review today and find I like the book tomorrow.

    1. Yes that’s very true, mood can definitely affect the way you think about a book. If I haven’t enjoyed a book I tend to wait a few days before I review so that I have some time to think on it before making harsh judgements about it.

  3. All good points, Ellie, but I have to confess I am a ‘DNF-er’ (also didn’t know the term), although I wasn’t always.

    However, I don’t abandon a book without a struggle. For example, I did eventually, after a break, get through the unabridged version of ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King, mostly because I love the way he writes. There were definitely bits which should have remained ‘cut’, but at least he gives a disclaimer at the start of the book explaining the nature of this second version. And it was Stephen King who said something like ‘abandon a book if you’re not enjoying it; there are so many more’. Once I’d read that, I felt I had permission to stop reading something I wasn’t enjoying.

    I’ve been trying to read ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ by Marlon James. I picked it as research about Jamaica in the 1980s for the novel I’m working on. The book won the Man Booker in 2015 and has a huge array of plaudits. I got about a third of the way through, but I still couldn’t get into it. The story is told through the eyes of a number of characters and many of their voices are quite difficult to follow because of the slang they use (but useful to know). It’s also all very brutal, and i get the picture. There are many parallels with what is currently happening in the townships of my adopted country, South Africa. It’s quite upsetting. But ultimately, the reason I’ve put the book down, is that I don’t care enough about any of the characters. Maybe I’ve got what I wanted from it already; maybe I’ll come back to it. At least I borrowed it from the library, so I haven’t actually invested in it! But I wouldn’t dream of reviewing; all I can do is admit defeat. My failing, not the author’s.

    1. It’s interesting that you say “admit defeat” and “my failing” because it’s not your failing, but just that it’s not the right book for you for whatever reasons. But I often have a similar mindset – if I don’t get along with a book, particularly one which has been showered with awards and praises, I think it’s me that’s wrong rather than the book, as though I’m not reading it properly or I’m just not well-read enough to appreciate it. Maybe that’s why I’m so stubborn and won’t leave a book unfinished, because I don’t like to feel like I’ve “failed” a book, as silly as that is!

    1. I’m the same with movies – no patience to sit through it if it hasn’t grabbed me in the first 15 minutes. Which makes no sense… I won’t waste just a couple of hours on a movie I don’t enjoy, but I would waste days on a book I don’t enjoy. I’m plain stupid, really!

  4. I used to be the same. I would push myself through books I wasn’t enjoying because I couldn’t stand to dnf a book (and yep, I had to look that term up too). I have only given up on two books in my life, one was short stories, and I did finish the first one. I just didn’t enjoy it that much and the rest were a continuation of the series. And the other I figured out what was wrong and then gave up on it. The mystery was solved and I couldn’t face the rest of the book. I don’t like giving up on a book, but sometimes I can justify it these days.

    1. Yep I totally understand that. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it if you’re not having fun reading something – I think I might try to be a bit more relaxed in future and DNF the things I’m really, really not enjoying.

  5. I get it, and usually I also power through books I don’t like. Sometimes, it’s even fun to read a really, really bad book.

    But it has to be a special blend of apathy and boredom that causes me to DNF a book. Bad books don’t bother me, not really. But books where nothing happens, or the writing is so bland that I don’t feel any sort of emotion while reading are so hard to get into. And then they tend to throw me into a reading slump, and that’s just bad news best avoided.

    My rule is if I make it to 50%, I feel that’s an adequate representation of the book itself, so I don’t feel bad leaving a review. But I understand why you might feel tricked or something by reviews where the book wasn’t finished.

    1. Yes there have definitely been a few books which I have loved to hate which makes reading them more bearable! I totally agree, it’s the ones which are just a bit boring which are the hardest to get through. 50% finished seems fair – if you’re not hooked by the story by then, something isn’t right. I could deal with a review of a half-read book, it’s the ones where only a chapter or two have been read that bug me! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      1. Oh boy, I just this morning found a Goodreads user who reviews books based on other people’s books and how she hopes the books will be… So her reviews go like this: “According to X, this happens, but I hope that it happens like and not like this, otherwise, I just wouldn’t be interested.” It’s the wackiest thing I think I’ve seen in awhile.

  6. I can totally relate. I usually get nightmares of being bullied by the characters when I decide to stop reading a bad book so I continue anyway. I have retired to figure out what was wondering but usually it’s a combination of many things so I end up being too lazy to write all of that down and suffering thorough the book.

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