DNFs to Try Again

As I was choosing titles for my second Classics Club list, I noticed several books I had dnf’ed (did not finish) throughout the years I have been book blogging. A few I knew I would never try again, but there were several that still interested me as I tried to remember why I’d put them down.

I dnf mainly because after a certain number of pages I just know this book isn’t for me. Before the point of putting it down, there is some recognition that “this better improve” or “but I really liked her other book, what’s the matter here?” or “isn’t this one of the ‘should’ classics, so I can’t just chuck it, can I?”

If I can’t engage with the story or the characters I find it hard to continue, especially since there are so many other books to try. I don’t want to seem superficial or demanding in my reading and I have certainly had the experience of sitting with a book I am sure I’d dislike, but finding the opposite reaction. I’ve come to the conclusion it is a matter of balancing so-called “good books” with personal taste—sometimes they match and sometimes they don’t. 

I do hold out until I feel like I am wasting my time, but as I looked at the titles below, I realized I’d dnf’ed them for other reasons.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
I started 2020 reading this as a group readalong and it seemed so manageable—one chapter a day. The chapters are fairly short for a book only a little less than 2000 pages long, so how could I fail? Until I got behind and then overwhelmed. Only a chapter a day, Laurie. You should try that again.

The Ladies Paradise,  Emile Zola
I picked this up when I realized the PBS series The Paradise, which I absolutely loved, was taken from Zola’s book. However, the book delves deeply into the French economy and methods of business practices, and is full of characters not in the series and I was just not prepared for something that deep. I fully admit I put this down for superficial reasons, however, I am going to take it up again for the 2021 #Zoladdiction.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
Early in 2020, I read Wives and Daughters, which became one of my favorites of the year. I was keen to try another Gaskell and after posting my reaction on Instagram, so many readers said North and South was their favorite, so it was a natural next choice. But where Gaskell’s commentary on class and status was woven effortlessly into Wives and Daughters, in North and South I felt I was being lectured to; that the characters stopped in their tracks giving Shakespearean-like monologues on urban vs. industrial life, instead of showing it through the narrative and stories of the characters. I found it unrealistic. Still, I will revisit this book again, because I put it on my Classics Club list!

Britannia Mews, Margery Sharp
I read my first Margery Sharp novel for 2018s Margery Sharp Day, The Foolish Gentlewoman, and enjoyed it. The next year I tried Britannia Mews, one of her better known novels. I remember liking it, but not enough not to be distracted by other books I wanted to read. I picked up a hardcover in a used bookstore, so I know I will try this one again.

Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge
This is a very interesting dnf. I really enjoyed this even though I thought it a bit odd. When I saw this on my bookshelf I couldn’t for the life of me remember WHY I stopped reading it. When I pick it up again for my Classics Club list, I wonder if I will remember why I stopped reading it?

The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
I have every intention of picking up this one again and probably soon, because I am about 2/3 finished. Why put it down, then? My very embarrassing answer? I was very angry at the course James was taking for the main character’s story line. Isabel Archer was being duped. Such a strong female character and she didn’t see what was coming? I do take literature too seriously!

Have you dnf’ed books and then taken them up again? Do you remember why you picked them back up?

New Goals for 2020: I am a Snail

snail
All hail the mighty snail!

 

“Finding myself in the middle of a book I never want to end is among the greatest joys of reading. I live for the desire to finish a book in one sitting, and the competing desire to slow down and make the pleasure last. Sadly, I robbed myself that pleasure this year. I blew through everything I read, including books I would’ve dragged out for weeks just to live in their worlds a little longer.” Hurley Winkler

Let me say at the outset this post has nothing to do with anyone else. These thoughts should probably stay in my journal, but in the last month or so, I’ve read a number Tweets or Instagram posts that speak similar feelings, myself included and since this article confirmed all this I decided to share.

Last Monday, the 13th, Charlie Place tweeted an article, “Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again in which the writer, Hurley Winkler, shared her frustration over the stress of reading goals to the extent it affected her love of reading. She had raised her Goodreads Challenge from 40 books read the previous year to 52 in 2019. She found herself reading to finish, instead of reading to savor. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life.”

Some of the negative habits that were reflected in this year of fast reading were that she  read books she wasn’t wild about in order to keep up with the habit tracker on Goodreads. Or reading all the stories in a collection when she would normally read only the ones that piqued her interest. In the pressure to read more books she chose shorter-paged books. I am astonished to admit that I could relate to all of these.

In the past, I’ve always felt at peace with abandoning a book before finishing it. Why waste time on a book I don’t love, trudging through to reach an ending that won’t satisfy? But reading a book a week made it harder to justify abandonment. I didn’t want to fall behind—like I said, Goodreads will tell you when you do. And the thought of that sent my Type A brain into a tailspin. So I wound up finishing several books I felt lukewarm about from the very first chapters.

Winkler’s reading experience resonates deeply with me, because not only have the goals and challenges (and my failures to meet them) in the last year affected my desire to read, they also affected my desire to write about what I read. I have made so many excuses to myself as to why this is happening, but nothing made sense until I saw myself in this article and realized how much my reading and blogging has changed in the four years of Relevant Obscurity when at the beginning I took the time to read and then to let the book sit with me before I wrote it up. During the early years I didn’t participate in challenges, except for the Classics Club and the year-long Reading New England hosted by Lory of The Emerald City Book Review. And I just read the classics I wanted to read.

At the end of 2018 I started feeling anxious that I didn’t ‘put out’ as much as I saw other bloggers doing and that maybe I am not as serious a reader as I thought: equating the more books I blog makes me a more serious a reader. I was not allowing myself to be the slow reader and writer I really am.

It’s almost embarrassing to think at this age I am acting like some jr. high schooler who compares herself to everyone else and finds herself lacking because she isn’t measuring up. I need to learn to honor the individuality of everyone’s style without seeing my slowness as a deficiency or someone else’s speed as my liability.

As I think over what I set for reading goals this year, I unconsciously resolved this issue. The challenges are fewer than previous years and have me reading mostly classics, the books I love, and not pressuring myself with a books-read total. I have decided I will not put up a Goodreads goal, but keep my own list until I feel I am back to being honest with myself.

And the books I read, but don’t blog? I will stop feeling anxious about those, too and utilize Instagram or Goodreads for short reviews. Faster readers thrive on goals and contests and I will celebrate those milestones in the bloggers I follow. And I will be ok with being the snail!

I could probably quote every sentence in the article, but this is a perfect conclusion:

“That’s why I’ve set a different reading goal for 2020. This year, it isn’t based on the quantity of books I aim to finish. Instead, I resolve to abandon books I don’t like. I’ll take the whole summer to pore over that staggering novel I never want to end. I’ll recommend books to friends after I’ve lived with the story awhile. I’ll read intentionally and joyously. After all, there are too many good books out there. From now on, I’ll take the time to savor them.”

 

snail2
My new pledge for 2020 is to read only what I love and to blog slowly.