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?