I had a conversation with one of my friends recently about why I don’t DNF books. I’m the only person I know who doesn’t so it got me thinking about my motivations for pushing through to the end. To give you an idea of how far I’ll go with this, 11 years ago when I read Moby Dick, it took me 5 months to finish it because I found it so boring that I kept taking breaks (I could really have done without the tips on spearing a whale so that its heart explodes).
I can only remember ever giving up on two books in my life – Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations. Before all you Austen and Dickens fans get mad at me, the reason I didn’t finish them wasn’t due to the books themselves.
With Pride and Prejudice, I could appreciate the quality of the writing, but I was 17 and about to go off to university and I was so nervous and distracted that I just couldn’t get into the story and was attracted to more easy read books. Great Expectations was given as a university assignment and I was actually enjoying it, but I ended up dropping out that semester and put the book aside and never returned to it. I intend to give them both another shot at some point (it still bothers me that I left them unfinished).
I can understand why it would seem strange, even ridiculous, that I would continue to read a book if I’m not enjoying it. After all, I could be reading one of the many, many other books on my TBR list that I would probably enjoy a lot more, so why waste my time?
I, like many bibliophiles, want to be a published novelist one day, and one of the best ways to learn the craft, aside from writing as much as possible, is to read the work of others. I find that I learn as much, if not more, from reading bad writing as I do good writing. It gives me a sense of what works and what doesn’t; why some characters feel real and relatable and some don’t; how some endings are incredibly satisfying while others are a great disappointment; and many other nuances of writing.
Something I also keep in mind while I’m reading a book I’m not really enjoying is that, good or bad, finishing a novel is an achievement in itself and out of respect for the author I choose to finish the book they have worked so hard on, even if it’s not to my taste. Sure, I don’t owe them anything and if I don’t find their work entertaining then I have every right to move on to something else, but it doesn’t feel right somehow, especially considering I want to be a published author myself.
Another thing that keeps me turning the pages is the possibility that there might be a hidden gem in there somewhere, be it a brilliant line, an unexpected plot twist, or an ending that suddenly makes the rest of the book make sense. If I put a book aside before the end, I’ll always wonder what I might have missed. Maybe I won’t have missed anything, but it’s the possibility that keeps me going.
Do any of you feel the same way, or are you happy to DNF a book you’re not enjoying? I’d love to hear from you!