It’s really rare that I do not finish a book. Unlike in my daily life, I seem to have an infinite amount of patience for bad writing. This is terrible because I must have wasted hours on books that I did not enjoy, just because of my sheer stubbornness to finish what I’ve started. But it seems the pandemic made a slight dent here.
Recently I have been struggling with my attention span when reading, so turned to short story collections, and it worked for a while (The Uncommon Type or Wilderness Tips). Then I got lucky with some novels (How Much of These Hills Are Gold) and thought maybe we’re back on track.
To maximize the chances of success I reached for a crime novel. I got The Winker by Andrew Martin from one of the subscription boxes that I’ve since canceled. Crime novel really seemed a safe choice. And I almost made it. The story takes place in the 70’s between London, Oxford and Nice, during a heatwave choking Europe. An old crime, a new crime, an inexperienced writer in the middle of it all. Technically it should work. But it didn’t, instead, it was a cumbersome read, the title obviously begged for replacement of the ‘i’ with an ‘a’. I do give that to the author that he does acknowledge that on multiple occasions in the book.
Honestly, I think I would probably have finished it, had I not been preparing to move apartments in the first week of January. With that, the time has come to clear out the shelves and go to Oxfam. And my second Oxfam run was ready, a full bookshelf sitting and waiting to go, and I had some time and I really didn’t like this book too much. So with 40 pages to go, it joined others on the trip to Oxfam. That in itself tells you how gripping the story was. Would anyone give away a good crime novel, 40 pages before the end?
Then I decided it may be time to hit something more ambitious. So again I went through my unread bookshelves and dug out a copy of Saturday by Ian McEwan. I think I found it on one of the pavement giveaways. Generally, I’m ok with McEwan’s writing, loved some books, was a bit meh about others (you can find the reviews here, here, here, here and here), but the quality is dependable (which is probably the last thing a writer wants to hear).
Now, this is the book I lost patience with. I don’t know if the world has changed or I have changed or both, but I cannot take the whining of white, privileged men. I lasted for around 40 pages and had a very similar reaction to the one I had to The Corrections. Well, similar, not the same, for this time I have been a lot more annoyed. I will defer to a great review of this book I’ve seen on Goodreads because I do think it gives the gist of the tone of it, or of how tone-deaf it is.
I’m Henry Perowne and welcome to a day in my life… a Saturday to be precise. I’m a good natured sort of chap, if I were famous I’d probably be saddled with the tag of “thinking women’s crumpet”, but personally I take myself much to seriously to acknowledge that kind of thing. I’m a successful neurosurgeon who enjoys long, descriptive and adjective laden games of squash with my erudite and debonair colleagues. Today, for once in my incredibly lucky and wealthy life, I had a spot of bad luck and pranged my top of the range Merc. This led to an encounter which can, at best, be described as unpleasant. The thugs in the red BMW gave me a bit of a pasting which left me with a cracking haematoma over my sternum. However, my extensive medical knowledge allowed me to diagnose one of my attackers with a genetically inherited degenerative disease on the spot. This allowed me to escape, quick-smart, while they brooded over their own mortality.
Later, after welcoming home my improbably talented and successful 16 year old Blues Musician son and my improbably talented and successful published poet daughter there was another small altercation. This time however the ebb and flow of violent modern day life breached the walls of this englishman’s pricey Georgian Castle and things took a turn for the worse.
Needless to say, my calculating surgeons mind and spirited, courageous family pulled together to best the simian-like thugs. Ironically it then fell to me to save said thug with an emergency neurosurgical procedure. Life’s funny that way. I wrapped up the whole day the way it began; by making love to my improbably talented and successful wife and then having a little bit of a wistful ponder about my own mortality while considering it in perspective against a backdrop of modern foreign policy.Shovelmonkey1, Goodreads
What were your recent DNFs? Do you see any patterns in the books you decide to not finish? Is it to do with time, type of book, the place you are in your life?
4 thoughts on “‘Tis the season of DNF”
In my head, I don’t call them Did Not Finish books anymore. I call them Life’s Too Short. I can’t seem to read more than 150 books a year. I have literally thousands of books I want to read and every year, hundreds more come out. I can’t possibly read everything that I would like to read so why waste time with books I don’t enjoy reading?
The main reason I set a book aside is that the quality of the writing is poor.
Sometimes I book the book aside because I’m surprised by its tone – the kind of books that unexpectedly introduce gratuitous violence or instalove or bolted-on sex scenes. More rarely I set a book aside after one of those ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ mental conversations with the author. These are the ones that don’t match my mood or are too emotionally charged for my energy level. I set these aside with the intention to return but I find that I rarely finish them.
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I love the Life’s Too Short name! It’s so true 🙂
I’ve had a good run recently but I do tend to just not read books rather than start and not finish them – Michael Chabon’s Telegraph [Something – Avenue?] a case in point that I’d been looking forward to for ages then gave up after ONE PAGE!
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I rarely have DNFs – they’re more FTL (Failure to Launch) because I’ll abandon within a chapter or two if I’m not feeling it!
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