I used to be the sort of person who struggled and slogged through a book for months, completely intent on finishing it, no matter how long it took. Other books piled up around me—many for years and years—as the evil book in question stared at me wherever I went, mocking, taunting me, saying Why aren’t you reading me? You’re still on page 37. Come on, pick me up!
Meet the dreaded DNF, also known as the “Did Not Finish” book. This is the book you’ve picked up, started to read a few pages, and then it dawns on you…this book is awful. Yet, for some reason, insanity compels you to keep reading, page after page after page. It doesn’t get better. You procrastinate by going on Goodreads or Amazon to check out reviews. This book gets amazing halfway through! says one ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review. So you keep reading. You’re halfway through and it still doesn’t seem to be getting any better. You begin to curse that Amazon reviewer. It must’ve been a friend of the author, you think angrily, throwing your cold mug of tea across the room, startling the cat. They have to be paid reviews!
For many years, I thought it was sacrilegious to give up on a novel. Sure, I DNF’d a couple of books over the decade, but for the most part, I kept reading until the very end. Over the past year, I’ve found it much harder to read a lot, and that’s made it a lot easier to DNF. When you’re not reading very many books in the first place, why should those books all be ones that you’re not enjoying? It’s a surefire way to turn you off reading for life—it’s almost as effective as the terrible literary fiction they make you read in high school (I’m looking at you, Bypass by Michael McGirr!).
There are many reasons to give up on a book. On her blog, Isabelle Hernandez lists a number of reasons why a book just doesn’t pique your interest. In the spirit of that blog, I thought I should give you a list of terrible books I DNF’d—many of them quite controversial—to hopefully make you realise that life is too short to be reading books you don’t like:
The writing style isn’t for you. Some people love really flowery writing. Others love their descriptions dry and to the point. I am of the opinion that the latter is preferable. I’m not completely against overly-descriptive fiction; years ago, I read a prose novel called What Does Blue Feel Like? by Jessica Davidson which was written entirely in verse. I didn’t end up enjoying that book, mainly for its cliched, inaccurate representation of depression, not because of its poetry. On the other hand, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was far too descriptive. The plot was interesting, and I made it just over 100 pages in (sometime after Humbert does what he does to Dolores “Lolita” Haze’s mother, and Lolita moves in with him). I like reading books with black-and-white protagonists/antagonists as the main character, and Lolita has creepy pedophile Humbert Humbert as its “protagonist”. However, Nabokov is more focused on description, and I think I stopped reading after seeing the term “her lips as red as red licked candy”.
Unlikeable characters. As mentioned before, I love a book with black-and-white characters, and have even read so many of the Gone Girl knock-offs, which are filled with morally grey protagonists. However, the characters in Gone Girl are so pretentious and dickish, it distorted my enjoyment of the novel. Nick and Amy are pretentious douches living as part of the New York writing elite, and when they both lose their jobs and are forced to move to Nick’s hometown, I was already bored with the characters. Instead, I turned to the David Fincher movie…and my God. It. Is. Amazing. This is one of those instances where the movie is better than the book.
Fifty Shades Darker by E.L James
A terrible message. I knew that Fifty Shades of Grey was a terrible fanfiction of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which I read at sixteen and was embarrassingly Team Edward. I decided to read the FSOG trilogy back when I was at university, mainly to prove that I had actually read it. It was hard. It was really hard to finish. I only got through the first book thanks to a site called Snark Squad, which offered a hilarious critique of each chapter. I rewarded myself with finishing a chapter by going on Snark Squad and laughing. Then I started the second one. I got to Chapter Seven, and the cliffhanger involves one of Christian Grey’s ex-submissives breaking into his place and threatening Ana and Christian. Through the whole series, it’s obvious that Christian Grey is emotionally, psychologically and sexually abusive, and his ex is clearly a victim of his abuse. However, E.L James portrays her as the evil monster and Grey as the innocent victim. I put down my phone (I was reading it on iBooks) and stopped reading.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
An embarrassment to Harry Potter. This play is absolutely terrible. There is no polite way of going about it. The characters don’t act like they should. There’s some absurd retconning. It just reads like an awful fanfiction, and there are better Harry Potter fanfictions—namely the James Potter series by G. Norman Lippert. There was one scene that got to me. It involves Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter attempting to get off the Hogwarts Express. They climb to the top of the train, and come across the Trolley Lady. It’s revealed the Trolley Lady lives on the Hogwarts Express, is immortal, and the food on her trolley can be used as weapons. She then proceeds to turn a cauldron cake into a grenade. At this point, I put the book down and never returned. This is not Harry Potter. Steer clear.
Bloodlust and Initiation by Alex Duval
Don’t give in to trends. I read the Twilight Saga back in 2008 and loved it I don’t love it anymore. Then I read the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead, The Vampire Diaries by L.J Smith, and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Then I picked up Vampire Beach by Alex Duval in a bargain bin, and thought…yay, vampires! It wasn’t very good, and serves us with the ever-important reminder: Don’t just read every book in a popular genre. A lot of them are terrible cash-ins.
Life of Elves by Muriel Barbery
Don’t read a book in a genre you hate just because it’s by an author you love. I love Muriel Barbery’s Elegance of the Hedgehog. It’s my favourite novel, and it’s a beautiful story with a very tragic ending. The French-language movie The Hedgehog, isn’t as good, but still memorable. When I heard Barbery was publishing a second (technically third, as she has Gourmet Rhapsody, from the point of view of a dickhead chef who appears briefly in Elegance of the Hedgehog) book, I was excited, and picked it up without checking the plot…or the genre. Life of Elves is a magical realism novel, which to the uninitiated, is a fancy excuse for pretentious authors to write fantasy. I haven’t really enjoyed fantasy (except Harry Potter) since early high school, and I realized this a couple of pages into Life of Elves. Just because you like one of their books, doesn’t mean you’ll like one in a different genre.
What books have you DNF’d? Alternatively, what books have you plodded through, and now you’re wondering why you even bothered? Do you even agree with my selection? I know, disliking something like Gone Girl can be pretty controversial. I hope I’ve inspired you to stop reading the books you don’t like, and start reading those that really interest you. Maybe it’ll help re-spark your love of reading!
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