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The Great Relief of a DNF

I have a lot of books to read, y’all. No really, this is my To Be Read pile (looking much more like a mountain lately):

I counted all the books in this monstrosity (not counting those I have at work and beside my bed), and it’s up to 43. That’s just what I have physical copies of, by the way. I was too intimidated to even try to figure up the total number of unread books on my Kindle.

So, my bookish to-do list is getting more than a little out of hand, and I recently came to the conclusion that there’s a good chance I CAN’T read all of what’s on that pile without stressing myself out (or at least for sure not by the end of the year which was originally my goal). Not because I don’t want to, but because I have limited time per week to read. Add in that I’m starting to get ARCs finally which have to be read on a deadline, and all of those books lingering in the TBR pile keep getting pushed farther and farther down the line until my stomach starts to hurt from guilt when I look at some of the books that have been there the longest.

Which leads me to the main topic of this blog: the dreaded DNF or Did Not Finish.

I almost NEVER feel like I’m “allowed” to give up on a book after I start it. It’s been a compulsion for years, right along with the horrible “clean your plate” thing my grandmother instilled in me. So when I open up a book and am just flat out not enjoying it, there starts up that stress again. I have to finish it, don’t I? I mean surely I can’t know for SURE that I won’t like it unless I keep reading, right?

Yeah, not so sure about that any more.

Part of being a writer is reading like crazy. You can’t know what books really work unless you’ve read them, and read a lot of them. Granted, not every book works for everyone, but if you read often enough, you can tell what your preferences are, and, to a point though I’ve been surprised before, what your definition of a book that “works” really is.

For me, I’m starting to notice that I can tell when a book doesn’t work for me earlier and earlier. I think it’s because I’m working so hard to recognize what good story telling is for my own writing. I’m thinking more critically about what I read, even when I’m trying to do so “just” for pleasure. It’s hard to turn off the writer brain to read anymore, and while that’s not a bad thing – far from it in my opinion – it does mean that I seem to know without a doubt that I do not enjoy what I’m reading pretty early on.

Until a sad disappointment on a book last week, I usually gave a book a minimum of 100-150 pages to grab my interest. The book from last week – I knew it was boring and bugging me in less than 60 pages.

Here’s the change though: at about 70 pages, I sat back and let myself think about whether or not forcing myself to keep reading was actually going to do myself any good. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable – no one would do it if it wasn’t (or if it wasn’t assigned in school, but that’s another blog topic all together). And I definitely would say that reading is fun for me. Always has been. So why taint a hobby I find so enjoyable by spending time actively forcing myself to continue a book that I’m not enjoying?

I guess I finally had a near epiphany – that I could, in fact, allow myself to stop reading. To simply say “nope not for me” and walk away.

It may sound silly, but it was such a breath of relief. My responsibility to that book was done. Finished. Off my TBR mountain and never to bug me again.

I do not have to finish every book I start.

I. Do. Not. Who knew? Not me, apparently!

So yeah, I think I may be reminding myself of that little fact far more often. I don’t need the stress of a book I don’t love lingering over my head like an Acme anvil.

Neither do you, by the way. So how about it? Do you think yourself capable of DNF-ing a book at will? Let me know @C_L_McCollum!

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