Friday, May 08, 2009

Books I Have Set Aside and Why - A DNF Post

Last year, I chose not to mention Did Not Finish books, with the thought that there was no point to bringing negative attention to books. But, when I decided to grant myself permission to give up on books that weren't grabbing me, earlier this year (I finished a lot of duds in 2008), I realized that we all have different reasons for not completing a read and that just because I personally can't get into a book doesn't mean there isn't someone out there who might be intrigued enough to pick up a book I wasn't interested in completing, based on a general description. So, I decided to go ahead and write about those I haven't completed. And, then I fell behind. This, then, is a DNF Catch-Up post.

I'm going to separate my DNFs into two categories:

Those that simply didn't work for me.
Those I intend to revisit at a later date.

Books that didn't work for me:

Webs of Power by Darlene Quinn - Set in the 1980s, the days of power suits and hostile takeovers, this book is about greedy people and screwed-up relationships. I read about 50 pages of the book and found that I didn't have any urge to pick it back up, after I set it down. I think that may be partly because I wasn't in the right mood for illicit affairs, men who can't be bothered with their wives, and reminders of the corporate greed that helped get us into this recession boat. I was working at an oil company during an attempted hostile takeover and I remember the weird, funereal atmosphere as we waited to find out what would happen. Nope, I'm pretty sure I don't want to revisit that. But, I think the book is nicely written if a bit of a soap opera and I have nothing negative to say about it.

A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life With Bipolar Disorder by Marja Bergen is nonfiction, about the author's battle with bipolar disorder and how Christianity gave her a firm foundation upon which to stand. She's written a previous book about living with mental illness. I'm not bipolar, but I was interested in the book because I know several people who are, and hoped to gain a slightly better understanding of their disorder. Unfortunately, I found the book was a little too repetitive. It's really geared to reassure those who are suffering from the illness and since I'm not . . . well, it just didn't work for me. I was really on a fact-finding mission and this just wasn't the right book for me. I think it could be really useful for those struggling with bipolar disorder and trying to make sense of their lives.

Forever Lily by Beth Nonte Russell is a memoir of adoption in China. Beth did not set out to adopt a child. Instead, she accompanied a friend to China, thinking that she would have a grand adventure, but ended up taking care of the baby (and eventually adopting her) when her friend became overwhelmed by the challenges of new motherhood. I was really looking forward to reading this book because I love memoirs and it sounded like a great story.

Why didn't it work? The book contained not only the story of Beth's trip to China, but a dream sequence. Each night, she allegedly plunged back into the same continuing dream, taking up where it left off the night before. Honestly? I thought she made up the dream sequence. I had this overwhelming, "I so do not buy this!" feeling. Dreams don't work like movies that can be turned off and start right up where you left off, in my experience -- and I'm a very vivid dreamer. The dream sequence annoyed and upset me so much that I begin to doubt the rest of the story and decided to quit reading. It might be a good story if one can skip the dream portions, but I always feel obligated to read every word, so this one just didn't work for me.

DNF books I plan to revisit:

A Lever Long Enough by Amy Deardon really grabbed me, but I was trying to balance too many books at once and I didn't complete it in time for its book tour, so instead I wrote about how much my son enjoyed the book (he snatched it from me and read it in a single evening) and set it aside to return to at a later date. I'm going to defer to the website description of this one:

In the near future, the Israeli military has developed a prototypic time machine. When believers in Yeshua (Jesus) create a politically explosive situation that threatens the balance of peace between Israel and nearby countries, the Israelis must send a team of four elite soldiers back to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb and thus disprove Christianity. The team, consisting of a Special Forces soldier as leader, an ex-American astronaut as engineering specialist, an archaeologist, and a linguist, has exactly seventy-two hours to collect the video evidence. Drawn into a web of first century deception and death, the only way to escape is for the team to change the past. In the present, a traitor attempts to sabotage the mission and seize control of the military complex. The Special Forces leader operating in the past is the only one who can reveal him, but he is trapped two thousand years away. Even with a time machine, time is running out...

How cool is that? I love time travel and action, so I'm really looking forward to a time when I don't have a queue of ARCs and can return to this book. Also, my son insists that I must acquire future works by this first-time author. I love it when he does that.

Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family contains a lot more than just a bunch of diary entries. It's loaded with photos and documents. It does, however, contain the day-to-day observations of Cornelia Henry and, oh my goodness. Poor Cornelia suffered from migraines. I cannot even begin to imagine dealing with migraines, running a farm and business while the husband was off at war, and having to chase down numerous children while hosting friends and relatives who just dropped in (sometimes deathly ill) and expected to be fed and housed.

Really, this is an absolutely fascinating peek into one family's everyday life (aka "social history" - a term that was new to me when I picked up the book). The only reason I set it aside was the usual -- balancing too many books at once. I really need and desire to return to Cornelia's world to see her through the (American) Civil War. Apart from chronic headaches (both literally, as Cornelia suffered from migraines, and with the help), the Henrys also had to deal with a man who refused to move out of their hotel and then may have burned it in retaliation when they finally forced his hand, along with numerous troubles with the slaves and hired help. Mr. Henry was a gentle soul, according to Cornelia, and she often mused that their difficulty getting workers to actually do their jobs may have had something to do with his inability to be anything but kind.

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy is historical fiction, about the Biblical character Deborah. Not a lot is said about Deborah in the Bible and I've heard that this book doesn't, in fact, focus on Deborah -- and that it's pretty steamy, possibly even innacurate in what little it describes of her. But, I still want to read it. I've had two false starts with this book. The first time, I read two pages and kept drifting off. I decided it was just bad timing and that I'd give it another go, later.

The second time, the beginning of the book sounded terrific but I realized it was going to require focus. And, I'm really unfocused, in general. So, I decided to wait until I could read the book at a time when I could simply focus on one title (which, let's be honest, is not my typical modus operandi). I'm not sure when the right time will arrive, but I still want to read this book and it isn't unusual for me to make three attempts at reading the same book before it finally clicks and I'm able to give it my full attention. Most recently, Great Expectations is one of those books that I loved on the third attempt.

Two other books I simply didn't manage to read in time for their book tours and plan to return to are Katt's in the Cradle by Ginger Kolbaba & Christy Scannell (about a group of preachers' wives facing unique challenges individually and occasionally getting together to commiserate and have fun) and The Unquiet Bones by Melvin Starr (a medieval mystery).

Do you force yourself through every book or willingly abandon those that don't grab your interest? Do you ever return to books that just don't work for you, on the first attempt? I'm just curious.

Latest acquisitions:

For "Buy Indie Day", I visited Lorelei Books in downtown Vicksburg and bought The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (which has been on my wish list practically since the day it was released) and Dark Star by Alan Furst (highly recommended by the bookstore's owner, Laura, but she said it's complex and advised me to "take notes").

Yesterday, I returned to the store to fetch a copy of Earl's Art Shop: Building Art with Earl Simmons because I discovered the book is now out of print and wanted to grab a copy before it disappeared. "Mr. Earl" is an artist who lives in Bovina, Mississippi and had a huge, funky house that he built from found bits of sheet metal, wood, etc., then decorated with his art. Unfortunately, the original house burned to the ground about 2 or 3 years ago and Mr. Earl had to start all over, again. We've been to Bovina (about 5 miles outside Vicksburg) to see his new house, but we never bothered to see the original. I'm looking forward to reading about the house and admiring the photographs.

I've also recently acquired quite a few books from Paperback Swap and the Advanced Readers keep trickling in, so I may have to do a separate post about other acquisitions, soon. But, first, I think I need to list my April Reads in Review. I'll shoot for writing that post, this weekend.

Just finished:

No Touch Monkey! by Ayun Halliday. A totally crazy-fun book about a hippie backpacker chick's travel adventures to places I would much rather read about than visit. More on that, later. Happy Friday!


  1. It's been a while since I've given up on a book - I usually slog through. I'm disappointed that Forever Lily wasn't worth finishing.

  2. Kathy,

    That's what I used to do. I felt obligated to read absolutely everything from cover to cover. This really is the first year of my life that I've successfully set aside books (a couple of those are technically from the end of 2008, so I'm still not giving up on many). I guess I feel like I'm getting too old to waste my time on a book that doesn't grab me.

  3. I like seeing what makes other readers give up on a book- we all have different reasons. I used to force myself to finish most books, but now I don't anymore. Sometimes I get the feeling I'm just not in the right mood or mind-set a book requires to be appreciated, so I'll try it again later.

  4. Before I got out of school and actually got a job, I did my best to finish every single book I started, even if it took me months of painful slogging. Now, I just don't have the patience - there's so much to read, why waste my time on something that feels like a chore?

    Enjoy The Graveyard Book, by the way - I finished it a couple days ago and had fun with it. I have kind of high standards for Gaiman, and I don't think this was one of his better ones, but even something that I don't think is his best still makes it onto my "really good books" list.

  5. I learned a long time ago to give up on a book if it isn't working out. There just isn't enough time to devote to something I just can't get through with pain and irritation. Way to go Nancy!

    I cannot WAIT to hear what you think of The Graveyard Book. I've already read it twice (once myself and once I let Neil read it to me *swoon!*). And I have that No Touch Monkey. I like the sound of crazy!

  6. I love reading your reasons for giving up or not on a particular book. An inside peek review, so to speak.

    I give up on books, occasionally unwillingly, occasionally by heaving them at the walls in scorn.

  7. Jeane,

    That's one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and start writing DNF posts -- I realized I like reading them, myself. I've decided I'm just getting too old to waste time on books that don't grab me. I should probably put something about that on the blog, somewhere. "If I finish it, I must have gotten something out of the book." :)

    Library Girl,

    You know, I think the reason I used to force myself through absolutely every book has to do with money. We've always been one-income by choice and books are not cheap, so I figured I had to get my money's worth. Swapping has really helped me with that.

    Gaiman is iffy with me, but our library only has one copy of The Graveyard Book and I've been aching to read it, so it seemed like a great choice for "Buy Indie Day." I hope I like it, but we'll see.


    It took me an awful long time to figure that out. I think my mother's death helped me realize there's so little time that I just can't afford to waste it on bad books.

    I listened to part of The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman is an awesome reader (and he held his own with Stephen Colbert, I thought -- better than most). I'm looking forward to it, even though I only seem to like his work about 50% of the time.

    No Touch Monkey! is a hoot. It makes me very, very happy to have a bed, bathtub and running water. And, food.

  8. Carrie dear,

    I tried to comment at your blog, the other day (I'm sure it was absolutely the wittiest thing I've ever written and I recall trying to nudge you to write a memoir, again) but Wordpress said, "No can do." Boy, did that piss me off. Anyway, your post was marvelous and I believe I also asked you to tell my adopted brother "Happy Birthday". Bit late, now.

    You've told me about the occasional book-heaving. I only recall one book that I actually threw, literally, when I finished it: Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks. I could go on all day about how wrong that ending was, given the character, his knowledge of sailing and his desire to live. Stupid, stupid, moronic, ridiculous fake-tragic ending. However, I'll just shush. :)

  9. I really struggle to give up books. I have given up on perhaps 5 books over the last 5 or 6 years. Even then, every now and again I think about picking that book up to see if it was me rather than the book!

  10. Marg,

    I used to set absolutely everything I stopped reading aside and give it a second chance, so I can understand and relate. Sometimes it really is just a matter of timing. You have to do what works best for you. I just reached a dividing line, last year, myself (probably because my mother's death has made me more aware of just how short life is).

  11. There are very few books that I set aside never to finish, but I do have a pretty big pile of "hopefully I'll finish later" and an even bigger pile of books I've read and have kept around hoping for a second read where I'll like the book better (ones that I didn't like but everyone else loves that have me thinking--what's wrong with me!!). :)

    And I think there's a lot to be said about, doesn't work for me but might work for you. Glad you decided to share! I've heard interesting things about Forever Lily.

  12. I don't have a problem giving up on books any more. I figure if it's just not working out then there are hundreds more waiting for me. That said, I also set aside some DNFs for later. Sometimes it's all a matter of what mood I'm in so I do go back to some DNFs. Have a happy weekend!

  13. This is totally unrelated to your post (sorry), but I wanted to respond to your comments on my blog. ;)

    Yes, it was "Thin Within" that I was referring to, for diet/weight loss books that helped me. I actually go back and reread "The Weigh Down Diet", though, when I need to be inspired, as TW is a little *too* preachy for me, and WD was the one that really started me off -- it's practical. Mind you, I'm thinking of rereading "Intuitive Eating" by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch (own that, too), as it has all of the basic how-to's, but none of the "off" theology of WD.

    And, yes, I so totally agree with "knowing what to do, but just not doing it"... I don't NEED to read any more weight loss books, as they all basically tell you the same thing: eat less, move more. Duh! LOL. :P

    It's all about discipline & self-control: two things God wants us to have, right? So, "JustMom"'s comment on my post -- about praying for help -- was good, too.

    Pop is also one of MY downfalls... along with chocolate. I recently gave them up for 2 weeks, and lost 2 lbs. LOL. Go figure, eh?

    ((sigh)) It's a crazy cycle.

    Thanks for your comments...much appreciated! :D


  14. I already have 3 DNFs this in, there's no way I'm going to read this again. Weep.

  15. I think that we might need a category for books we finished and then wished we hadn't wasted the time on! It took me forever to slog through Stephen King's It...then I was mad at myself for wasting my time on it!

    I hadn't DNF'd (is that really a verb?) a book for a couple of years until this month. I just couldn't get through Joanna Scott's Follow Me. I know...I know...everyone else in the world LOVES this book. It's "lyrical". (Note to self...avoid books described as "lyrical"....)

    Of course, the last book I DNF'd (there I go with the verb thing again) before that was Life of Pi,and before that The Historian. Both wildly popular books...go figure, I guess I'm just more shallow than your average bear....

  16. I agree on not reading something you don't like. Unfortunately for me lately the ratio of DNF books to F books is high. I'm going to keep pressing.

    I think a DNF post is a great idea though. Maybe someone else will want to read a book I wasn't really into. Or I'll keep someone from wasting their time.

    Have a great weekend!

  17. Interesting post. I don't like dreams in books, so Forever Lily would be a DNF for me, as well. Fear in North Carolina sounds like a good one. I'm going to look into that a little more.

    I've had to learn how to abandon books - it's been a long process. Reminding myself of the fact that there's too many good books out there to waste my precious time on books I'm not enjoying is a constant. If I don't keep that thought, I will continue reading. I have said that I will return to a book and have, but that doesn't happen often. Usually, if I'm done - I'm done.

  18. Oh wow i enjoyed those short views into stories. Personally I'm moody so I learned that If I still can't get into it after 50 pages that I should stop reading it. Some books I get into immediately, others takes me a while and get there eventually and there are those, that no matter how hard I try, I simply can't stand. So yes i can stop anywhere, anytime. Some I've left and went back a few years later and enjoyed very much. We learn along the way what we like and what we don't like and since that also changes we just never know lol ;) I've ever bought some just 'cause I fell in love with the cover and will probably never read a single page...but books can be great decorative objects ...Great post as always dear Booky ;)

  19. I'm still hoping you'll give me lessons on how to abandon a book. I'm so ripping compulsive that I absolutely must finish what I've started to read, and that means that if I don't like it I am mad, mad, mad until the end. Not good for the author, me, or the home I live in. ;) Maybe, though, with encouragement from you and Les, who are obviously more mature than I, I'll pick up this much needed skill.

  20. I liked how you didn't dis on any of your DNF books. It's true that some books just don't grab a hold for some reason, but they still will be enjoyed by others. I need to take a lesson from you because I recently wrote about two books I didn't like and I was not very nice. Thanks for the good example, Bookfool.

  21. Trish,

    I don't think it's a bad thing that you don't like most of the books "everyone else" is reading. Part of being human is having a mind of your own, including very individual taste. I reserve the right to say, "What's wrong with her??" when you hate one of my favorites, though. ;)

    I so wanted to enjoy Forever Lily! I really think I would have, if it hadn't had that dream sequence. Apart from that, I thought it was nicely written and a good read.


    Since you used the words "any more", I'm assuming you used to have trouble setting aside books, like I did, yes? It sure does seem to get easier with age.


    I'm glad my wordy comment didn't drive you nuts. I've just recently realized how little of that information I put to use and I could relate to your post. Thin Within is the one I was referring to, I think.

    JustMom's comment is great. I agree 100%. Yep, just eat right, move more -- it's really wild how many diet books there are, given the fact that you could summarize losing weight in so few words (calories in, calories burned), isn't it? I need to work on discipline and self-control, too. I'm getting the exercise, now that I'm in a marathon training group, but I still love my sodas. Sigh.


    You poor thing. It must be much, much more difficult setting books aside when it's so hard to even acquire them in the first place.

  22. Kelly,

    "Slog books", maybe. :) Been there, done that. It's particularly irritating when you drag yourself through a huge book and it never improves. Shorter books at least don't eat up as much time.

    I seriously do not think DNFing (yeah, I think it's a verb, LOL) books that everyone else loves is shallow. You and Trish need to get together and tell each other you're okay. Really, we all have such different taste. I tend to dislike a lot of books that everyone else loves, too, but I tend to go against the flow in a lot of ways, so it doesn't bother me a bit.


    You have set aside a lot of books, but I think you've found some great authors recently, too (Jill Mansell -- and she loves you as much as you loved her book, which is all kinds of awesome).

    Thanks, it's nice knowing so many people think a DNF post is a good idea. I was really hesitant to write about books I didn't finish, at first, but now I kind of enjoy it because this way the author still gets some exposure and other people can decide for themselves whether the book sounds interesting. Everyone wins, right? :)


    Dream sequences used to not bother me, but they seem to be jumping out at me in fiction, lately, too -- I guess because they usually make too much sense to be believable. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

    Fear in North Carolina . . . not sure whether you'd enjoy it. Diary entries can be a little odd and repetitive, but my favorite way to read history is through the eyes of those who lived it, so I don't mind that it's a little choppy. I never can decide whether or not you'd like a book!

    It's funny how difficult it is for some of us to abandon a book, isn't it? I don't return to as many as I used to, but I can usually tell whether or not a book is worth a second attempt, these days.

  23. Rainy,

    I'm pretty moody, too. I think a huge part of my reluctance to give up on books has to do with the fact that we've always been one-income (by choice) and our budget is typically pretty tight -- not as bad as it used to be, of course, but I became accustomed to feeling like I had to get my money's worth out of the books I bought. You're right -- it gets easier to figure out which ones you're likely to enjoy later, although taste does change. I have some books from my manic chick lit phase that I'm pretty sure I'll never read and probably ought to pass on. I still love chick lit, but only slotted in on occasion.

    I think it's great that you buy books for their covers, too. I've done that. Sometimes a book is so pretty it can just be ornamental. I've got a copy of The Blood of Flowers that is just gorgeous. When I bought it, I really wanted to read Divisadero (I was out seeking something to read immediately), but the cover of Divisadero was so hideous that I went for The Blood of Flowers . . . and then couldn't get into it at all. But, it's so pretty, it's still sitting on the shelf.


    It took me such a long time to reach this point. The only advice I can give you is to think about the time you spend reading. You want it to be time well spent, right? I seldom get upset with authors (exception: Nicholas Sparks has ticked me off enough to have the distinction of being the one author whose book I remember literally throwing at a wall) but if you're mad while reading, you're definitely not using your time in a good way. I'll work on you. Les' ability to abandon books has really helped me. :)


    That's so sweet of you, calling me a "good example". :) I really feel so much better about my reading, now that I'm setting things aside but mentioning who might like them and saying enough (I hope) for other readers to decide whether or not they're interested. I felt a lot like Bellezza, last year -- not so much angry with the author, but angry with myself for wasting my time and, like you, finding that if I pushed myself through a book that wasn't working, the reviews ended up a little bit on the mean side. This way feels like more of a win-win method, to me. It's nice to have confirmation of that; thank you for saying so!

  24. I gave up on Deborah too but I just didn't like it! :-) I thought it fell into the so-bad-it-was-good category but unfortunately,that wasn't enough to keep me reading.

  25. I love the way you posted about several books at once and they way you categorized them -- revisiting vs. not revisiting. And I also like that you recognized that some books weren't for you but might be terrific for someone else.

    I decided just a couple of weeks ago to start posting about DFNs. I think it is as useful to know what didn't work as it is to know what did.

    Thanks for tweeting the link.

  26. Great post. As an author, it's fascinating (and instructive) to find out which books people choose not to finish and why. As a reader, I have little patience for books that don't grab me in the first 50 pages. There are too many truly great books out there waiting to be read to waste time on those that don't strike a chord.

  27. Marie,

    I didn't get far enough, either time, to really make a good judgment call as to whether or not I'll like Deborah -- really, just a few pages. At that point, I realized it was not a breezy read and would require more concentration. We'll see what happens on the third attempt! :)


    Thank you. I'm glad you liked the way I decided to categorize. Really, I wish I'd come up with the idea of doing this, sooner. I tend to be a go-against-the-flow person, so I know my rejects aren't necessarily going to be everyone else's.

    Thanks for hopping over here to read and comment!


    Thanks for chiming in! It's nice to hear thoughts from an author's point of view. I used to just quietly set aside books that I couldn't force my way through but I'm realizing that this way makes so much more sense because at least with a DNF the author still gets some exposure.

    So true that there are too many great books to waste your time on one that doesn't work for you.

  28. I must say the Time Traveling Israeli book does sound interesting. I have a new category of books for 'I'm sure I would find it wonderful if I could just force myself to read it' to cover quite a few of my DNFs.

  29. Care,

    Doesn't it sound great? I can only tell you the book started out well. My son, however, will be happy to bend your ear about how much he enjoyed A Lever Long Enough.

    You just never know when one of those books might work on a second attempt. Mood can be everything.

  30. I read Forever Lily too (and was excited to do so since I was in the process of adopting my youngest from China at that time) but had the same exact issue as you did. It was really a dissapointing read!

  31. Stephanie,

    I thought about you, as I was writing up my post. I don't remember you posting about it, but it's been quite a while since you went to China. I'm glad you felt the same!

  32. I haven't read very many good reviews of Forever Lily, but I LOVED The Triumph of Deborah. Although it does have its steamy and intense moments, it is in a tasteful way.

  33. Jo-Jo,

    I've seen mixed reviews on Deborah but Forever Lily . . . mostly negative. I still wanted to read the book, even though I read reviews before acquiring a copy, but it just didn't work for me.

  34. Good for you! I recently did a post like this, but it was 3 books over the course of 4 weeks... lol

  35. Monica,

    I've meant to post them as I set them aside. Ah, well. It worked, right? :)


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