Did not finish – reading by numbers

Adding a book to the ‘did not finish’ pile always feels like a failure. On whose part, I don’t know – the reader and the writer are sometimes equally to blame. There are plenty of (probably) truly excellent books that I just haven’t been able to finish, and loads of terrible ones that I’ve ploughed through and read to the end.

How do we make these decisions? And why is there so much guilt involved?

It seems silly to assign ‘guilt’ to anything to do with reading, except in the sense of ‘guilty pleasure’ or ‘the guy from the car wash is totes guilty’. Taking time to read should be a pleasure, right?

The latest book to make it on to my did not finish (DNF) pile is Edith Wharton’s “Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort”. It’s not at all a bad book; it’s not even completely uninteresting. I just didn’t have the patience to keep reading something that I couldn’t get into and that, really, I found a bit dull.

It seems to me that there are two main reasons I abandon a book. One, it is truly execrable. A glance at my Goodreads DNF pile and I remember the abomination that was Salman Rushdie’s “Fury”, a book so bad I wanted to issue a fatwa on it. I had to stop reading Holly Robinson’s “Sleeping Tigers”, mostly because I was constantly reading out terrible passages to C, and it turns out that is a fast way to lose friends and annoy people.

The other main reason I lay books aside is that I just don’t get into them. I would love to finish “The Iliad”, but I found myself sleep-reading through chunks of it. At some point you just have to let it go.

Of course, I have to also just let go of the guilt. The guilt that says, “you failed! why didn’t you finish the book?!” It’s not important to finish every book. Some books are unfinishable by some people.

And yet the biggest guilt of all comes from Goodreads. Yes, Goodreads. Putting aside Wharton was a big deal, because I’ve committed to reading 45 books this year and I don’t want to fall behind schedule. This is insidious and stupid. Reading shouldn’t be gamified! I should care about the words, not the numbers!

But as I see the counter tick over on my Kindle that tells I’m 12% through Niall Williams’ “History of the Rain”, I realise it’s too late. Reading has always been a numbers game. From collecting first editions, to having to buy another bookshelf to house my vast collection, the numbers have always been important.

And they probably always will be.

Now, go and read a book!

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.


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