- Emily Barber
- Tuesday, March 10, 2020
There are two types of readers: those who persist and those who DNF — or "do/did not finish." I'm here to tell you that you should be the latter.
I recently quit two books in one day. The first was Chloé Hilliard’s F*ck Your Diet: And Other Things My Thighs Tell Me and the other was Tara Brach’s Radical Compassion. In the past I’ve quit books after giving them a fair shot of roughly 50 pages and decided that for whatever reason they weren’t for me. The weird thing about what happened a few weeks ago is that both books were ostensibly right up my alley: women authors wielding compassion, vulnerability, and self-love with the intent of making the world a better place. And yet, to my frustration, neither book was holding my attention.
Before you declare me a heretic and return to your towering to-be-read (TBR) pile, take a moment to consider why you read. This reason is critical to how strongly you should take my advice. If you’re a literature student or, say, a book reviewer, then finishing books even though some of them make you want to claw your eyes out from boredom is just part of the gig. Carry on in your potentially irksome endeavor; just take some soothing tea with you when you go.
On the other hand, if you’re among most readers who are seeking joy and enrichment, chances are not every book you power through is bringing you closer to that purpose. Attention is an essential, finite resource, and how we direct the attention that we can control is a huge determiner of our joy. Along with all the books in the world, there are also friends to laugh with, pets to cuddle, concerts to see, podcasts and TV shows to catch up on, family to love — this list goes on forever. I’m not qualified to prioritize these for you, only to reassure you that quitting books is fine. You don’t even really need a reason, but just in case you’d like one, here are some of the best reasons:
1. You might end up reading more books. This may not be everyone’s experience, but I read faster when I’m enjoying the book or article or whatever. Consider the amount of time you’ve spent on books you abhorred; imagine how many other books you could have gotten through that you at least kind of liked. For efficiency’s sake, you can set up a limit, either page number or percentage to power through before ditching anything. (Some of you, even proud DNFers, might balk at my mere 50 pages. In a 700-page monolith, that's not much, so adjust accordingly.)
2. Quitting a book doesn’t mean you’ll never read it. I’m a strong proponent of the idea that there isn’t really such a thing as a “bad” book. There are genres that hold less appeal for me or that I've simply never tried before. There are some books that just aren’t the right thing for you right now, such as my earlier examples. Sometimes a book catches us at the opportune moments; other times a particular story is unbearable. Maybe you ran out of renewals after swearing that you'd get around to it for the past three months. Quitting a book doesn’t mean you must strike it from your TBR eternally. Unlike exes, you can keep a book on the hook as long as you want.
3. Reading is supposed to bring us joy. With a handful of exceptions, we read for fun. On a deeper level, some folks read to enrich themselves, which might mean books that aren’t strictly “enjoyable.” Regardless of how you define your reading purpose, we read to get something out of it. If a book isn’t giving you that thing, then what is the point of trudging through it? Perhaps you have a satisfactory answer to that question, like you truly believe you get something out of every book you read. If not, embrace the DNF.