Every year on the first of January, I make a reading goal for myself. Usually it comes in the form of a number: how many books I’d like to have read by the time December thirty-first rolls around.
Sometimes this makes me a desperate reader. Actually, being a reader makes me a desperate reader. If I open the pages of a book, I have to finish them. Otherwise, I feel like a failure.
This year, I’ve decided to be more forgiving of myself. If I’m not feeling a book, I’ll DNF it.
DNF stands for Did Not Finish in book world.
In the last twenty-one days, I’ve already DNF’d two books.
The first was Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. In this case, the problem really did lie with me. I was listening to the audiobook version while driving. The main character of this book has anxiety and obsessive thoughts, and hearing her thought spiral narrated to me as I drove almost gave me a panic attack. I felt queasy and unreal, dizzy and frail. Her circumstances were too similar to my own, her obsessive thoughts too familiar for me to stomach through audio.
It’s a shame, because I was actually enjoying that one. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again, next time in book form so I can navigate it more safely. From a couch instead of a moving vehicle.
The other DNF just happened yesterday. I was reading Five Feet Apart, another YA novel, this one about teens with cystic fibrosis. This book has been on the NYT Best Sellers List for almost sixty weeks now. It also had a movie made starring Cole Sprouse, so I figured there must be something special about it.
Alas, it was boring and derivative, and it romanticized a real sickness in a way that made me slightly uncomfortable.
It made me realize something that seems obvious, now that I’ve thought of it:
I do not owe these books anything. I am not obligated to finish reading them if I don’t want to. The author will never know. My peers will not judge me. There’s nothing stopping me from returning it to the library unread and picking up something else that seems more interesting.
And saving myself the struggle of slogging through a book I don’t care about will free up more time to read more books. Instead of two long weeks forcing myself to read snippets at a time from a terrible book, I can spend that time devouring three or four pleasure-to-read novels instead.
What a relief to finally understand that DNF-ing doesn’t make a person a bad reader.
It just means we know what we like.