Latest review…or not. The DNF pile

By Ekta R. Garg

I love stories. That’s no secret to anyone who knows me well. It’s the reason I became an author in the first place. I go to bed thinking of plot points and wake up considering character details. I smile with delight, like a child hiding a candy bar from her parents after Halloween, when I start reading a new book.

In my teen years, that delight used to turn to dismay when I got into a book that turned into a dud for me. I didn’t give up on the book, however. I’d plod through it until I limped to the end and groaned in relief and annoyance. When I chatted with friends who weren’t bookworms, they would roll their eyes in affection and ask why I didn’t just stop reading before getting to the end.

I couldn’t do that. Starting a book, back then at least, initiated a sacred trust between me and the author. Said author didn’t know I saw it that way, of course. This was in the pre-internet days, so I couldn’t just tweet the author or email him/her. But the trust was sacred, nonetheless.

Then life happened. Marriage. Children. My own writing. Editing. Book reviewing. And I decided to break the trust and allow myself to assign books to a DNF category.

DNF — Did Not Finish — books make many of us bookworms duck our heads in embarrassment. After all, we’re bookworms. We’re supposed to burrow our way through anything and everything between two covers or on our e-readers with a ferocity that doesn’t quit until we reach “The End.”

There’s also a sense of “what if”. It’s a writer’s favorite question. In the case of the DNF list, the question haunts readers. “What if I quit reading just before the book got really good, and I missed out on something special?”

We live in a dynamic age of publishing. Never before have authors had so many outlets they can use to reach potential readers. The sheer numbers of options are exciting and heartening.

Unfortunately, more options also mean more bad books. If I’m spending my limited time reading bad books, I can’t get to the good ones. So a couple of years ago I created benchmarks: if I get through one-fourth of the book (25 percent on my Kindle) and it fails to keep my interest, I drop it. If I hit the 25-percent mark and I’m still on board, I give it to 50 percent. Then I reassess, but I have no qualms about dropping the book if it can’t intrigue me.

I’m not a complete savage, though. Once I hit the 50-percent mark, and if I still like the book, then I stick through it for the long haul. I figure by then I’m already halfway there, so why not finish?

In the last week, I added two more books to the DNF pile. The first was a novel; the second was nonfiction. I went into both hoping — really wanting, actually — to like them. I didn’t. I gave them their 25-percent and 50-percent dues. They both clunked out by then.

I know I made the right choice. As a book reviewer, I have a long TBR — To Be Read — list. The length of that list guarantees I’ll read some books that I’ll absolutely love — those I recommend to Binge — and others I think are pretty great — the ones I tell readers to Bookmark. Some of those books I’ll encourage readers to Borrow from their public libraries, because supporting libraries is crucial and necessary in our day and age. A few of those books I encourage readers to Bypass, because I made it all the way to the end but still didn’t like it.

The DNF books fall below the Bypass list. I think the fact that I’m willing to stick through many books that I eventually don’t like anyway speaks to my dedication to stories. And books. And publishing.

I realize that if I’m ever fortunate enough to have a book published, some readers might come across my book and decide it should be added to their DNF pile. Fair enough. One of the best things about books is that we can talk about them, share them, not share them, share our distaste or delight about a novel or story, and all still be right.

In the end, one thing remains intact: my love for books. I might have to break the trust with authors now and again, but that just means I can form it with other authors that much sooner. I still feel a pinch of dismay in my heart at not completing a book, but now I just wince and open the next book with that optimism that floods a readers heart. Like a kid with Halloween candy.