At some point in the past twenty years I came to the conclusion that life is too short to read books I’m not interested in. So aside from reading for a class or a promised review, I’ll DNF a book for one of three reasons:
- Too many grammar errors. I grow especially frustrated with a book from a big publisher. They gatekeep and purport to know best about writing, there is ZERO reason for any errors, particularly with a big name author. (And I’m not talking about high level, nit-picky errors, I can forgive one or two of those.) Indie authors and small presses get a great deal of latitude, but if error detract from the reading/ muddle the meaning, I’m out.
- Errors in history/technical aspects/lazy research. I don’t expect authors to be experts in every topic, but if you are making a time period or occupation key to a character, I expect the basics to be covered.
- I get bored. Pacing is crucial, but I also love wordy, descriptive books…as long as there is a reason for those descriptions. But if I read a page several times because I’m zoning out, there’s a good chance this book is toast.
The first DNF’d book of 2023 was [::drumroll please::] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.
I really wanted to like this book. The blurb caught my attention, and the premise is solid. I was ecstatic that the library had it in, so I put aside my current read and cracked it open. Though I’m not a huge fan of shifting POVs, I can live with them when I like the characters equally. Nella–the apothecary–starts out intriguing. I like her, her job, and how she interacts with the world…and then she naively trusts a young customer, a twelve year old. The entire time I kept thinking, “How on earth did your business ever survive if you’re so gullible?” Caroline is irritating from the get-go, and Parcewell does not do foreshadowing well. It’s more like giant glaring signs that jump out of the text repeatedly, no nuance to be seen. Then Caroline supposedly has a degree in History and loves authors like Dickens and Hardy, but she has no idea what a mudlark is? Seriously? Where’d she get her degree? Out of a Wheetabix box? I DNF’d about 70 pages in.
The second DNF of 2023 was Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth.
This is another book I was excited to finally get my hands on. I love the time period, the locations, and fairy tales. Forsyth’s prose is dense, which fits the subject matter, and it’s clear that she’s done her research on both the time period and the actual historical figures. To be fair, I probably read close to 120 pages before I gave up in frustration. The pacing was just all wrong. Some places were too drawn out. There are several chapters setting the scene of the abbey. Fine. It reflects prose of the time period. Then there’s a flashback and Charlotte-Rose is having sex with a man she’s just met…all in the space of about 5 pages. I couldn’t handle the whiplash, so I set this aside.
Finally, my third DNF of January: Sarah Miller’s The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century.
Of all three books, this one was the least offensive. It’s well researched and the prose easily accessible. Though I personally didn’t like the side-bar factoid inclusions, I can see where some people might, especially if they weren’t familiar with the topic. I’m sort of familiar with the topic, and I hoped that Miller’s book might add to my knowledge base (and I did learn one cool thing.) But after 50 pages or so, I grew bored and gave up.
As readers, I think it’s important to talk about books we didn’t connect with as well as the ones we love. If you loved any of these books, great. Literature gives us lots of latitude for finding niches we love. Sharing our reasoning may help readers find a book they love or avoid one they’d hate.