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DNF: Did Not Finish!

Paul Whybrow

Venerated Member
#1
Some years ago, I decided that life was way too short to force myself to complete reading books that annoyed me or that failed to engage me.

I've previously commented that we, as authors read books in a different way to normal people o_O. I know that my radar is always 'on', looking for such things as how a book's sentences are punctuated, paragraph length, characterisation, plotting and descriptive technique. I've taken to keeping a notebook nearby, to jot down ideas sparked by the book I'm reading, that might be applied to my WIP or in future projects.

I'm a voracious reader consuming about four novels weekly, plus a couple of non-fiction works, which are often connected to my WIP. Praise be, that my local library is one mile away. The only novel I've force myself to finish recently, I've already torn apart in the Back Room forum. It was so bad, it could be used by a tutor of a crime writing course on how not to write a crime novel—and yet, it's sold a million copies!

There have been several novels where I started to lose the will to live halfway through, and I skip read the rest, wondering how they ever got published. These included Stef Penney's second novel The Invisible Ones, which was a tedious mess. I loved her debut The Tenderness of Wolves, and Under a Pole Star was one of the best novels I read in 2016.

I also skipped through the ending of the highly praised The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, which I found overwritten, overplotted and altogether a muddy read.

The most unsettling novel I tried to read was Infinite Ground by Colin MacInnes, which was hard work for little reward, dealing with the nature of reality and how we perceive things, all couched in an existential way. I didn't finish it, thinking, at the time, that he'd somehow come up with an example of whatever the opposite of a gripping yarn would be called....

My murky secret for books not finished is Terry Pratchett! I enjoyed a couple of novels he wrote with Neil Gaiman, but I've never been able to get into the Discworld series. I like reading book series in order, and the opening story The Colour of Magic has twice failed to grip me. Several huge fans of his have said to me that the first book is not the best, so I'd welcome advice from any of you who are devotees about where to start. I adored the man, admiring his courageous stance against dementia and mourned his passing.

What books have you failed to finish?

Are there any authors whose appeal you simply don't understand?

 

Howard

Well-Known Member
#2
What books have you failed to finish?
Vast, vast swathes. My partner reads like her life depends on it, consuming factual historical text books the size of phonebooks at the rate of 3 or so a week. She can read anything at all, devouring even the most hateful of books in mere hours.
I am the exact opposite. I read chronically slowly; literally real-time. I cannot skip or speed read through things. To me, that is like watching a film on fast forward. Thus, I have no time to waste on reading crap and will happily discard a novel in a heartbeat if I have to.

Are there any authors whose appeal you simply don't understand?
Hah! What a list this would be! A small selection for your delectation:
- Stephen King - He is just boring to me and has never evoked anything in my mind bar tedium.
- Patrick Rothfuss - The Name of the Wind was one of the most physically unpleasant experiences of my entire life
- Joe Abercrombie - This dude bemuses me. He is an astoundingly gifted writer, knocking out what I believe to be the greatest piece of characterisation I have ever seen (Glokta the torturer in The Blade Itself) yet he refuses to write any description. You can finish an entire book of his without knowing anything about the world, what it looks like, its technology. It was like being blindfolded.
- Brandon Sanderson - Cheesy, would, I believe, be the word of choice here. Did not enjoy at all.


As to Pratchett: The first two books are ancient. He peddled them around for years, trying to get a deal. They are utterly non-representative of his style and are just a series of jokes, strung together. Skip them (and, speaking as a fan of his work, anything with Rincewind in them).
Start at book 3, Equal Rites (which introduces Granny Weatherwax, IMHO the greatest of his characters) or go for the generally wildly popular book 4, Mort. Up until Going Postal, Pratchett steadily gets better, but after that, the effects of the poor man's debilitating disease start to show.
 

Howard

Well-Known Member
#4
I know this one divides opinion. What was is that failed for you?
I had two issues. Firstly, the protagonist was an utter plank. He was just plain stupid and made the worst of decisions at every turn. I could not empathize with him in any way at all, as he barely felt human.
Secondly, it was Fantasy By Numbers. It was structured to the point of it being ridiculous, with everything that ever happened being labelled in glowing neon with "THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER" or "THIS IS PLOT! PLOT, I SAY! SMELL HOW IT BODES!". His actual word usage was fine, but it left me feeling as though it was written by an incredibly well crafted algorithm that had been fed all the schlock fantasy in the world and which then spat out the most perfect, trope-tastic example of the genre.
 
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Howard

Well-Known Member
#7
So basically it fell flat for you at every turn. Which authors would you go to for epic fantasy?
Honestly, I have never found a fantasy author I like bar Tolkien. I try, constantly, to pick others up, but I just get lost in them and wander off.
Thing is, for reasons that were well expressed by others in the thread about him, I don't even like Tolkien much as an author! His prose is a mess, his characters are awful and he is overly long winded for no good reason. But I adore his world! The actual story of Lord of the Rings is my least favourite part of his work, as it is the end of his world. The magic all goes away and the mundanity of humanity (band name?!) takes over. I much prefer the Silmarillion or even his unfinished works that deal with the earlier days of his world.
But seriously: open to suggestions for good, epic fantasy as, quite frankly, I am yet to read any.
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
#8
Yeah, I'm on that search as well. I agree with you about Tolkien, but we differ on Rothfuss. I didn't recognise your critique of The Name of the Wind, but it just goes to show how different things push different buttons.
On Abercrombie and Sanderson we agree once again.
I'll let you know if I find something good, but I can't promise you'll like it. :)
 

Howard

Well-Known Member
#9
Yeah, I'm on that search as well. I agree with you about Tolkien, but we differ on Rothfuss. I didn't recognise your critique of The Name of the Wind, but it just goes to show how different things push different buttons.
On Abercrombie and Sanderson we agree once again.
I'll let you know if I find something good, but I can't promise you'll like it. :)
Rothfuss really is odd. A friend of mine, who is the harshest book critic I know (and therefore my first choice when I want my own work torn apart), literally adores that series, declaring it to be "the most perfectly plotted fantasy" he's ever read. After picking it up, hopes very high, I honestly though I'd either bought the wrong thing or he'd had a stroke.
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
#10
As to Pratchett: The first two books are ancient. He peddled them around for years, trying to get a deal. They are utterly non-representative of his style and are just a series of jokes, strung together. Skip them (and, speaking as a fan of his work, anything with Rincewind in them).
Start at book 3, Equal Rites (which introduces Granny Weatherwax, IMHO the greatest of his characters) or go for the generally wildly popular book 4, Mort. Up until Going Postal, Pratchett steadily gets better, but after that, the effects of the poor man's debilitating disease start to show.
By the way, @Paul Whybrow, I wholeheartedly second everything Howard says here about Pratchett.
 

Rich.

Guardian
Staff member
#11
Rothfuss really is odd. A friend of mine, who is the harshest book critic I know (and therefore my first choice when I want my own work torn apart), literally adores that series, declaring it to be "the most perfectly plotted fantasy" he's ever read. After picking it up, hopes very high, I honestly though I'd either bought the wrong thing or he'd had a stroke.
It's weird, isn't it? I wish I could say something witty and inciteful about it, something to illuminate the mystery of why some love it while others loathe it. But I can't. (At least not without giving it a great deal more thought.)
A friend of mine whose opinion I respect declared upon finishing the second book, 'Ah, he's written himself into a corner. Where's he gonna go from here?'
I thought to myself, dude, are you sure we read the same book?!
 

MaryA

Respected Member
#13
Books I failed to finish.

I'm with @BrianClegg on Catch 22.
Tolkien's Silmarillon.
Charles Dickens' Bleak House, although I love the beginning and parts of it.

It isn't always the fault of the book, though. Over the years I've learned that if I'm tired, fluey or depressed, I can't read novels that are extremely violent or feature scenes involving cruelty to children or animals. I have to brace myself to read a novel I know will have graphic rape scenes. Right now, I can't even read reviews of Leila Slimani's acclaimed new novel Lullaby about a sadistic/murderous babysitter because it makes me feel distraught.

I'm worse with movies, go out to make a pot of tea in order to miss the scary bits in horror or thrillers.
 

Howard

Well-Known Member
#14
Books I failed to finish.

I'm with @BrianClegg on Catch 22.
Tolkien's Silmarillon.
Charles Dickens' Bleak House, although I love the beginning and parts of it.

It isn't always the fault of the book, though. Over the years I've learned that if I'm tired, fluey or depressed, I can't read novels that are extremely violent or feature scenes involving cruelty to children or animals. I have to brace myself to read a novel I know will have graphic rape scenes. Right now, I can't even read reviews of Leila Slimani's acclaimed new novel Lullaby about a sadistic/murderous babysitter because it makes me feel distraught.

I'm worse with movies, go out to make a pot of tea in order to miss the scary bits in horror or thrillers.
Interesting you bring that up. I have no tolerance for violence in books or film. I simply refuse to read/watch them. And its not because they upset me, or that I am squeamish, oddly. What they actually do is make me incredibly angry. Like, "so angry I have to leave the room/cinema/house and have a walk or I'll scream at someone" angry. "Scary" things never touch me, because (as discussed in a now very old thread) I just don't find stuff scary, but violence pulls at my brain like few other things.
It is because of this reaction that I was, from the moment I saw any of his work, set to loathe anything and everything that Tarantino did. He fills me with a rage so powerful I become incoherent. Hell, I can't even watch joke stuff like Kick Ass!
(Yes, yes: I'm a broken little toy...:()

Oh, and, as to not finishing the Silmarillion? SHAME! :p
 

Barbara

Active Member
#15
Reading really is such a matter of taste, eh. And like you say here, being an author makes it harder to enjoy novels. I'm forever picking text apart, it's close to becoming an obsession.

My most recent DNF was The Poisonwood Bible. Sorry, @Paul Whybrow, I think you like Barbara K's work. But for me it wasn't going anywhere and the themes weren't explored in a way I felt mattered. I wasn't bothered about any of the characters. I fully respect the fact that she is a good author. It just isn't my kind of reading.

I read a fair amount of stage plays, and have never DNFd any. There's something about dialogue that keeps me interested.

A near miss was Eleanor Oliphant. I only persisted because .... well, I paid for it and thought I ought to. The main character didn't ring true too me and the ending was, well ... but hats off to Gail H for doing well with it.

As for my current bedtime reading: I'm about a chapter into A man Called Ove, and I have suddenly got very busy with a German crossword.

But mostly, I struggle with reading my own work.
 

Paul Whybrow

Venerated Member
#16
Thank you for the Terry Pratchett recommendations, which, I'm pleased to see my local library has in stock.

I forgot to mention a novel I recently failed to finish, probably because I've been trying to strike it from my mind, so revolting and gratuitous was the violence. Even more annoyingly, I actually requested my library to get me a copy of The Merman, by Carl-Johan Vallgren, whose protagonists are the bullied children of alcoholic parents on the west coast of Sweden. On page 5, the daughter witnesses the local gang of thugs torture a kitten to death by setting it alight in a carrier bag! I threw the book from me with a loud "No!"

Why do people writer such shit? It made me wonder about the mindset of the author, and of his editor and publisher.
 

Marc Joan

Venerated Member
Founding Member
#18
Recently, I didn't finish 'The Unconsoled' (Kazuo Ishiguro) and 'The Man in the High Castle' (Philip K. Dick). I could certainly have finished them if I needed to, they didn't upset me, but at the same time they didn't entice me. I need to be transported, not obliged to yomp my way through verbiage.
 
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