Book Box: Didn't finish your book? It's okay
A Do Not Finish (DNF) reading strategy can help you be a happier reader. Here are 5 famous books I did not finish
I was eighteen years old when my uncle handed me a copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude.
"It’s a classic, you will love it", he said. I had finished high school earlier that year, and was in Delhi, planning to study English Literature at a residential college that would have me.
Every morning, walking out of my uncles flat, into the scorching June summer, I clutched my wallet, my board exam results and A Hundred Years of Solitude, in a bag I held protectively across my chest, as I got onto DTC buses to different colleges, to stand in admission queues. By this time, most of my friends from school were in engineering, architecture and medical colleges and already, I felt left behind.
I was tense, uncertain in the city, and felt alone.
Not the best time to keep company with a flashbacking Colonel who thinks about ice as he faces a firing squad. Add to these unlikely and alien apparitions, incestuous aunts and other unfamiliar occurrences– it was all too confusing. I longed for literary comfort and there was more ambiguity.
Yet, I persisted. Like many of us, I was brought up a completist – finish the food on your plate and finish your books.
I ploughed painfully through, a page at a time.
By the end, I had simply stopped reading. It was months before I picked up a book again. Any book.
Since then I have turned a DNF devotee. If I don’t enjoy a book, either because I don’t like the writing, the dialogue or the characters, because I find it boring or am simply not in the mood for it - I Do Not Finish (DNF).
I have returned to reading, inspired by the words of Neil Gaiman- A book that you can't put down is a book that deserves to be read. If it fails to capture your attention, it's perfectly fine to let it go.
Reader, are you a compulsive completer?
Or do you see literary liberation in abandoning an unsatisfactory book?
Here are five of my most recent DNF’s:
DNF Book 1 of 5: Gossip Girls in an Indian Village
A mishmash of Mean Girls, Gossip Girls and Sex and the City set in an Indian village, this book has rave reviews. A razor-sharp debut of humour and heart, wry and witty women, a rollicking adventure cum feminist revenge story and a darkly irreverent take are some descriptions.
Despite these reviews, I disliked The Bandit Queens. The dialogue was unrealistic; four frenemy femmes in the village, spouting city speak like ‘whatever’. Thus fired up, they fight a constellation of social ills - patriarchy, caste, religion, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. I wished I could have believed in them, but instead, I was dreadfully disconcerted by these Serena and Blair-ish Gossip Girls, who exhibited their exotic quotient by claiming kinship with Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen. I stopped at page 40 and won’t be going back.
DNF Book 2 of 5: Autobiography of a lapsed revolutionary
I first heard of Lands, Guns, Caste, Woman this April, which is also Dalit History Month. Everything I’d heard about this book made me want to read it - the story of a Tamizh brahmin who turned Naxalite and took up the Dalit cause. A woman who set up a printing press as well. I usually browse through a book, reading a few pages at least, before I buy it, but this time I didn’t wait to get to a bookstore, but ordered a paper copy online right away. When it arrived and I began it, the first 50 pages flew by. The story didn’t have the immediacy of other Dalit literature I’d read like Coming out as a Dalit by Yashica Dutt and Interrogating My Chandal Life by Manoranjan Byapari. Yet it gave a fascinating picture of a young woman activist. But as the book went on, it became dissatisfying. The author and her spouse quarrel with the Naxalite party, rebelling against the bureaucratic structure – this is something I really wanted to know more about - but there’s very little detail on this, most of the characters were not described well and stayed blurry, and the rest of the story seemed to peter out. I reached a little more than halfway through and gave this book up. For now.
DNF Book 3 of 5: An International Booker Prize Winner
This prize-winning translation from the Hindi, this story of an old woman reminiscing about her days in pre-Partition Pakistan, is worthy by all counts. For me, Tomb of Sand was simply too slow. Too much symbolism, magic realism and nothing happened. It’s a difficult read, stay with it for 100 pages or so and you will start to appreciate it, my friend advised me. So maybe, I will pick this one up later. For now, it's simply not my type.
DNF Book 4 of 5: A Gut Wrenching Glimpse
The Abyss tells the story of Pothivelu Pandaram and the deformed beggars he trades in. A temple worker, and a fond father to his children at home, Pandaram is cruel outside, ruthless with his beggars or ‘items’, travelling with them to temples, and taking them to religious festivals, where they may maximise their earnings. This novel is a translation from the original Tamil version, it is inspired by author Jeyamohan’s years of living among beggars. It maybe fiction, but it is based on fact. It was just too gut-wrenching for me to read - one-third of the way, I had to stop. It shook me too hard, and made me too uncomfortable in my comfortable existence. I will gather up the courage to come back to this book. Some day I will.
DNF Book 5 of 5: An NYT bestseller
Walter Isaacson cranks books out every few years and all of them are hot sellers. I’d missed reading them before, biographies on books on Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci, mainly on account of their forbiddingly high page count. But The Code Breaker ticked all the boxes for me. I swoon over the retelling of traditional stories that recognize women characters. Such as A Thousand Ships, Circe and Yagyaseni.
Plus I love reading about women in science; books like Hidden Figures and Angela Saini’s fabulous Inferior, which investigates why science got women wrong. In short – I had great expectations. All of which were dashed quite early on in this book. It felt like a ploddingly pedestrian cut paste of research, mixed with a few bland biographical details of women scientists like Rosalind Franklin and Jennifer Doudna. Surely DNA couldn’t be this dreary? In sheer despair, I picked up The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee and was rapidly revived by his entrancing mix of personal stories and scientific research.
Life is too short to read a book that doesn't captivate you, says YA writer Cassandra Clare and I concur. As a reader, it feels empowering to set a book aside. To say - No, not this one. Not today, at any rate.
In this attention-deficit age of abundance, abandoning a book you don’t enjoy, helps you stay a reader. I’d love to hear how you manage this abundance of information - what do you do with books that don’t draw you in, even after you invest time and energy in them, reading as many as 40 or 50 pages?
Until next week then, Happy Reading!
Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at email@example.com
The views expressed are personal
BOOKS REFERRED TO IN BOOK BOX:A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez https://www.amazon.in/Hundred-Years-Solitude-International-Writers/dp/0140157514/ref=sr_1_3?crid=WEJQWWMQ2RM7&keywords=A+Hundred+Years+of+Solitude&qid=1686237201&s=books&sprefix=a+hundred+years+of+solitude%2Cstripbooks%2C303&sr=1-3
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff https://www.amazon.in/Bandit-Queens-LONGLISTED-WOMENS-FICTION/dp/9356296200/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1R858S0J10T5&keywords=The+Bandit+Queen&qid=1686236392&s=books&sprefix=the+bandit+queen%2Cstripbooks%2C176&sr=1-1
Lands, Guns, Caste, Women by Gita Ramaswami https://www.amazon.in/Land-Guns-Caste-Woman-Revolutionary/dp/8194865417/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GNRCCV5IL25V&keywords=Lands%2C+Guns%2C+Caste%2C+Woman&qid=1686236194&s=books&sprefix=lands%2C+guns%2C+caste%2C+woman+%2Cstripbooks%2C173&sr=1-1
Coming out as a Dalit by Yashica Dutt https://www.amazon.in/COMING-OUT-DALIT-Yashica-Dutt/dp/9388292405#:~:text=In%20this%20personal%20memoir%20that,paucity%20of%20Dalit%20voices%20in
Interrogating My Chandal Life by Manoranjan Byapari https://www.amazon.in/Interrogating-My-Chandal-Life-Autobiography/dp/9381345139/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2AE08J4U4BQQK&keywords=Interrogating+My+Chandal+Life&qid=1686236251&s=books&sprefix=interrogating+my+chandal+life%2Cstripbooks%2C175&sr=1-1
Tomb of Sand by Gitanjali Shree https://www.amazon.in/Audible-Tomb-of-Sand/dp/B0C6YR8WZT/ref=sr_1_1?crid=D2ZQKQYM6NJM&keywords=Tomb+of+Sand&qid=1686235524&s=books&sprefix=tomb+of+sand%2Cstripbooks%2C189&sr=1-1
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson https://www.amazon.in/Code-Breaker-Walter-Isaacson/dp/1398502316/ref=sr_1_1?crid=12BXGM8QOHYRO&keywords=The+Code+Breaker&qid=1686235492&s=books&sprefix=the+code+breaker%2Cstripbooks%2C398&sr=1-1
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes https://www.amazon.in/A-Thousand-Ships/dp/B07QSVBZVR/ref=sr_1_1?crid=29QR30727AAZZ&keywords=Women+of+Troy+Natalie+haynes&qid=1686235973&s=books&sprefix=women+of+troy+natalie+haynes%2Cstripbooks%2C193&sr=1-1
Yagyaseni by Pratibha Ray https://www.amazon.in/Yajnaseni-The-Story-of-Draupadi/dp/B01MRZIEI4/ref=sr_1_2?crid=21ZGBJGU7MMTM&keywords=Yagyaseni&qid=1686236070&s=books&sprefix=yagyaseni%2Cstripbooks%2C173&sr=1-2
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman https://www.amazon.in/Hidden-Figures-Story-Black-Women/dp/0062742469/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3QEXLJHA5CS4D&keywords=Hidden+Figures&qid=1686235935&s=books&sprefix=hidden+figures%2Cstripbooks%2C179&sr=1-1
Inferior by Angela Saini https://www.amazon.in/Inferior-Science-Women-Research-Rewriting/dp/B0723C3PTV/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2PK0Q5O18BENK&keywords=Inferior&qid=1686235796&s=books&sprefix=interior%2Cstripbooks%2C190&sr=1-1
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee https://www.amazon.in/The-Gene-An-Intimate-History/dp/B07B2MDBDJ/ref=sr_1_2?crid=29NEIAR3PC4TP&keywords=Gene+by+Siddhartha+Mukherjee&qid=1686235860&s=books&sprefix=gene+by+siddhartha+mukherjee+%2Cstripbooks%2C178&sr=1-2
The Abyss by Jeyamohan https://www.amazon.in/ABYSS-Jeyamohan/dp/9393986525/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1UJFYY3XJFOAU&keywords=The+Abyss+by+Jeyamohan&qid=1686236347&s=books&sprefix=the+abyss+by+jeyamohan%2Cstripbooks%2C174&sr=1-1