Review Bites: DNF

I make a point of finishing every book I pick up. There have been some that I haven’t made it through in the past, but since founding a book club and working on this site, I’ve felt compelled to make sure I get through every book, even if it sometimes means skimming pages of the less enjoyable ones.

But lately, I’ve had a few that, even after a significant chunk of pages under my belt, have failed to pull me in. I’m certainly not alone on this. Goodreads recently polled members on their “did not finish” reading habits. You can see the results here. It’s not uncommon for books to start slow and end extremely well, but in these cases, my problem has been as much with style as with content. The content might become more interesting later on, but can I endure the style for 200+ more pages?

Reading is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby. If the thought of picking up that book on my currently-reading shelf is weighing on me, it means I have to reconsider my life choices. My to-read mountain is filled with lots of other books that are demanding my attention, so why should I waste my time on books that are not pleasing me?

The particular books in question are all critically acclaimed, but acclaim does not mean they are for everyone and no one should ever feel obliged to finish, much less like a book just because the rest of the world does. I’d intended these books to be part of my Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, but I’d rather free up their slots for more enjoyable reads.

These three books all have one thing in common though: They are unique entries into their genres – in fact, their individuality might even transcend their respective genres and for that, I can appreciate the acclaim they receive. But at the end of the day, they just aren’t for me. As LeVar Burton says, “Reading is a trip,” but these aren’t trips I really want to take.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan

This is actually the book that made me decide to write this post and create a DNF shelf on Goodreads. A recent Nebula Awards nominee, it won the vote as this month’s read for my bookclub. While I like the concept of a haunted schizophrenic girl and the way art and fairy tales play so heavily in her memoiors of her own madness, I just could not take the writing. I didn’t even mind the moments where Imp seems to stop and instruct herself. I just didn’t enjoy the meandering, long paragraphs of her stream of consciousness.

This book is heading to my library for donation. hopefully someone else will find and enjoy it far more than I did.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

This is as far away from urban fantasy as you can get, which is what made it appeal to me. Zinzi December lives in Zoo City, a slum for criminals, easily identified by the animal familiars emotionally/psychologically bonded to them. The creatures are manifestations of their guilt, though not necessarily their culpability. Somewhere along the way, we eventually learn that Zinzi’s sloth is the result of her guilt over her brother’s death that she did not seem to have caused, which makes it a little difficult to understand why she was imprisoned in the first place.

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things but the first client in the story ends up brutally murdered and Zinzi is suspected. Only, that is not the main story line. In fact, the story walks away from this entirely and I had to go back to see if I actually had skimmed pages without intending to. But nope. Apparently, we’ve moved on to Zinzi finding a lost pop star despite her usual refusal to track people.

Where things go from there, well, I’m curious, but not enough to continue for now. I also have issue with the writing style, which contains a lot of local (Johannesburg) vernacular that is difficult to comprehend as the context rarely offers clarity beyond a word being an obvious insult, in some cases.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale in highschool and recently rereading and loving it made me want to finally try out one of Atwood’s other books. Unfortunately, this one resulted in disappointment. I actually did finish The Blind Assassin, but I did skim a lot of pages. Or, I should say, I loved The Blind Assassin, but I skimmed the pages that weren’t telling that story. This is a story within a story and I loved how everything tied together, but got tired of the monologues surrounding the story of the blind boy and tongueless girl. I just wanted to read about the latter!

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