So we tried. We really did. However, January’s selection A Memory Called Empire for Hodderscapes’s was a bust for both Jessica and I. Not to despair, we did read something for January anyway, Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places and Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected for the Nonfiction by an SFF author category, which we’ll be posting about in a separate post. In this post though, Jess and I will be going through why we DNF’d this book and what our criteria for a DNF (Did Not Finish) is.
I DNF way easier than I used to. I have no real criteria. If I put it down and never feel the need to pick it back up…DNF. I figure I’m already going to die with books unread so why waste that time on books that don’t interest me. This is a long time in coming. I used to think I had to read all the books I ever picked up because we’re not supposed to quit, right? Take on a job of being a bookseller and that goes right out the window. There are deadlines for review publications, or newsletters, or just there’s always a new book coming out. I tried reading A Memory Called Empire not only in print, but also listening on audio. I couldn’t get through the first chapter. The pacing was just too slow for me. It felt clunky and disjointed.
A Memory Called Empire did a really specific thing that I don’t like in books -it tried to give us a way that another group of beings communicate. In this case, the aliens used body language that was super specific and very different from how the human characters do. I appreciate the effort, and I actually do like thinking about how communication would work between two groups that have different frames of reference for aspects of language that we take for granted (intonation, body language, facial expression, etc). That said, I didn’t think it was executed well. Every single time two characters interacted, we got at least a line or two about how and why communication was hard and how they were missing each other. It got repetitive and frustrating to read. (Another example of this done poorly, in my opinion, is Bel Canto by Anne Patchett, while The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is one that does this really well.)
When talking about this blog post, Karena asked me to talk a bit about “the art of the DNF,” and that phrase has kind of stuck in my head. It is definitely something that I think of as more of an art than a science. The one feeling that I keep coming back to is – do I want to be reading this? If I noticed that I’m picking up my Switch more than my book or spending a lot of time on Instagram or putting on re-runs of old TV shows, then I’m probably just about to DNF a book. Of course, there are exceptions – if I get really into a new game or TV show or audiobook, then I like to lean into that. But if I’m spending a lot of time with my brain “turned off,” it’s probably because I’m not engaged in what I’m reading. I don’t like my brain turned off. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so if I’m actively avoiding it, I put down whatever I’m reading. If I never come back it it, then it was likely the book’s fault that I wasn’t engaged, and I move on. All of that to say that I agree with Karena. There are too many books that I’m never going to read, so why waste my time with something I don’t really like?
Do you ever DNF? Do you have criteria you have to meet before you do? What was your last one? Have you read A Memory Called Empire? Let us know in the comments.