I was looking through my books earlier this week, taking inventory for my TBR list, and I noticed something: I have a number of books in my TBR pile with bookmarks in them. I typically count these as part of my TBR, because to me, the fact that I deliberately left the bookmark in place means I clearly intended to return to the book at some point in the near or distant future.
This got me thinking: is there a difference between books one didn’t finish (DNF), and books one didn’t want to finish (DNWF)? For me, at least, the answer is yes. I’ve set down books and vowed to return to them later for any number of reasons: I was too busy with other things; a book I wanted to read more became available at the library; the book was fine but not matching my my mood.
For example, I remember the first time I read (or tried to read) Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I abandoned it maybe a quarter of the way through, but I left the bookmark in place. I think a number of reviews had compared it to The Secret History, which is a favorite book of mine, so the book wasn’t matching my expectations. It sat on the shelf for about a year, bookmark in place, and then one day I thought: I want to give that book another go. I plucked it from the shelf and started reading, not from the beginning but from where I had previously stopped. I read the whole thing quickly in a few days. When I got to the end of the book, I turned back to the beginning and read it again. Today I count it among my favorites.
That story isn’t typical for me–the books I pick up again and finish don’t generally strike such a chord–but it does make me think about all those other books on my shelf that I gave up on at some point. Not everything was abandoned with the best of intentions. Sometimes I simply dislike a book but feel I should finish it because I paid for it, or because the book is relevant to bloggers or the culture in some way and I don’t feel right joining a discussion when I haven’t read the book. For me, the prime example of such a book is We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’m not offended by the subject matter; I’m not even offended by the mother, as I know a lot of people have been. It’s an award-winner (Orange Prize); it’s an Important Book about Important Issues; it’s well-written; and now it’s a movie with Tilda Swinton. But I hated it. I hated it while I was reading it. As much as I love Tilda Swinton, I’m not sure I can bring myself to see the movie. But there it sits, with the bookmark at page 136. And so the question I face is this: is this book a DNF, or is it really a DNWF?
I still haven’t decided about that particular book, to tell you the truth. But with so many books on my TBR to get through, I think I need to be honest with myself in terms of the difference between books I set aside for later and books I was really kidding myself about because I felt guilty or because I felt I “should” read them. How about you: do you distinguish between books you plan to pick up again and books you know you’ll never finish?
Happy Sunday, everyone!