The DNF Dilemma
Dear Readers and Authors,
In our FAQ section, Jane and Jayne posted the following review grade explanation:
Our review grades are our own opinions, obviously, and therefore fraught with subjectivity. You may or may not agree with our opinions, our grades, or anything else. We’d love for you to comment on the reviews and tell us where we went wrong or what we got right. If you are wondering if there is any objectivity in a review, we can only provide you with the information below:
A: I loved it and would cry if someone took it from my library. I would need lots of chocolate to get over its loss.
B: It’s good and I would buy it again, given the chance.
C: Eh. Not bad but I probably would never read it again.
D: I want my money back.
F: I want my money back and repayment for the time wasted reading it.
At the bottom of this grading scale is one more grade:
DNF: does this really need an explanation?
I’ve decided that in my case, it really does.
What brought me to to this realization was the inauguration of our Dear Author Book Club. Naturally, I offered to read our first book club selection, Meljean Brook’s Demon Angel. After hearing Jane’s raves, I looked forward to the book and was excited to begin it.
At first the book and I got off to an intriguing start. The protagonists in Demon Angel run against type for the romance genre. Far from being a naive virgin or a savior of orphans, the heroine, Lilith, is an honest-to-goodness demon who initially doesn’t balk at using the good, kind Hugh in her scheme to bring about the downfall of the man he serves. And rather than give us another rakish alpha hero, Ms. Brook makes Hugh a virginal seventeen year old knight in the book’s opening section.
I liked Hugh and Lilith quite a bit, and though I wasn’t completely won over (the prose seemed a bit stilted in places, and Lilith’s conscience showed that she wasn’t as wicked as I wished she were), I had high hopes.
They didn’t completely pan out in the next 200 or so pages. Except for its end, a section in which Lilith and Hugh had brief meetings through the centuries failed to excite me, in part because of cryptic references to characters who remained offstage and whom I didn’t feel invested in, and in part because information sometimes seemed like it had been inserted into the characters’ dialogue a bit awkwardly.
Then came the contemporary section, where I began to feel a lack of setting descriptions. Some of the interiors were described as plain rooms; others were described very briefly. I could visualize the characters, but not much else, and I am a reader who likes to form pictures in her head as she read, and better yet, imagine scents, sounds, flavors and textures as well. That kind of sensory experience was missing from the contemporary section of Demon Angel, for this reader at least.
In addition, I didn’t care much about mankind’s fate, or the death of one character. I mainly cared about Hugh and Lilith’s relationship, but even that was developing too slowly for me. I felt that the book had bogged down. The pacing, an element which can make a 600+ page book race along or a 200 page book crawl, had decelerated too much.
But then, so had my reading. By the halfway point, I was reading no more than half an hour a day, a rate at which I couldn’t hope to produce a review on a timely basis. Pushing through and forcing myself to read more would just make me dislike the book, and it didn’t deserve that. Even with all the flaws I’ve mentioned, it seemed like a better than average book. The characters were interesting and a lot of creativity had gone into the world-building. But what was the alternative? A DNF grade? Could I really do that to Hugh and Lilith?
Several years ago, I had a habit of finishing nearly every book I started in the hopes that it would improve toward the end. But since then my time has become more valuable to me, and I’ve decided that I value it more than my money, and that life’s too short to peel grapes or to finish books I’m not in the mood to keep reading.
I’ve pretty much held to my selfish principle. I’ve skimmed, I’ve peeked at the end with impatience, and in the past year I’ve even dumped two books I’d read no more than a few pages of. I haven’t reviewed these books, because I didn’t feel I’d read enough of them that that would be fair to their authors. But I’d read enough of them to know that forcing myself to read every word would go down no better than a big plateful of Brussels sprouts on a full stomach.
Sometimes you want to give a book a fair shake, but you just can’t.
Plopped down beneath the F grade, DNF seems like it could be worse than an F, the worst kind of grade to give an author. I’m hesitant to use it in this case, since I suspect if I did, some people might think I was saying:
Dear Ms. Brook,
Your book was so bad I couldn’t be bothered to finish it.
But they would be wrong. Demon Angel, at least the half of it that I read, was not a bad book. It just wasn’t a book that compelled me to read further. That says some things about the book, but it also says some things about me as a reader. I’m spoiled. I’m finicky. I have a short attention span. Sometimes I just don’t feel like finishing.
What about you? Do you always finish the books you start? If not, does it always mean they’re bad? And if a blogger doesn’t finish a book, would you rather see her give a DNF grade to that book, or a letter grade for the part of the book she read, or in that case, no review at all?
Let me know.