Remembering it’s OK to DNF

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Annie (left) and Anne (right) during the Q&A

I had a lovely time at Shelf Help with Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) last night at The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA. I only get up there it seems when The Bookshelf has an event I can’t pass up. Modern Mrs. Darcy has long been one of those blogs I never skip in my Feedly. Bogel is a true book lover and it shows in her care and thoughtfulness in book recommendations for her readers. The event included a personal book recommendation from Anne (the third book was the charm for me and I will be diving into Tell me Three Things sooner rather than later but the first two books are also on the list to acquire!) as well as a live podcast recording and Q&A with Annie, owner of The Bookshelf and host of From the Front Porch and Anne. One of the things they discussed was reading slumps, something I will admit I have been in all spring (it’s been bad – I think it really started last fall – and I’m just now starting to pull myself out of it). Something that came up during the slumps conversation is how do you decide to stop reading a book. Do you stop because the title is not your cup of tea, it’s not engaging you for some reason or it’s just the wrong time/place/moment to try to read that title? Annie admitted to being a “completionist” while Anne said she’s fine to put a book down with the idea she’ll come back to it later. Annie asked though, do you ever go back?

For me, no and I think that’s OK. What is less ok is that I’ve reverted to my old completionist ways. I was that girl who slugged through any book she started. I spent an entire summer in college painstakingly making my way through classics I thought I should have read by then and hating every minute. But I finished them. Then, during my first job out west, where I lived in a small town with nothing much to do and read more books per week that I ever have in my life (before or since), I started to realize I was wasting time on books I didn’t care about while my to-read list was growing by leaps and bounds. If I ever wanted a chance to read all these titles I said I wanted to read, I was going to have to get tough. So, I gave myself a page limit. 50 pages. If a book didn’t have me in 50 pages, it was going on the DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf on GoodReads and I was moving on. This was one of the most liberating decisions I had ever made as a reader. It was OK to not finish a book. To admit that some books and I just weren’t meant to be and to move on to the next one. I could have skipped for joy. And yet somehow, I forgot that feeling.

I think this current reading slump started because I was having to make my way through books I didn’t particularly care about, or even sometimes like, for my book club. That need to finish so I could lead discussions for the club spilled over to books I then was reading for myself. I found myself resenting having to read. I have NEVER felt like that in my life and I got really frustrated, angry and sort of scared. What was happening to me?! Every title was suddenly one I had to finish again and I hated it. People, this was no fun.

So, I’m bringing DNF back into practice. I perhaps won’t be quite so rigid with the page count this time around but I’m thinking if I’m 25%-ish in and I’m struggling to connect, the book is DNF and I’m moving on. I’m hoping this will bring me out of this slump of mine. I found other suggestions from Annie and Anne to be helpful as well. Anne also suggested talking to other book lovers and admitting to a slump and seeing what they recommend or just asking them to talk about what they’re reading. Hearing someone else’s enthusiasm, even for a book you think sounds like nothing you ever want to read, will help you remember why you love the act of reading. I think Anne also recommended reading some old favorites on your shelves as a way to get back into reading. My one concern with that is I am a major re-reader and once I start down that rabbit hole, I’d just keep re-reading and never start something new. It would be a different kind of slump in a sense (sort of like how I keep adding new shows to my Netflix List but all I do is keep re-watching episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and West Wing…).

The event last night was perfectly timed to help with this slump of mine. I’m DNF’ing my current book (it was my second time trying to read it…I think we’re really not meant to be) and moving onto to something new and hopefully, this will be the right book and the right time to push me into a summer of getting back to my old reading self. Thanks Annie and Anne!

 

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An Ode to Bookstores

Obviously reading something like The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is going to make me think about bookstores. That is after all the author’s, Lewis Buzbee, point. Though the book is showing its age a bit (it was published in 2006), Buzbee’s book does one thing very well. It tells the story of the bookstore from its historic roots through to today’s chain stores. We watch the evolution of bookseller, publisher and author, as the world created a place for them to sell their wares. It is a cozy history an any true lover of books and bookstores will enjoy this look at their history both through facts and Buzbee’s extensive experience working in and around bookstores most of his life.

From Goodreads

However, what I think I loved most about this book was the memories it brought to me. The first bookstore I can remember frolicking through was a Waldenbooks at Great Northern Mall in Clay, NY. It wasn’t a large store but it had books jammed into every possible nook and cranny. I coveted gift certificates to the mall on every gift giving occasion which I would promptly spend at Waldens. It was here in sixth grade I stumbled across a paperback of Anne of Green Gables and here I begged my mother to drive me back to over the next few months as I devoured L.M. Montgomery books by the bagful. I don’t remember when it closed exactly; I think I had already left for college so it was simply gone one time I came home. I remember the profound sadness that washed over me when I saw its empty, dark storefront. It has been such a place of wonder and possibility to me as a kid. For it to be suddenly gone seemed tragic.

I’ve since visited many an awesome bookstore. I’ve had very generous and patient friends let me loose in Tattered Cover and The Strand. Lost myself in Blackwell’s and many a Waterstones on the other side of the pond. I even almost missed my ride in Hay-on-Wye (truly a book lover’s heaven on earth).

Sadly, but perhaps a good thing for my bank account, I find myself these days often living in places with few bookstores for me to lose track of time in. I content myself with one fantastic used bookstore and two chain stores these days. I am mocked daily by the Borders sign that I drive past every day, the store space long since turned into a DSW. I once walked the hallowed floors of Borders #1 as it put fabulous independents in the area out of business. Now it too has gone the way of the dodo.

However, Buzbee is right about bookstores. They aren’t going anywhere. They will change, evolve, consolidate and morph as they need to but they won’t leave us. Too many of us enjoy browsing, sampling, sipping a latte while reading a book we have no intention of buying. Amazon and its ilk are convenient and they get plenty of my dollars but nothing beats working through the shelves of a bookstore on a rainy day and coming across that one book you didn’t know you’d been looking for all your life. Long live the bookstore I say!