Literary Links

Why we need to stop forcing ourselves to finish books we hate

When I was younger, I felt that I had to finish every book I started. But some time around my 40th birthday I realized that I had probably completed about half my life and no longer had the luxury of time to waste on books I wasn’t enjoying or learning from. I was therefore glad to come across this article by Sarah Shaffi, who writes:

It’s taken me decades to get to the point where I can start a book, realise I’m not liking it, and then just stop reading it. The first time I put DNF – Did Not Finish in book geek parlance – on my book spreadsheet (what? I read a lot for work and a spreadsheet is a good way to keep track), I felt relieved, freed, and a little rebellious.

Life is too short, and there are too many books to carry on reading one you’re not enjoying. Think of it less as quitting one book, and more as making room in your life for another that you could potentially love.

And while I completely agree with her here, I also think there’s a certain etiquette for discussing books that you DNF. First, when you discuss the book, you don’t have the right to simply declare it a “bad” or “badly written” book or a book that you simply “didn’t like.” You DO have the right to say that you didn’t finish it and then explain why it didn’t work for you or what, specifically, you didn’t like about it. The keywords here are specifically and why.

Second, if you belong to a book club and for some reason can’t finish the book by the meeting time, please resist the urge to say, “Don’t talk about the ending. I haven’t finished it yet.” Sure, life happens, and sometimes you won’t be able to finish on time. But the ending is a major aspect of any book, particularly novels, and often a meaningful discussion requires analysis of the ending.  

On, In, or Near the Sea: A Book List

There’s still a bit of summer left, and if you’re still looking for that perfect “beach read,” Alison Fields has suggestions. After pondering the various definitions of that term, she settles on this one: “Books about beaches, seas, sand, and coastal destinations to accompany the end of the summer season and the first stirrings of the fall.

woman reading on beach near ocean

What I Teach: Seven Titles From a High School Class on Trauma Literature

We learn a lot about life from literature, including how to process various kinds of traumas. But I was surprised to find this article by Kate McQuade, who has for more than 10 years taught a high school class on trauma literature. 

By now I’ve accumulated a lot of answers, particularly for those skeptical that young people should be exposed to literature about war, genocide, and violence. I tell them that learning about trauma is not the same thing as experiencing trauma; I tell them that even though the literature we cover is difficult intellectually and emotionally, my course is less about mourning traumatic events than exploring what it means to depict them in art; and I tell them that shielding teenagers from the world’s historical truths not only fails to protect them, but does them a disservice as young people about to inherit that world.

And here’s why, McQuade says, she teaches such a course:

Most people think trauma literature is about trauma. In fact, trauma literature is at least as much about the problematics of storytelling as it is about actual traumatic events. It’s about the difficulty of representing the truth of an experience so horribly extraordinary that it cannot be contained within the human mind, let alone within the borders of a page. It’s about, in the words of trauma scholar Dori Laub, the simultaneous “imperative to tell” and “impossibility of telling.”

Read about seven of the literary works she uses to demonstrate the paradox “of how to represent the unrepresentable.”

Toni Morrison on Her Last Novel and the Voices of Her Characters

A lot was written after the recent death of Toni Morrison, but this article, which addresses “how her protagonists have changed the direction of her stories,” is one of my favorites.

READING AS PROTEST: HOW I MANAGE THE GUILT OF READING IN TUMULTOUS TIMES

Last week’s links included WHY READ FICTION IN THIS AGE OF ATROCITY? So it seemed only fair to include this article when I came across it. Abby Hargreaves asks:

Why should I be reading when there are children and adults in “detention centers” with horrific conditions? Why should I be flipping through pages when people are being murdered for being themselves? How can I justify a few hours of contentment with a book when the so-called leader of my country is, at a minimum, a blatant racist?

(If you doubt the accuracy of the assertions in these questions, Harreaves provides links to supporting material in the article.)

“The thing is, resistance fatigue is a real thing,” she writes. “If reading is how you recharge, it is well within the realm of morals to read.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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