Did Not Finish

I grew up in a small town and slowly read my way through both the school library and the public library. Back then, I knew there were limited numbers of books in my life, and I read every single one to the end, whether I enjoyed it or not.

As I’ve got older, and my time has become more valuable, I’ve found myself DNF (did not finish) books on a more regular basis. When I was first published in March 2017, I opened a Goodreads account to provide positive reviews on books I’ve enjoyed. Reviews help authors, and I wanted to help other authors by telling the world which books I liked reading.

According to Goodreads, I’ve added 134 books since I opened my account, 33 of those in 2018 to date. That’s about ten per month, however, most of those are books I’ve liked enough to review, as I don’t tend to review the ones I don’t enjoy. The only exceptions to this are books in an anthology, where I review the whole anthology, including the books I didn’t like or DNF’d.

The problem with this is that I don’t have a record of all the books I’ve read, but in the grand scheme of things, that probably doesn’t matter. They are all either stored on my device or in piles on the floor of my office (since I’ve run out of shelf space).

The most common reason I will DNF a book is consent.

One book I read recently opened with the hero in bed with someone else – ick – but I gave it a go until he accosted the heroine in the garden. Nope.

In another book, the hero went from watching her to ripping off her dress without any warning. Some dialogue between them would have given him permission, and her some agency.

Many older romances (pre 1990s) included scenes we would now call rape, and there is some great research about why this related to the lack of sexual agency women had at the time. In fact, much of romance novel history aligns neatly with the way general society views women and our role in society.

Other reasons for DNF’ing a book include casual racism, drink driving, alpha-holes (which comes back to consent), and boring characters with no dialogue.

Racism has blown up into a major topic in romancelandia recently after the RWA RITA finalists were announced, and the book everyone raved about for 2017 didn’t make the list (An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League). Much of the discussion is USA centric, however, there are certainly lessons for us in Australia. At GenreCon in September 2017, Kate Cuthbert spoke about her PhD in the sense of home in rural romance. One comment she made was the rural romance in Australia often erases our First Nations or Indigenous people. The comment stuck with me. I’ve recently started writing a rural romance, and will definitely be keeping this thought at the front of my mind as I write. As part of my research, I’ve been reading a ton of rural romances. Yes, Cuthbert is correct. Only one of them, to date, even mentions Indigenous culture, while the rest are extremely white in their characters – not even the side characters have any colour which is quite unrealistic for Australian society. I’ve yet to even find a small town with a Chinese or Indian restaurant. People who aren’t white simply cease to exist in these books, or so it would seem. One book did provide a racist punch to the guts, however, when they made a casual reference to Indigenous Land Rights. The reference was utterly incorrect and incredibly hurtful in the phrasing.

Australia can do better than that. And I can do better. I’m thinking about including reviews for DNF books on my Goodreads account, even if I write a single one-liner about why.

If I say nothing, Goodreads assumes I haven’t read the book and no review means less visibility for that book.

If I say nothing, am I inadvertently showing the world I am ok with these problems?

If I say something, Goodreads knows I’ve read the book and potentially gives it more visibility due to higher review numbers.

If I say something, someone else might read the review and make an informed decision.

Comments

  1. Good post and great points made! There’s so much to think about with all these issues.

    One important distinction for Australian fiction, maybe, is the gulf between how our societies look in contemporary rural versus historical – certainly a contemporary story shouldn’t be given any benefit of the doubt for failure to be inclusive, but historical… well, the governments of our past certainly made concerted efforts to keep the country as white as it could and generally succeeded. There are still ways to get around that, of course, but for a whole lot of towns for a whole lot of years, it’s going to be historically accurate to be pretty damned white. Hugely lamentable, but true. Writers, particularly WASP writers, are going to have to make conscious decisions to make inclusion happen in their work. And that can go for things set right up into the very late 20th century! (The tiny place I grew up in, for instance… I didn’t meet an Indigenous person until the late ’80s when I’d moved to the city and got a job at a university. My township was so white that *I* was the kid who got told “Go back to where you come from” because my parents were born overseas and had funny accents – we’re WASPs from the north of England! I mean, I laugh about that now when I tell people, but it really says something deeply ingrained and horrible about the entrenched conformity of huge swaths of Australian society. But I digress.)

    Kim Kelly’s “Lady Bird & the Fox” comes out on April 18th and is a really good, rollicking adventure of wonderfully inclusive historical Australia. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and I really enjoyed it.

    For a contemporary, Annie Seaton’s “Diamond Sky” has some pretty good Indigenous representation in the supporting cast.

    1. Renée Dahlia says:

      Unfortunately, the White Australia policy is going to haunt us as a country for centuries.
      Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll add them to my TBR list 🙂

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