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.