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The Books That Almost Got Away

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We’ve all had that moment. You know, when you open a book, read a few pages, and then put it aside. Maybe you read several chapters or half the book, but at some point you stop. For myriad reasons, you decide to not finish it, adding it to your growing DNF pile. And that stack can just grow and grow. But…sometimes that book doesn’t remain in the DNF pile. Sometimes you decide to give it another chance. This could be due to a friend’s recommendation that renewed your interest in the book or a desire to find out what happens at the end. Maybe you were exposed to the book as a kid, but never finished reading it until you were an adult. Perhaps you started a book at a certain time in your life, but returned to it later when you were older and in a different state of mind. There are some books that have remained in my DNF pile, but there are others that I picked up and devoured rather quickly.

The gap in time between reading sessions could be as little as a few days to longer periods of time like months or even years. Either way, after finishing one of these books, which I like to call “the books that almost got away,” I felt a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for giving it another chance. If I had permanently cast it aside, I wouldn’t have had that closure. Don’t get me wrong, some books definitely stay in the DNF pile. Truly. However, this post is not about those books. It’s all about the books we took a second or third chance on. For this post I asked my fellow Rioters to share the books that they stopped reading, but finished later. Here are the books that almost got away!

meet me in another life cover

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

I was fairly excited to start this book because it appeared to promise adventure, curiosity, and love. In the end, it did have these elements, but it didn’t present them in the way that I was expecting. When I first started reading this book, I was put off by the sad tone and the monotonous nature of the events. Despite this, I continued to read it until I finished about half the book. At this point, I wasn’t really feeling it. It was aimless and tragic, which are two things I didn’t know I’d get when I decided to read it in the first place. Because of these factors, I chose not to finish it. I just didn’t see the appeal. Well, that didn’t last too long. After a couple days, I kept thinking about a particular scene in the book that didn’t make sense. Why had that happened? What was the purpose? My curiosity wouldn’t let me let go of the book until I read a little further. And I was not disappointed. After reading a few more chapters, the book took an unexpected turn that I liked. These scenes included more action and some profound conversations. I zoomed through the remaining pages and by the time I finished, I knew it’d be one that’d stick with me for a long time. This book wasn’t what I expected, but it was better. I just hadn’t recognized what the writer had created until later.

Gia R.

Good Talk cover

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

As the world raved about Good Talk — a graphic memoir by Mira Jacob that delves into her experiences with racism through the conversations she has with her family and friends — I remained disinterested. I had seen preview pages at one point but, after determining that I wasn’t in love with the artwork, decided not to read any further. Then Feminist Book Club members voted it in as one of their monthly picks and, well, if a book club tells me to read something, I read it. Once I gave it a chance, I became hooked. I loved the structure of the book. I loved the conversations Jacob had with her son. I loved the way the book made me giggle and made me angry and made me sob. I couldn’t believe that, with my quick judgment months before, I’d nearly missed out on an amazing memoir. I loved it so much, in fact, that I had my other book club read it. I think this sort of thing happens a lot, though. We make these snap judgments because of our mood in that moment. The place we’re at in life. Sometimes, it’s just not the right time for a book. But if we’re lucky, it will come back to us.

Steph Auteri

Shadow and Bone cover

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

With the current popularity of this television series on Netflix, you’d be surprised to know that I stopped reading this book halfway and did not pick it up again for two years. Yes, two years. Listen, I loved Alina, Mal, the Darkling, and all the drama, but for some reason it was not the time for me to read this YA fantasy. Maybe, at the time, I was too overwhelmed with all the fantasy books out there, but for some reason I felt like it had a slow start and I did not know if it would deliver the excitement I wanted and was looking for in a book. Boy, was I wrong. Once I picked it up again I was done with the whole series in a weekend and now I am a total Leigh Bardugo fan. I even moderated her in Miami Book Fair for Six of Crows, another one of her books that I enjoy, and it was awesome to hear her talk about her inspiration behind the Grishaverse. Thank you, book slump, for stopping me from reading it, and thank you, determination, for making me pick it up again. Now I recommend this series to family, friends, and students. Haven’t picked it up yet? Please do. Don’t wait years to finish it like I did, though…it’s worth the read!

Aurora Lydia Dominguez

The Lord of The Rings Boxset cover

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings holds an incredibly special place in my heart as it was probably one of my first experiences truly nerding out and becoming a real fan of something, and that world continues to provide me immense joy and comfort to this day. But it wasn’t always that way. I started out enjoying the movies as a 10-year-old, which led me to read The Hobbit, a book I loved. I then tried out The Lord of the Rings, and 6th grade me just could not do it. I gave up while Treebeard was talking to Merry and Pippin in Fangorn Forest because, my god, it was just. So. Slow. But after watching the movies another however many times and basically memorizing them in the intervening years, I returned to the book in high school. This time, I flew through the entire thing, appendices and all, and very happily solidified myself as the big Tolkien nerd I am.

Patricia Thang

100 Years of Solitude Cover

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I first tried reading this one at 16, fresh out of high school, anxious to prove my intellect by reading what the literature major big city kids in college appeared to be reading. There was a lot of pressure to love this one, which did not help with getting into the slow and multi-layered story, especially without any knowledge of the historical subtexts. I gave up after reading about one fourth of the book, but for some reason carried it with me every time I moved. I picked it up again about five years after the first attempt, and I was mesmerised. I understood why this is such an important book, its anticolonial undertones, and the sheer magic of the prose. It remains one of my all time favorites, and was an introduction to magical realism, a genre that has led me to many other books that I’ve loved.

Senjuti Patra

devil in the white city by erik larson

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This happened to me several times in college: I’d be assigned parts of a book for a course, and then I’d have to wait until the end of the semester to have time to finish. I’m always happy I did so, especially when it came to The Devil in the White City, which I had to read a few chapters of for a creative nonfiction class. I have since read almost every book Larson has ever written! Other college-assigned books I finished on my own include Maus by Art Spiegelman (how could they only assign part one???) and The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, which I’m not sure if I actually LIKED but I’m proud I finished the whole thing. It was quite a way to be introduced to Tolkien’s work, I can say that much!

Eileen Gonzalez

Anne of Green Gables Cover

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

My mother loved this book, so she was eager to start reading it to me. Too eager, in fact. I’m not sure when she first made the attempt, but clearly I didn’t have the attention span, because I remember listening to that opening sentence and immediately vetoing it. The opening line is incredibly long, describes scenery (which remains a dealbreaker for me), and isn’t even about Anne. I didn’t pick it up again until I was an adult, looking for a gentle, comforting read and intrigued by the sapphic subtext. I ended up loving it, and I even thought the first line was delightful. And yes, I definitely think Anne was in love with Diana.

Danika Ellis

They Both Die at the End Book Cover

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Okay. I know. I know. This book is very popular among the youth these days, at least according to #BookTok. Due to its unique premise and recent popularity, I was excited to start reading it. So I purchased it, read the first few pages and then…well, it sat on my desk for months. Unlike other books that I’ve added to my DNF list, I didn’t have a clear reason for not wanting to finish this one. But I also didn’t have a clear reason to continue reading it. At the time, I think I wasn’t really interested in reading something sad. As months passed, I wondered why I bought it in the first place. Was it because it was popular? No. Was it because I wanted to read about two teens dying? Still no. To find out, I opened it back up and started reading it again. And I must say, I’m happy I did! This time around, I was ready to read about two sweet teenage boys who decide to live for a day.

Gia R.

What books have you stopped, but later finished? What books almost got away?

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