Thursday, June 6, 2019

DNF-fing for mental health

While I fully support people who don't finish books, I've never been big on DNF-ing a book. The logic to DNF makes sense. Life is short. This is a hobby and why should I spend my free time doing something I don't enjoy? That's silly. And yet, I tend to have trouble stopping a book mid-read unless I'm really pissed off at it. If it's just mostly bad, I'll usually finish it. Hell, if it's really bad, I'll finish it just so I can write about how bad it was. But in general, if I start a book, I'm going to finish it.
But I think this was the first time I've put down a book that was pretty good and well written because I just couldn't with the story.

I was reading The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. I got a copy for free for World Book Day and free is always exciting. I didn't know anything about the book but the description was interesting so I thought I'd give it a try. Here is that description:
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son—except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin. 
Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil—a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor’s son face a terrifying and very real enemy.
See, that sounds pretty interesting, right? And there's going to be violence. I mean it's about a town executioner and involves a murdered child found. But I like true crime and horror stuff, I can do violence.
I started reading the book one day on the train, so I had an hour of (mostly) uninterrupted time. The writing was good. The story opens with violence, but the violence isn't glorified. It doesn't shy away, from the violence. I liked the characters of Jakob and Magdalena.

But as I read, I found I wasn't enjoying myself. Because, and I don't think this involves spoilers, but there's a lot of child death. Obviously there is that one mentioned in the description, but the deaths go on, mostly as a way of life of that time. Again, it doesn't seem to be gratuitous; it seems like that is what it was like. Children died in a lots of horrible ways and childbirth was extremely dangerous.

So I kept reading on that train ride. But when I got home, I put down the book. There were a few times I had the opportunity to actually sit down and read, which are few and far between now that the little monster is here. But the thought of picking up the book...I just couldn't do it.

I still didn't give up the book yet. I just decided "Now isn't the time, but I'll pick it up later." And then "later" came in the form of another train ride, and I didn't have much of an excuse to not read. So I picked it up again and thought "It's not so bad." But then. But then.

There was a new character introduced. I think a minor character. A little orphan girl who was remembering her family. In particular her mother, who died giving birth to her younger brother. Her younger brother died a few days later because with the mother dead, there was no breast milk for the baby. And that was when I quit. I couldn't do it anymore. So I put the book down and listened to music the rest of the way.
Turns out, since having the monster, I can't do child death. It's upsetting, and its stressful, and this is my free time. Why should I stress myself out? Why should I be crying on the train on the way to work over the back story of a minor character?
Obligatory baby pic to break up sad stuff
It wasn't till I was getting ready to go home, facing reading more of the book, when I realized I don't need to read this anymore. No one is making me. It's 100% up to me what I do with my free time and that free time is limited, especially with the monster. And it was this moment where I felt this weight was lifted. I didn't have to read this and I wasn't going to read this.

So maybe someday I'll revisit this book. But for now, I'm happy with my choice. And HIGHLY recommend DNF-ing if it's going to make you happier.