When you read a book greatly affects your reading experience
Have you ever been looking forward to reading a particular book for a long time—especially one that you knew you would enjoy—but when the time came around to read it, you just weren’t in the right frame of mind?
Have you ever picked up a book without knowing much about it and found that it fit exactly with what was happening in your own life at that particular moment?
Both of these are scenarios have happened to me on numerous occasions and have informed my belief that timing really is everything when it comes to how much we enjoy reading a particular book. Would you agree? Read on for my thoughts on this phenomenon and some specific examples from my own reader life.
The Need for a NRN Book Tag
If you’re familiar with the #bookstagram community and/or reading tracking websites like Goodreads and The Story Graph, then you’re probably familiar with the term DNF. This abbreviation for “Did Not Finish” is used to tag a book that a reader could not bring themself to continue with. Although not explicitly stated, the assumption is that the reader deemed it so unenjoyable that they could not be bothered to finish it.
Because of this connotation, DNF-ing a book is something I have always struggled to do. Not only does it feel like giving up on something I set out to do, but it also feels like passing premature judgment rather than sticking it out to give a book and its author the benefit of the doubt.
I’ve always been one to power through and finish the book, regardless of how much (read: little) I am liking it. This is not necessarily a tendency I’m proud of, as I’m sure I’ve wasted quite a few hours of my life reading books that I ended up not enjoying, but I just can’t bring myself to DNF, especially if I’ve shared publicly that I’m reading something.
Imagine my delight when I recently saw someone on Instagram saying that, in addition to DNF, we should also have a NRN tag for books. NRN, short for “Not Right Now” is a far more forgiving and practical tag, in my opinion. Yes, there are some books that are truly not our cup of tea—and we should feel empowered enough to set those aside without qualms. However, I think I often struggle to do this because I believe the book could be my cup of tea, I’m just not in the right place in my life to appreciate it.
With NRN, we would not be passing judgment on the book itself nor our current state of mind. Rather, it would simply be an acknowledgement that the two are not aligned for enjoyment at this particular time. Maybe later, just not right now. I love it!
My Most Memorable “Not Right Now” Reading Experience
Until now, I haven’t admitted this to many people—and I certainly haven’t put it in writing—but I actually didn’t finish reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. This book is highly renowned and has been recommended to me by countless friends, family members, and inspirational accounts I follow.
I was very much looking forward to finally reading it as I already believed in so many of the practices of mindfulness, self-reflection, and being present that are based on Eckhart Tolle’s principles. When I finally took the time to read it, however, I only ever got about twenty pages into the book!
Although I don’t usually struggle to focus while reading, I found that my mind was often wandering while I read The Power of Now. I simply could not digest the words on the page. It got so bad that I was regularly having to reread, not a paragraph or two, but entire pages of content I had mentally missed.
The irony of the book being about quieting the mind the learning how to be more present was not lost on me. In fact, this only made me even more frustrated that, of all the times this could happen to me, it was happening with the book I least wanted to have that experience with!
Thankfully, this was at a time before I started using Goodreads and so I managed to fight my shame of DNF-ing and simply set the book aside “for a bit” until I had disengaged from it enough to return it to the shelf without finishing.
What was later so obvious to me was that it wasn’t that the book wasn’t good nor that I wasn’t enlightened enough to appreciate it—the timing simply wasn’t right! By per chance, I had decided to pick up The Power of Now during the months leading up to our big wedding celebration in the USA, an event that my husband and I were planning from abroad. I don’t think I put much thought into the timing of it all back then, but I now see how misaligned the choice was.
Being in the midst of one of the most (beautiful but also) stressful life experiences is rather obviously not the best time to try to learn new self-reflection skills. Being caught up in the minutia of wedding day details (dresses, and flowers, and name cards, oh my!) was not the right moment to try to achieve presence of mind. I wasn’t in a mental space where I could try out something new and I certainly wasn’t in a space where I could stop thinking about the future because that’s exactly what wedding planning requires.
Today, looking back, it feels like “well, of course, that didn’t go well!” but at the time it was harder to see the issue for what it was. I had gone into reading Tolle’s book with the misconception that a “good book” would be a “good book” for me, regardless of my life circumstances. I no longer believe that’s the case. The Power of Now was a hard NRN for me…I just didn’t know it at the time!
Will I return to this book at some point in the future? I definitely think I will. I still believe it has a message that I want to engage with, I’m just far more aware now of the type of energy I would want to bring with me into that reading experience in the future.
My Most Memorable “Perfectly Timed” Reading Experience
On the other hand, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how well-timed other books have been! Unsurprisingly, these are usually the books I had no preconceived notions about, so they easily surpassed my expectations.
One such experience that really stands out to me is when I read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook last year. I truly knew nothing about the book; it had been handed down to me by a friend and so I had had it on my shelf for about five years, but never so much as read the back blurb.
Because the majority of the books this friend left with me were related to her women’s studies courses and were therefore non-fiction, I had incorrectly assumed The Golden Notebook was non-fiction too. As such, I had never paid it much attention when selecting my (generally) fiction reads for enjoyment. For a reason still unbeknownst to me, at the start of 2021 I was moved to take it down off the shelf, read the blurb, and put it into my mental TBR line-up for the year.
In case you’re unfamiliar with my reading habits, I’m very much a “mood reader” so I often have half a dozen books in mind for my “To Be Read” pile, but I get to them as they strike my fancy. Such was the case with The Golden Notebook and so it took until right before my thirtieth birthday in April to actually start reading it. As early as when I reading the various introductions written by the author, I was struck with the feeling that this would be a monumental read for me.
The author explained how so many readers, particularly women, had read the book and deemed it a pivotal experience for them to better understand womanhood and come into their own. It was such a powerful book that many fans shared with her that they would pass a copy down throughout their family, from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter. I could tell the introductions were building up a lot of hype and setting me up for disappointment if I didn’t have the same level of connection with the book, yet I felt more and more excited by it.
As I said, this book came to me at the perfect moment. We had taken a trip to the coast for the week of my birthday, so I began the 635-page novel at a moment in which I felt unusually available for long stretches of frequent reading. For me, this proved crucial as I will admit that the first one hundred or so pages were quite dense and descriptive, especially difficult as the book has no real chapter divisions. However, once I got over that hump (one I might not have had much time or energy to do in my everyday life), I found the book to be absolutely riveting.
The funny this is, to this day, I would not recommend it to most people—and I ask you to take this review with caution as well. Let me explain a little: The Golden Notebook is presented in a very unconventional format, and it was often disjointed and confounding. The narration oscillates between third person narration and first-person notebooks (belonging to the main character, Anna). In these notebooks, she begins (and does not finish) multiple short stories and novels.
As the reader, you sometimes spend so long in one of her novels that you forget you’re reading the fictional character’s fictional characters, especially because she bases so much of what she writes on her lived experiences. It gets a little dizzying at times trying to keep it all straight and know which world you are in. I can honestly say that this would have been a very frustrating read for me at a different point in my life, especially if I had had to read it for a class and needed to get through large portions of it quickly.
However, right there at the cusp of a landmark birthday, having just recently embarked on my own writing career, I felt oddly comforted and “seen” in the befuddling pages of The Golden Notebook. It was the first time I had read anything like it, and I found the way that Lessing immersed readers equally in the historical and political movements, mental health struggles, and complex mind of a writer fascinating.
It was a phenomenal read for me and one I imagine I will continue to reference as such for the rest of my life. Perhaps I will even return to at some point in the future. Still, if I do, I will be very cautious to not create too many expectations around it. I have an inkling that I might feel very differently about this book twenty years from now, in a different season of my life—one in which I might not feel as identified with the main character.
It’s a curious thing to admit, but timing truly informs so much when it comes to our reading experiences and whether or not we deem a story “good.” I know there are certain stories that are just never going to resonate with me and that’s perfectly fine, let’s forget about those for a minute and focus on all the others.
I’m starting to see that when it comes down to it, the difference between a three-, four-, or five-star rating likely depends far more on my own life than just what the author wrote. In the same way, a book that blew me away, like The Golden Notebook, could have very well been a NRN at another moment—or DNF, really, had I assumed it would continue on in the same style for the whole story. Likewise, had I picked up The Power of Now during a less hectic period of my life, I feel confident I would have loved it and given it a rave review.
I don’t exactly have any profound message beyond this. I’ve simply been struck over the year by how much timing matters when it comes to our reading enjoyment, yet I haven’t seen many people talking about this. I thought it was high time to put these thoughts down and send them out into the world. Have you found this to be true about your reading experience too? I would love to know how it’s affected you down below!