In the past few years, I have made it a point of pride to finish every book I read, regardless of whether I find myself struggling during the first 50 pages, through the middle, or upon reaching a lackluster ending. With the couple hundred I have read, this was not an easy task to achieve. Even so, I must no confess that I had to mark a recent read as DNF, or Did Not Finish.
Strangely, the book this happened with was not a bad book. I would honestly say it had some of the better writing I have read this year. However, as I reached page 100, I found my interest in the story lacking and wondering just why I didn’t care as much for the characters I was following as I had with clearly weaker works.
The book I happen to be talking about is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. When it was released in 2017, it was praised far and wide. It made the short list for the National Book Award, perhaps the highest honor any single work of fiction can receive. And yet where all of these other people found a work that resonated with them, I floundered. And more so, I wish I could have pressed forward to see and learn from the insight it provides into the dynamic between Japanese and Koreans through the 20th Century.
I cannot say for certain whether I would outright recommend Pachinko. For anyone who loves and devours literary fiction, you have probably heard – and even read – this book already. For those interested in historical fiction, I would argue that the insight alone makes it worth the attempt. What I did see through the first 100 pages was intriguing, especially with the setting in the 1930s, where Korea was still occupied by Imperial Japan.
In the end, we all have our tastes and interests when it comes to reading. I received my Book of the Month title for July – Mexican Gothic by the fantastic and Nebula Award nominated Silvia Moreno-Garcia – just this day, and the horror elements of the novel already will put me in a literary field that I am not as used to. But I would argue that stepping out of that comfort zone makes us all better readers and better people.
Even if you end up not finishing the book.