I read a lot of books… or at least I try to. I also start a lot of books that I never end up finishing for a variety of reasons. I’ve decided to share them with you for the first time ever. Here is six years’ worth of books that landed in my DNF pile!
1. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis — I’ve read the beginning of this book a number of times for college classes, but once Lewis gets past his arguments for God’s existence and reaches Christian morality and the “Cardinal virtues,” I lose interest.
2. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins — Too technical, too dry.
3. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini — Baggini made arguments regarding evidence for “positive atheism” rather than arguments against theism. I couldn’t get behind it, and I still can’t; that’s not how atheism works.
4. Your Inner Fish: a Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin — If I remember correctly, I believe that this book was too focused on anatomy to capture my attention.
5. Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker — I was suspicious of this book from the beginning because it is identical to Barker’s earlier book, Losing Faith in Faith. But I stuck around through Barker’s deconversion story, which was what the title implies that the book is about. That was only a small section of the book, though; I stopped when he got to arguments against God’s existence that I’d already read or heard dozens of times.
6. If God Made the Universe, Who Made God?: 130 Arguments for Christian Faith — I bought this as something I could easily refute in blog posts, but the book had such overused arguments that I had no new or interesting refutations for them. Both the book and my posts responding to it were bland and a dime a dozen.
7. Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright — I decided to read something a little different and learn about a religion other than Christianity. It turned out that this book wasn’t really about Buddhism, but rather about meditation (which I wasn’t very interested in).
8. Dinosaur in a Haystack by Stephen Jay Gould — Gould is a beloved name, but at the time I couldn’t get into his writing style.
9. Does Santa Exist?: A Philosophical Investigation by Eric Kaplan — I thought this would be a funny, relaxing book to get into during the 2019 Christmas season, but it was philosophically heavy and technical. I couldn’t wrap my head around anything Kaplan was talking about.
10. The Evolution of Life by Katherine Jarman — This is a beautiful vintage book with dozens of full-color illustrations of animals, but I got the feeling that it’s not the kind of book that you’re supposed to sit down and read cover to cover.
11. The Hominid Gang: Behind the Scenes in the Search for Human Origins by Delta Willis — Ninety percent of the reason I picked up this book was for the aesthetic, but I just couldn’t get into it. Willis’s writing was beautiful, though.
12. Cosmos: Possible Worlds by Ann Druyan — This was really rough following Sagan’s original Cosmos. I didn’t find Druyan’s writing to be nearly as strong, and I knew that I could learn all the same information on the TV series, anyway.
13. You Are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity by Jamie Lee Finch — I learned about this book on the God is Grey podcast in which Brenda suggested that Religious Trauma Syndrome is its own syndrome. (It’s not. Religious trauma is a kind of trauma like any other.) She cited this book, which was hugely disappointing. There was nothing in it I didn’t already know, and I just can’t stand books that are poorly formatted and very obviously self-published.
14. Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language by Seth Lerer — I sought this book out when I wanted to learn the history of the English language. It was very interesting, but it’s difficult to learn phonetics through a book.
15. Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color by Nina G. Jablonski — I discovered Nina Jablonski’s work on skin color in this Leakey Foundation lecture in which she explained why “scientific racism” is not science at all. The book, however, had more detail on the science of melanin in skin cells than I thought was necessary for me to know.
16. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan — I know, I know. Everyone loves this book. But I don’t tend to get very passionate about long evolutionary histories. What I did read felt somewhat similar to Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth (which I also didn’t like). If it helps, if I hadn’t already read the Dawkins book first, I’m sure I would have liked Shadows.
17. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford — Also in an effort to debunk “scientific racism,” I started A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived after finishing Rutherford’s book How to Argue with a Racist and loving the chapter on genealogy. I had hoped that A Brief History would expand on what I learned in that chapter, but I didn’t find it as compelling.
18. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer — Again, I put down an almost universally loved book. I enjoyed Braiding Sweetgrass as a quiet December read, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to sit through books that are meant to be relaxing. Nothing is really happening in this book, and I didn’t have the patience to finish it with so many other riveting books waiting to be read.
19. God’s Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right by Michael Sean Winters — I got through over 200 pages of this Falwell biography. It would have made for a great book review post all about Falwell, but it was too long and I just couldn’t read one more word about this evil man.
20. The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough — This was another “calming” book that ended up boring me. It wasn’t very long, but I felt like I had more interesting books on my shelf.
21. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye — My husband gave me this book for Valentine’s Day in 2017, and by 2022 I figured I should have read it long ago. Unfortunately, by this time I wasn’t quite as interested in discussions of why evolution is true and creationism is not, and I ended up feeling that a Bill Nye book ought to be listened to rather than read, anyway.
22. Men Who Hate Women – From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All by Laura Bates — This book is the reason I wanted to make this post. It was incredible, it really was. An absolutely necessary read. In my case, it just didn’t work out. My cat passed away halfway through my reading this book. In my grief, I really did not want to continue reading about domestic abuse and sexual assault. I needed something lighter. I might pick it back up one day, because I’d love to write a review highlighting the important topics in this book.
23. The First Astronomers: How Indigenous Elders Read the Stars by Duane Hamacher with Elders and Knowledge Holders — This was the less heavy book I turned to after Men Who Hate Women. I found it interesting and eye-opening, but when Roe v. Wade was overturned, I couldn’t help but put it down and pick up a book on abortion instead.
24. Lost Science: Astonishing Tales of Forgotten Genius by Kitty Ferguson — This is the book I mentioned last week in which the author admitted that she only wrote it because her publisher told her to. The little-known stories involving science and scientists were okay, but overall not engaging enough to keep me reading.
25. Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson — Moral Combat has an analysis of the atheist space from a crucial intersectional perspective of race and gender. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the formatting and the self-published feel.
26. The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan, edited by Ann Druyan — I loved the pictures, but the series of essays felt redundant after reading some of Sagan’s other work.
27. Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman — This might be my last time trying to read something slow and relaxing about nature and spirituality. Lightman lost me with his definitions of scientific absolutes, and when I saw that he rehashed the Galileo myth, I was officially done.
So there you have it: all the books I haven’t finished. I felt it was important to share this list, because I know that sharing our reading journeys online can often feel like a competition, and I know I can’t be the only one slowed down by DNFs.
What are some books that you haven’t finished?
7 thoughts on “27 Books I Never Finished”
Back in my evangelical days, I was big into C. S. Lewis. I liked Mere Christianity, though I recall that even my Christian teen self thought the Moral Law argument seemed a bit weak. Several decades later, atheist me sat down to re-read it. By then I could see why (several reasons, actually) it’s a bad argument. At the end of that chapter, he says that if you don’t accept that, then there’s no point in reading the rest of the book. I thought it was nice of him to give that warning early on, so I put it down ;-).
I read a lot of Stephen Jay Gould in the 1990s, as a result of my involvement in talk.origins (and I loved his style). I even worked a quote into the intro chapter of a Masters dissertation in software engineering. In addition to the evolution stuff, it was an introduction for me to the whole “history of ideas” field. Haven’t re-read him for years now, but that’s because I’ve had so much else to read.
I’ve actually started keeping track of my DNF books because sometimes I glean something interesting from them, even if I decide not to finish reading them. Some nonfiction examples: Mother Brain (fascinating concepts, but I think the research needs to get a bit further before writing about it); All Roads Lead to Austen (premise was terrific, but the author got on my nerves too much to go through an entire South American journey with her); Rules of Estrangement (had some good points, but I thought the author was still too much bound up with his own experience as an estranged parent to really be objective). I might do a DNF post myself, thanks for sharing yours with us. The only one I have read myself is Braiding Sweetgrass, which was a slow read, but I loved it anyway.
Oh, I am so glad to know that I’m not the only person who DNFed Braiding Sweetgrass! I couldn’t get through it and failed to see what everyone loves about it. I’m becoming a relentless DNFer; this year alone I had 31 books that went by the wayside. I usually don’t write about them but maybe you’ve just inspired me to do a post.
Well, I’ve read about 1/3 of the way through the Qu’ran, and that was enough. It got really repetitive with constant reminders that a fiery doom awaited the unbeliever. Enough was enough on that.
Back in my traveling-on-business days, I had a short stack of novels I bought in airports that I never finished because the flight wasn’t long enough. Just didn’t care enough. You’d think I’d learn not to buy novels.
Storygraph makes it easy for me to keep track of my DNFs. I wonder if you’d have more luck with trying a few of these on audiobook instead.
This is great and a good reminder of why we don’t finish books / why it’s OK. I skipped a book on Qatar I had from NetGalley that I thought I’d like, partly because it was only readable on NetGalley Shelf and something has to be really engaging for me to copy with that unwieldy reading experience!