I read this article with interest. It’s on the topic of DNFing books. What does that mean? It means Did Not Finish. For some people, DNFing a book is a simple matter, but for many there’s almost an honor code among readers that you have to finish a book when you start it.
Over the years, I’ve heard readers say that when they start reading a novel, they’re making a promise to the book and to themselves, and by not finishing the story, they’re breaking their promises. So, even if they’re not enjoying the novel, they plough on to the end. “I can’t not finish it!” Looking back, I think I had the same mentality; I felt as though it would be wrong and rash to not read to the end, a commitment I couldn’t back out of. Perhaps it comes from reading assignments in primary school? Teachers set us books to read — we even had a Reading Diary thingy — and we couldn’t move on to another book without finishing the current one.
I’ve also seen people attack readers that can’t finish reading the books they pick up and insist that they’re breaking the reader-book pact. “You can’t give up on it!” they say.
Dear reader, you can.
No one wants you to suffer or waste time on something that’s making you miserable — or not giving you pleasure. Authors write to give people a good time. Yes, we love it when readers say they liked our work, but it doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to finish a book you don’t want to carry on with for one more moment. You can put it down and start something else. It’s okay. Don’t let the Reading Police get to you.
I’ve tried to force myself at times to join Team Finish What You Started, but in honesty, I’ve always been on Team DNF. Many times I’ve found myself simply not enjoying a book that much, not “clicking” with it. I’m not the type of reader who needs the all-night page-turning experience, and I am not the type of reader who insists that the first page has to GRAB GRAB GRAB me. Of all the books I’ve read and loved over the years, I honestly can’t think of very many at all where I can say “Wow, this book had me hooked from the very first paragraph!”
I know there are readers like that, because I’ve encountered them, but giving a book the first page or just the first few pages is like buying a ticket to a movie and walking out during the opening credits. It makes no sense to me at all.
So when do I DNF a book? Generally, if I find myself reaching the halfway point and I’m just not enjoying it, that’s a sign. If I get that far and I open it up to read and I have to think a bit about what the plot is, or even backtrack a bit to remind myself what’s going on, that’s a bad sign. More often, though, I’ll DNF something if I get roughly a quarter or a third of the way in and the book just isn’t clicking with me. Life’s too short and there are too many books I want to read! Why spend the effort on something I’m not enjoying?
However! There are a couple of caveats to this:
First, I almost never indicate on Goodreads that I DNFed a book. I will only do this once in a great while (I think that at this point I have only listed four books as DNF over there.) This is why my reviews almost entirely skew positive: While I’m fine with not finishing a book, I am not fine with reviewing a book I did not finish. So, by definition, my Goodreads books are books I finished, and therefore I enjoyed just about all of them.
And second, I never hold a DNF against a book, really. All I’ll say is that at the time I tried reading it, a book just didn’t click with me, for whatever reason. Did you ever have a pizza for dinner that you weren’t really in the mood for, and you ended up having it because it was easy and it was there and hey, you gotta eat something? The pizza doesn’t suck, it’s just not doing it for you. Same thing with books, and there are a lot of books that are beloved to me that I DNFed the first time around. Hell, my very first attempt to read Guy Gavriel Kay, who has since become my favorite living author, ended in a DNF.
How do you all approach your reading? Are you DNFers, or are you Finish Or Die types?