Another Day, Another DNF

I seem to have stumbled upon a hot-button issue when I tweeted earlier today:

Based on some of the responses I received, DNFing is a thing to be both feared and desired.

So… the dreaded Did Not Finish….

Why do we avoid it? When do we embrace it? When is it just absolutely necessary?

For me, I used to be a big believer in Just Finish The Damn Book. I kind of prided myself (in my young & foolish days) on always finishing whatever I started.

But now that I’m older and wiser (or really, just older and busier), I just can’t justify taking the time when I know — I mean, really KNOW — that a book just isn’t happening for me.

Different emotions apply in different circumstances. Take my two most recent DNFs:

In the case of the first, I was reading a review copy of an upcoming YA novel. It was… just okay. I thought it sounded like fun, but the writing didn’t grab me, the plot wasn’t terribly believable, and by about the halfway point, I realized that I didn’t care. Would it get better within the next few chapters? I peeked ahead about 25 pages. Nope, still didn’t care. Would it at least have a great ending? Skipped to the final pages. Nope, still didn’t care. And what’s worse — it didn’t actually end! On the final page, it became clear that this book was the first in a series. Oh, hell to the no! That was all it took for me to put the book aside.

Still, I did feel a bit remorseful, as I’d requested the ARC andΒ  have been trying my best to read and review everything I’ve requested. I did do what I thought was right in this circumstance: I sent feedback to the publisher explaining that I wouldn’t be reviewing the book because it wasn’t a good fit for me. I have featured the book in a few “hey, look what I’ve got!” type of posts, so in my own meager little way, I have helped spread the word. And, although I mentioned in that week’s Monday Agenda post that I didn’t finish and why, I tried to make it clear that the book would certainly appeal to some readers — it just wasn’t for me.

All in all, I walked away from it feeling a bit let down over not liking a book that I thought would be fun — but I wasn’t at all sorry not to finish the book itself.

In my most recent DNF scenario, my feelings are a bit more complicated. I bought a book by an author I admire — in fact, I preordered the book months ago, and was so excited to get my shiny new hardcover edition as soon as it was released! I’ve read everything by this author, and either loved, really liked, or mostly liked all of her previous books. But this one? Well. Today, I reached page 150, and just kind of sighed and moaned and then realized — that’s it. The plot has gone nowhere. There are so many made-up words that I feel like I need a glossary. The world-building is incomplete and not terribly comprehensible. Really, to be blunt, I’ve come this far, and I just don’t care. So I face a choice: Push onward, or quit?

If you’d asked me 10 years ago, then of course the answer would be: Onward! But I can’t really think that way any more.

I work, I’m a mom, I read tons, and I blog. I also try to have a bit of time for goofing off, hanging out with my family, watching TV, and kicking back.

Life’s too short to read books I don’t like!

So with this current book, I’m afraid it’s going to have to be a DNF, again. This one really breaks my heart a little bit, both a) because I bought the &*^%$ hardcover! and b) because I’d been looking forward to it so much.

I’m putting it aside — for now? — and moving on. Perhaps the mood will strike me in another week or two and I’ll go back to it and finish. But I doubt it. (PS – I cheated a bit and started reading Goodreads reviews once I hit the wall today — and nothing I read made me feel like I should reconsider or give it another go.)

The DNF issue seems to be a big one for a lot of readers. Press on? Give up? Is it failure to DNF? Is it a lack of commitment? Or is it a gift to yourself (as I’ve come to feel) to acknowledge that your time would be better spent on something else?

Sometimes, it’s just the mood. This book isn’t working for me right now, but maybe another time. Sometimes, it’s the book itself: I can’t stand the writing. I don’t like the characters. I realize that I’m just not interested in xyz.

Whatever the case, I always want to feel like I gave a book my best shot… but I’m not too proud (or for me, stubborn is probably a better word for it!) to walk away when it’s time to move on.

Charleen at Cheap Thrills wrote an excellent piece on How To DNF in Two (Not-So-Simple) Steps. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to finish a book that, in your heart of hearts, you just don’t want to read any more, then definitely check out her advice!

So, how about you? Do you force yourself to finish a book even if you’re not enjoying it? Has your attitude toward the dreaded DNF changed over time? How do you approach the decision to put a book aside, and is it hard for you? And do you find yourself going back to your DNF pile — or are you more of a “if I’m done, I’m done” kind of reader?

As for me, I think I experienced a semi-epiphany the day that I first gave myself permission to stop reading a book that wasn’t working for me, and while I don’t do it often, I do happily feel that DNF is a valid choice… and certainly one that has saved me hours and days of unhappy reading.

And happy reading? That’s what it’s all about.

22 thoughts on “Another Day, Another DNF

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I was once a “MAFer,” but when I thought about how many books I can read in my lifetime vs. how many books I want to read, it seemed less important to finish books that aren’t working for me. Even so, it’s still rare for me to “DNF,” but when it happens, I don’t regret it. Reading your post has me thinking I should exercise the right more often. Life is too short, after all, and reading is supposed to be fun!

    • LOL, I didn’t realize what MAF meant until today! Absolutely, life is too short! I do have to remind myself — frequently — that reading is supposed to be fun, whether in the context of putting aside books I’m not enjoying or in reminding myself to just slow down sometimes and not worry about how many books I’ve read, whether I’m keeping up with my goals, etc. If reading becomes more stressful than fun, then I know I’m doing something wrong! Thanks for your input, Mary — I think I should exercise the right to DNF more often too!

      • Slowing down is a problem for me too! I get a little hung up on my “to-read” list, and tend to feel like I’ve accomplished more if I’ve read a lot. Must remind myself: quality, not quantity, right?? πŸ˜‰

  2. I try to finish every book I read, but I find that when I don’t finish it isn’t often because I put the book down intentionally. In many cases, I start reading something else more interesting–and have to admit to myself, grudgingly, a yer later that I’m apparently NOT going to pick up that book again. It’s a hard realization!

    Or, another scenario: The book wasn’t captivating enough for me to finish quickly, and it was due at the library, I had no more renewals, and I had to give the book back unfinished. whether I liked it or not.

    Recently, however, I did intentionally DNF Allegiant about 30 pages in. It’s not working for me, but maybe I’ll be into it later. And although my blog doesn’t feature DNF reviews, I did just make a Riffle list explaining some of the books I haven’t finished (yet):

    On the whole, It might be a good thing for me to be more open to DNFing, though! I agree that life is too short to spend on books that aren’t interesting to you.

    • It’s interesting to hear about your different scenarios! I can definitely see the unintentional DNF happening — sometimes, despite the best of intentions, things just fall by the wayside, and I’ve definitely had to face facts with some books that I’m just never going to end up going back to them. Also, the library scenario — I’ve had that happen too, which can be frustrating, although to be honest, if I were really interested in the book, I’d have kept it a few days more to finish it, and just paid my fine like a good library citizen. πŸ™‚ I do like your Riffle list — so interesting to see all the different reasons for not finishing the various books. Clearly, your decision to DNF is a thoughtful one! (As a side note, I have a copy of Divergent that I haven’t read yet, and based on all the mixed reports I’ve heard on Allegiant, plus your DNF, I’m wondering whether I should start the series at all. Do you have a recommendation?)

      Thank you so much for your comments! Lots of food for thought!

      • I’ve definitely considered keeping some DVDs from the library and paying the late fee! (A particularly tempting idea when there are holds on them, and I know I won’t be able to re-check them out immediately.)

        I started Tigana in January and I’m still telling myself that I’m “reading” it. I DO want to finish it!

        I really liked Divergent and went around gushing and telling all my friends to read it. so I would recommend it, regardless of my opinions on the last book! I also had someone tell me how Allegiant ends, and I don’t really see why it would make some people think reading the whole series was “pointless.” Unpleasant things happen in books, particularly in dystopians! πŸ˜‰

  3. I usually try to finish but sometimes you just gotta call it. If you just can’t keep going, then stop. ‘Cause there are so many other books that can be read instead.

  4. I try to finish a book, but I’ve started to come round to the fact that I’m not going to enjoy everything and I read. Life is too short to waste time on a rubbish book! There’s too many good ones out there for us to find.

    • Yes! I’ll push through a book for a while, and sometimes they do turn around… but I’m trying to be more okay with just walking away. I guess because it happened to me twice in two weeks, the whole idea of DNFing was on my mind more — but here’s hoping my next book will be a winner!

  5. I’ll persevere for a while but like you I think life’s too short to read books that I’m not enjoying! I usually have a huge to read pile so it’s not as though I’d ever be bookless if I admitted defeat!

    • No, I can’t imagine ever running out of books just because I choose to not finish one! LOL. I just have to keep reminding myself — life’s too short!

  6. The only books I force myself to finish are Pulitzers because I have a life goal of reading them all, and sometimes I will take me a yearto finish because I will pick it up and put it back down periodically. But any others are fair game

  7. Well, you already know how I feel about DNFing. It was quite liberating coming to the realization that, no, I really don’t have to finish everything I start. (And, if I ever change my mind, the book will still exist!)

    • I’ve forced myself to finish books I’d committed to ( like for a reading challenge, as you did) — but one resolution I’m making for the coming year is to avoid committing to challenges! I really need to focus more on reading the books that I want to read, not just books I’ve put on a list. πŸ™‚

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