Why I (Rarely) DNF Books

The majority of us have experienced it: You start a book thinking it’s decent enough you’ll get through it. A few days pass and your attention wanders, you start reading other books or doing other activities and every time you look back at the original book you tell yourself you’ll finish it some other day. Somehow that day never comes, and you keep putting it off, until finally you realise you were never going to finish it in the first place…leading to the dreaded DNF.

I use Goodreads relatively conservatively, and because of that I don’t often add books (even to my ‘Want to Read’ shelf) unless I’m totally, completely sure I’m going to read them. Sure, it’s happened in the past, especially when I was first starting out, but experience has fine-tuned my senses to the types of books I’m likely to enjoy and in turn made those the only books I add to my shelf. As such, there are only 12 books Goodreads recognises as having been officially added, started and subsequently abandoned by me:

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Naturally, that number doesn’t tell the full story. There are plenty of books I read a few chapters or even a few sentences of and knew wouldn’t be worth my time, which never made it onto my Goodreads. Which leads to an interesting question–how far into a book do you have to get for it to be considered ‘started’? If I go to the bookshop, open a book, read the first sentence and decide ‘nah’, surely that doesn’t count as having started it in any meaningful way. You could attempt to draw an objective line at say the first chapter, but then you’d run into issues with books where the first chapter is, for instance, a one-line prologue.

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I don’t want to dig too far into this rabbit hole, so personally I draw the line at a conscious decision to read the book with the assumption that you’ll finish it. That casts a wider net of DNF’ed books than my Goodreads official 12 without including samplers.

There are several main reasons I DNF books, but as a general rule I don’t like to DNF, especially when I’ve already added a book to my Goodreads shelf (in my mind, that makes it feel official–don’t ask me why). A even bigger incentive not to DNF is when I received the book as an eARC: Across NetGalley and Edelweiss I’ve DNF’ed exactly one book, although there have certainly been others with which I seriously considered doing the same. Let me talk about my thoughts on ARCs and non-ARCs individually.

Non-ARCs

So, these are the books I get from any source that isn’t the publisher. For me, that includes primarily books I buy myself, books I borrow at the library and books I’ve been given as gifts.

DNF’ing books in the first category is very rare. I’ve spent money on them, I’ve vetted them at the bookshop before buying, I know what I’m getting and hopefully it’s what I like. However, there have been a few books I’ve bought in the past and slowly lost interest in, most of them bought long before I had this blog and read regularly. In other words, before I knew my preferences so well. Some of them, like Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond, I bought because they were part of a multibuy promotion where I already wanted another book that was part of the deal and fell for the bait.

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I’m sorry you’re still sitting on my shelf in new condition.

One or two, like Dust by Hugh Howey, I bought just because they looked interesting and later lost interest due to my own short attention span.

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I don’t think it helped that this was the third book in a trilogy where I hadn’t read the first two.

The second category, books acquired at the library, has a moderate proportion of DNFs. While I do read the synopses and first couple pages of library books before I check them out, their cost to me is obviously a lot less than bought books. So I’m a fair deal more trigger-happy when deciding to borrow books, and would be even more so if some of the hardcovers weren’t so unwieldy to carry home. Because I sometimes check out more library books than I have time to read, the most common reason I DNF them is simply that other books were higher on my priority list. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the DNF’ed book was bad or even worse than the ones I read; sometimes all it takes for me to eschew one book in favour of another is the condition of their copies. Yes, I’m unapologetically drawn to new, shiny books that smell like glue.

Of course, all the standard reasons for DNFs that you’re probably well acquainted with apply as well. If a book drags on for too long, or starts off compelling but becomes incomprehensibly convoluted later on, or sends an overly problematic message, these are all reasons I say ‘enough’. And by ‘problematic message’, I personally mean really problematic. I don’t DNF books just because I disagree with them or their authors’ beliefs; I’ve read and liked/disliked to varying degrees a book where the author denies climate change, multiple books glamorising abusive relationships and a book vilifying the entire Christian religion as bigoted fascists. However when it gets to romanticisation of actual, I-shit-you-not genocide, I hit my limit for some reason, couldn’t tell you why. (I’m not even going to link to the book because I don’t want it getting any more attention than it already has.)

The third and final category, books given to me as presents, is the one I’m most likely to DNF. Not because they’re bad–some of them are bestselling award winners–but because, well, they’re just not suited to me. I feel bad for DNF’ing them after a few halfhearted attempts or straight up not touching them, but when faced with the choice between 500 pages of dense academic writing or the next eARC on NetGalley that I’m really excited about…

 
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ARCs

Which brings me, of course, to the other category of books that I read. My reasons for DNF’ing, or more accurate in most cases wanting to DNF, an ARC are similar to the standard reasons for DNFs that I talked about above. The major difference is that I’m much more likely to force myself to finish an ARC, to the point where I’ve only ever DNF’ed one. This being for the simple reason that publishers give out ARCs in exchange for honest reviews, and I’m unable to provide an honest review without having actually finished the book.

In fact, I don’t write proper reviews for any of the books I DNF, although I may assign a star rating on Goodreads based on what I’ve read and add a couple sentences explaining my issue with the book. I believe it’s just not possible to write a review with any amount of accuracy if you don’t even bother to finish the book. One of my pet peeves is when reviewers rant about a book they DNF’ed that I read and make criticisms that get resolved later on in the book. Like, if you’re annoyed about Plot Hole A, the least you should be doing is checking the rest of the book to see if it’s actually a plot hole or a hint left by the author for clever readers.

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Anyways. I sort of went off on a tangent there, but the point is: I think that reading a book in its entirety is necessary to write a good review, and it’s for this reason that I finish essentially all ARCs, even if my ultimate rating is no higher than it would have been had I DNF’ed.


Let's Talk

  • How frequently do you DNF books? If you receive ARCs, does this differ between ARCs and non-ARCs?
  • What are your main reasons for DNF’ing books?
  • Do you think it’s a good idea to write reviews without having read the whole book?

No pressure, but if you have an answer to these questions or another thought you’d like to add I’d love to see it in the comments!

As usual, thanks for reading ❤

24 thoughts on “Why I (Rarely) DNF Books

  1. I used to try to finish everything, but nowadays I’m vicious about DNF-ing books. Usually I try a few times to get into it and if I can’t by the 3rd-ish time I’m probably done with it. I’m sure there are good books that I’ve DNF’d but in general I’d rather move on than slog through something.

    I agree that I generally will only review books I finished. I’ll make an exception only if I’ve read a significant amount of a book and I have a fairly specific critique as to why I stopped reading — but even then I think it’s important to be really clear that I didn’t finish it, and I only post it on my blog and not anywhere where I have to give it a star rating that’s going to be part of its score (Amazon, goodreads, etc.)

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    1. In the same vein as your first point, I find I’ve become slightly more critical of clichés and common flaws the more I read and learn what shortcuts authors tend to fall back on. I’ve actually finished a greater percentage of books compared to when I first started blogging though, mostly due to the extra motivation of finishing and reviewing.

      Yeah I think it’s the right idea to always note when you haven’t finished a book you’re reviewing–sometimes reviewers don’t explicitly state this but it’s obvious from the points they bring up.

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  2. I don’t like DNFing books and I try to pick books that only interest me but sometimes the expectations are so high and the disappointment is bad that I just can’t continue something I am pretty sure will not enjoy whatever happens. I try to push through at least 30% before DNFing.
    I read some books that I felt like DNFing but then gave other chances and I end up regretting it. I know DNF when I have a “certain feeling” that I can’t explain. I am approaching 300 read books but maybe have only DNFed the same number as you did!

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    1. Wow that’s impressive! Especially the part about making it at least 30% haha, I sometimes DNF at 10% even though I thought based on the synopsis that I would finish the book. I just don’t have as much patience for books I know I won’t enjoy 😦

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  3. I really rarely DNF anything, especially ARCs. I think there’s only one ARC in five years that I’ve ever DNFed and I felt really bad about it, but I just couldn’t get through it.

    The book has to be really, really bad for me to DNF. I mean that in either a “really badly written” sense or in a “really incredibly offensive” sense. Usually I can push through a book even if I hate it and it kind of takes a lot to offend me, but sometimes I just can’t do it.

    Sometimes I write reviews if I DNF and sometimes I don’t. If it’s just a case of losing my interest, I won’t review it, because that’s not necessarily the book’s fault. But if it falls into the “really incredibly offensive” category, I’ll write a (probably really snarky) review about it. (But I always mention in the review that I didn’t actually finish.)

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    1. Yeah it sounds like we share much of the same philosophy regarding DNFs. I know that feeling of forcing yourself through a bad book haha, it happens less these days but still every now and again I end up in a slump when there are several bad books in a row and I just don’t want to read at all 😦

      I tag all my DNFs as such on Goodreads, normally those reviews are really short (just a few sentences explaining why it was bad basically) so they don’t go on my blog, which seems the opposite of what some people do lol.

      In any case thanks for reading ❤

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  4. I used to feel an obligation to finish ARCs but I realised that publishers would probably be at least as happy with no review as a negative review, so I’m much more relaxed about DNF’ing them now.

    Reasons – too many to count… excessive swearing, overly graphic sex or violence, poor writing, simple reader/writer mismatch…

    Yes, I do. I hate the tendency towards people only reviewing books they liked. Apart from it being very dull to be told how wonderful every book is, as a reader I want to know why people hated a book too – often much more useful. If I write a review of a book that had 5000 swear words in the first five pages causing me to abandon it on page 6, I get far more “helpful” votes on Goodreads and Amazon than on a glowing review of a book that everyone loves. So long as the reasons for abandoning are clearly and fairly expressed – more than just “Ugh! Hated this one!” – then I think they allow readers to decide if the things that bothered the reviewer would or wouldn’t bother them. Our “job” as reviewers is to provide guidance to readers, not to sell books for authors or publishers… *steps down from hobby horse* 😉

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    1. “I used to feel an obligation to finish ARCs but I realised that publishers would probably be at least as happy with no review as a negative review, so I’m much more relaxed about DNF’ing them now.” I find that a really interesting line of thought actually. I didn’t think about it this way before but now it makes me wonder. I agree that a totally negative review just trashing the book probably isn’t great publicity, but I think that even 2 star constructive reviews if written respectfully can be good, since some tropes which are hated by certain reviewers are liked by others.

      I agree with negative reviews being more helpful–even when I write a review praising the book, I normally include a few constructive comments/caveats so that people know what they are getting into. After all, like you said a review that only complains says nothing. In the same vein, a review that just expounds on how good a book is loses its value if every review is like that. I do have one or two glowing reviews like that, but they’re rare and tend to be the books that were honestly, legitimately my favourites.

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  5. I can’t remember ever DNF-ing a book that I’ve bought myself. Very occasionally I might start reading a library book and DNF after a couple of chapters (I’d rather quit early than halfway through!) – the main reason to discard would be the content I suppose. I DNF ‘Into the Water’ by Paula Hawkins because I could sense animal cruelty ahead. And also the writing was a bit poor.

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    1. Oh yeah I agree with DNF’ing sooner rather than later if you believe you’re not going to finish anyways. Normally if I make it a third into the book, definitely if I make it halfway I’m almost guaranteed to finish it just because I don’t want the time I’ve already invested in it to be for nothing.

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  6. This is such a great post!

    Personally, I’m really bad at DNF’ing a book, so bad that I wish I was better at it. But the second I’ve started reading it, my curiosity is peeked, even if I don’t like the book. In fact I’m so bad at it, that even if I didn’t like a book, I usually finish the series. Again, because I just need to know what happened. The worst part about this for me, is that I feel so drained when I spend hours and days finishing a book, that I don’t really want to be reading.

    When I once in a blue moon do DNF something, I don’t review it on my blog. But I will update my Goodreads. Usually without a rating, and write that I had to DNF the book.

    But the truth is also, that I feel bad if and when I DNF something. I always wonder if I should have given it more time, maybe 10 more pages would have changed my outlook?!

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    1. Haha it sounds like we’re somewhat the opposite in this sense–without reviewing obligations I’m way too trigger happy with DNF’ing books lmao. When I want to know what happened later in a series but don’t want to bother with reading the books I just get the last book, flip to the end and typically that tells me everything I need to know. Kind of a bad habit, I wish I could have the patience (and the time) to actually read the whole book!

      There was even a time when I would flip to the end of every book and read the conclusion before I decided if I wanted to read it or not. Ever since I started this blog I’ve kind of chilled on that, the reason being I think sometimes it results in a biased review, but your comment reminded me of that nasty habit I used to have.

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      1. Haha for me it’s usually the same, whether or not I’ve received the book as an arc. Or just a free copy to review after it’s been released. I do wish I was better at DNF though. Because it’s not pretty when a bad book sends me into a reading slump. It can take such a long time to get back on track. Usually only re-reads will do the trick.

        I used to do the page flipping, when I was younger. I just had to read the last 3 pages. A lot of the time it helped me get through the middle. Like I remember doing this with the Inheritance Cycle. I loved the first book Eragon. Well I loved them all. But sometimes they could drag on, and that’s when it helped to know what I was reading towards 😉

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        1. True, some of my favourite books I read the ending first then went back for the rest. There are even some studies suggesting that audiences better enjoy movies when they already know spoilers if I remember correctly, and in a way I get how that would work for books–it’s certainly nice to be able to appreciate subtleties and foreshadowing in literature.

          Agree with the reading slump though. Ugh I hate it when I read several mediocre books in a row and it completely kills my rhythm.

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          1. Ah the rhythm breaking is the worst! It makes it so hard to get back on track.

            Oh that’s interesting with the studies. I didn’t know that. I mean there’s probably been times where it only satisfied my curiosity. But I remember more where it also made me appreciate the books more 🙂

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