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Literary Discussions // Why I don’t DNF books

Literary Discussions DNF books final

DNFing books is a great way ensure you’re reading only what you enjoy. As readers, we have the autonomy to choose whether or not we continue with a book if it’s not meeting our expectations. After all, we only have a finite amount of time to read (as much as I want to believe that we’re all immortal, and will live forever in bookstores), so why spend it on a book that isn’t exciting or engaging?

We have the power to decide which authors and genres receive our attention and which don’t. If a book fails to live up to expectations, we’re not obliged to continue with it and can stop at any point. DNFing is therefore a great way to be selective and nope-right-out-of-there if a book isn’t what we hoped for.

And yet. I don’t do it. I love the empowerment behind DNFing, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Here’s why.

A history of unfinished books
When I was younger, I was notorious for reading six or seven books at once and never finishing all of them. I’d finish two and then start another one. Then finished that and start another two. Then finish one of those and start another three. And so it would go on. At least one book would always remain unfinished and I never had the motivation to go back to it and continue reading.

Although this would suggest I wasn’t enjoying the book I was reading, that wasn’t often the case. There were plenty of books I picked up and really liked, but the pull of a fresh new book from the library would draw me in and I’d start that one, leaving the other (much-enjoyed) book gathering dust until it had to be returned. So in light of my younger self’s bad habit, I now try never to leave books half finished, which includes DNFing them.

Reviews based on the whole book
I like to review books based on the full novel, because I sometimes find that a book can change completely within 20 pages, so I like to read from start to finish. If I DNF’d a book at page 50, I could only write my review based on those first 50 pages, and I wouldn’t feel that I had stayed with the book long enough to give an in-depth, well-rounded review of all its elements. This isn’t to say that other people can’t do this, because I’ve read some excellent, critical reviews by people who’d only read 50-100 pages and that was enough for them to give a full review. But it just doesn’t work for me because I feel I can’t add gravitas to my thoughts without having the full context of the book.

My Goodreads goal
For the last few years, I’ve been gradually increasing my Goodreads goal by a small amount each year. Last year it was 75. This year it’s 80. Having a goal drives me to keep picking up new books and diving into new worlds, so I always want to achieve said goal. But if I read 70% of a book and then DNF, it doesn’t count towards my goal, in my mind. I know, I know, it does actually count towards your Goodreads goal, but for me personally, I feel like I’m cheating. If I added a book that I only read 40 pages of to my total, I wouldn’t feel justified in counting it towards my goal. So, on that basis, I read to the end so I can add the book to my Goodreads total.

Persistence is a good trait in many aspects of life, especially when it drives your desire to succeed rather than giving up. But in terms of books, it’s not always a good thing. If I get to the 100 page mark and I’m not enjoying a book, I consider DNFing it, but always end up thinking ‘I’ll just carry on a bit longer’ in the hope that it’ll improve. Sometimes books do get better after the halfway point, but often they don’t and I’m left annoyed with myself that I didn’t quit while I was ahead.

But every time I consider DNFing, the section of my brain that’s chained to its perfectionist mantra urges me to carry on. Part of this stems from my dislike of underachieving, and the fact that I (somehow) equate not finishing a book with underachieving. But mostly I just like the finality of finishing an entire book. Even if it wasn’t great.

The finality of closing a book
There’s something wonderful about reading the last page of a novel and closing the book. I’ll often re-read the final paragraph several times just to savour the feeling of coming to the end of a story and getting closure. If I were to start DNFing books, I’d never get that feeling. Instead, I think I’d probably be left feeling a little lackluster that I left the story part way through (even if it wasn’t a great story). So, to get that warm, satisfied feeling, I always read to the end.

How do you feel about DNFing books? Do you avoid DNFing, or do you read up until a certain page number and then DNF if it’s not living up to your expectations? 

Let's discuss

39 thoughts on “Literary Discussions // Why I don’t DNF books

  1. This is so fascinating to me because I am one of those people who will DNF a book in a heartbeat. I completely understand your points though! I don’t review books that I DNF. I also DNF so many books and that’s perhaps why I’m behind on my goodreads challenge. Sadly though, I don’t have the patience to finish a book if I am not enjoying it.

  2. It’s funny how I can actually relate to a lot of these things even though I’m such a frequent DNFer! But it’s these exact things that I kinda had to fight in order to DNF book so easily.
    The Goodreads Challenge thing thankfully kinda got rid of itself because my focus has become much more about how many books I can get off my TBR than how many I actually finish. So even if I DNF a book it works towards my goal of a smaller TBR. That also helps me feeling accomplished in a way because that’s definitely what I struggle the most with. This thoughts of leaving something unfinished makes me SHIVER. So that’s also why I have a DNF shelf and always write a couple of words about why I DNFed something and it’s why I talk about the DNFs in my video. I can check that off my to-do list so it feels like I finished SOMETHING without actually having finished the book if that makes sense 😀 I could never just delete a book of my Goodreads shelf when I DNF it, it would haunt me until the end of my days haha.
    Definitely a super interesting blog post! I’m sure it will make a couple of people realize that they have a similar thought process.

  3. I don’t DNF books either. I feel as though I can’t properly review a book if I don’t read the whole thing. Also, a lot of times books get better! Some are just slow starts. ☺️

  4. I’m such a big DNFer… Sometimes, I don’t even reach till the 50 pages before stopping… it’ll put me in a bad slump if I try to get through something that is not interesting me. But I also don’t count these DNFd books towards my GR reading challenge, so I don’t feel very guilty about it.

  5. Such an interesting take! For me I don’t count DNF books as read. I don’t review or rate them no matter how far I got with them, so that element is taken away.

  6. I used to be exactly the same until I started blogging. With the self-imposed uploads I have on myself, I feel almost like I’m wasting time if I’m reading a book that I don’t care enough to finish. I’ve always felt like I owed the author something because they spent so long writing the book. Now, if I do DNF I just don’t review it because I find it unfair as I haven’t read the whole book.

  7. I would be exactly the same with my Goodreads goal if I got any further than halfway through a book – I’d have to finish it just to make it count. Right now I just remove DNFed books entirely because like you, I don’t like them to count, so if I’ve already read anymore than 100 pages or so…that’s it. It’s getting read. Otherwise I’m just too impatient for the most part. I do get what you mean with the review thing too. Even when I made my video about The Smoke Thieves, I had to keep mentioning how I was only judging from the first 100 pages or so because it didn’t feel quite right saying so much about a book when I couldn’t judge it properly.

  8. I don’t DNF books either, but my reasoning has more to do with my OCD than anything else, I imagine. I literally cannot abandon a book without stressing about it, and it’ll continue to gnaw at the back of my mind until I finish, even if I have to skim it!

  9. I really relate to what you are saying. This year I have read some terrible books but I always finish them to the bitter end even if it’s a struggle. I feel really sad if I really have a book I DNF and I would never write a review on a half read book. I think that reading a book you didn’t really enjoy and writing a review gives a blog a bit more depth though, you can’t love every book you read but I think you should still finish the book there’s always hope there could be a good ending 😏

  10. I’ve never been able to DNF a book even when I really want to! I’m exactly the same as you and feel as though I could have written this myself – glad to know I’m not the only one!

  11. I can‘t DNF books. No matter how horrible a book is, I can‘t stop. Simply because I would have „unfinished business“ and it would sit in my mind until I were to pick it back up. Funny thing is that‘s I‘m „currently“ reading a book for over two years now because I just can‘t let go (or more like because I don‘t want to) – but it‘s so boring and yet I can‘t DNF it haha.

    I also have posted a kind of similar post a few weeks ago, more like a list about book series I won‘t continue. It‘s not DNFing in the middle of a book though, I‘m not that far yet haha. It would be nice if you could check it out 🙂 Feedback is appreciated!

    All the best,

  12. I’m with you in the fact that I really hate DNFing books – but I still do it occasionally, because some books are just so bad that they aren’t worth my time tbh. Plus, usually those drag on for long and I could have finished two much better books in the same time.

  13. I so agree with your points, and I struggle to DNF a book. That being said, I will do it if it just wasn’t captivating me at all. I do think life is too short to read something you aren’t enjoying, or aren’t challenged by, or just really can’t get on with. Unless something is truly dire, I will try and make it all the way through. And sometimes I put things down and come back to them later when I’m more “in the mood”. But you have made me think about the benefits of persistence… There are way too much books on my shelves I’ve just put down halfway through!

    1. Aww thank you! I definitely agree that life’s too short, which is why I sometimes wish I could just make myself DNF things! I usually end up skimming books that I’m not enjoying, so that I’d still read them, but can be done with them faster, but even then I find that quite difficult to do, as I still feel like I’m ‘cheating’ a little bit. I know what you mean about picking something back up when you’re in the right mood for it – sometimes it can make all the difference between giving a book 2.5 stars and 4.5 stars!

      1. I do still feel like I’m cheating when I DNF something. But if it’s bad enough I couldn’t finish it wellll…

  14. I rarely DNF books because i know that sometimes I could end up loving it if I read a little further. It happened with Scythe most recently. But if I’m more than halfway and basically forcing myself to read it i will put it down. I do try picking it up again at least a couple more times before completely DNFing though. And i wont review a book that I didn’t finish.
    I find that if i force myself to read a book I’m not enjoying it puts me in a book slump so if i feel that’s happening that’s when i will DNF mainly.

    1. That’s exactly how I feel! And more than once in the past, I’ve been reading a book that was average (but not great) and then a sudden twist or change in pace dramatically improved the story. I really like the fact that you try to come back to books multiple times before putting them down permanently. Sometimes I think we’re not always ‘in the mood’ for certain types of books, so by coming back to it, it gives you a chance to try it again when in a different mood. 🙂

    1. Ooh that’s so interesting to hear. What made you change your reading process? Was there one specific thing or was it a gradual change over time? I might find that I decide to start DNFing in the future, but for now, I just power through.

  15. I never used to DNF books. Mainly because my inner English lit student perceived it to be cheating if I didn’t finish a book. It’s rare now that I DNF, but I do do it if I’m not enjoying a book at all, if there’s something in it that’s triggering or that I just hate reading about. I usually give a book 100 pages before I quit (excluding triggering topics), which sounds like a lot, but I’m a fast reader so it doesn’t take me long to get that far in. I always love to read about why others DNF or don’t. Thanks for sharing your reasons.

    1. Haha I definitely get that about feeling like it’s cheating! 100 pages is a solid amount to read before making a decision, although I’ve definitely read a few books where I thought about DNFing before page 50 (I didn’t but it was tempting). I’m curious, what was the last book you decided to DNF? The Smoke Thieves was the most recent book that I came close to putting down, but I powered through (much to my own chagrin). Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  16. I really enjoyed reading this blogpost and your view on DNF-ing books. I totally agree with you. I do not DNF books and if I don’t like a book at all, I just begin to skim instead of actually reading, with the hope that the story will get better, haha. I also do feel like adding books which you haven’t finished or only read 20% of, to your Goodreads goal feels a bit like cheating (in my opinion)..

    1. Aww thanks so much! It’s so nice to hear that you feel the same and it’s not just me. Yeah, I know what you mean about skim reading – I don’t often do it but I skimmed the entire second half of Zenith because it was so poorly written and dull. 😛

  17. I honestly admire you for not DNF’ing books. I do DNF, but only if I’m really, really convinced it isn’t going to get better. And before I decide that, I have to read at least 100 pages. It’s my way of making sure I’m able to DNF without any remorse. In my opinion, if a book hasn’t caught your attention by that mark, it simply isn’t really worth it and has little chance of doing it in the next 200 pages.
    I could be wrong, but I haven’t once regretted a DNF. [Truth be told, I only DNF’d three in the past year so there’s that. :)]

    1. Aww thanks Kathy. 🙂 I actually admire you for DNFing because I kind of wish I could decisively do that when I need to. I’d definitely agree with the 100 page mark – if a book is still not ecaptivating you at that point then it’s not really worth your investment. And yet for some reason by mind doesn’t accept that logic. 😛 I’m glad you haven’t regretted any DNFs – it means you made the right choice! 🙂

  18. As a general rule I don’t DNF a book. I think the last one I did was Lolita 3 years ago because I just couldn’t get into the writing style and realised I was only reading it because it was a ‘classic’ and therefore one I ‘should’ get along with.
    The books I’ve struggled with recently are ones that have been recommend to me so I keep going for them and to try and find what they loved about it. And if I still don’t like it by the end we can still have a good conversation about it.

    (Also I don’t like being ‘beaten’ by a book, I am that petty and competitive.)

    1. Wow, three years is a long time to go without DNFing a book, and I can understand why you stopped reading Lolita – I did exactly the same about 8 years ago when I first tried to read it! I think that’s a really good idea about trying to read most of the books you get recommended so that you can still chat with people about them – it also shows that you’ve taken an interest in their rec and even if you didn’t finish it you had a good go! 🙂

  19. I actually totally understand your reasons for finishing books but I am one of those people that thinks life is too short to read books you hate. My rule is 50 pages for something and if I totally hate it by that point, I won’t continue.

    Personally I don’t think it counts for your goodreads if you didn’t finish the book, because how can you put it in your read folder if you haven’t read it? I also don’t review anything that I don’t finish because you’re absolutely right – things could change in 20 pages!

    Really interesting post – although I didn’t do it myself I can relate to little Kate wanting to read the sparkly new book as opposed to what was already being read. I feel more like that now than I did as a child!

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