discussion: Why I Don’t DNF

Today I thought I’d just write up some thoughts that have been on my mind recently, and explain why I tend to not DNF books, even if I’m not enjoying them.  Before I begin, I just want to say: if you DNF, I think that is great, and I’m not trying to convince you to change your ways, or that my approach is better.  Neither way is ‘better’.  But I do find that this is something I have to justify pretty frequently among fellow readers who like to point out that ‘life is too short to read books you don’t like,’ and believe me, I get it.  But maybe now you will get a better idea of where I’m coming from!

I find that there are 3 main reasons I don’t DNF.

1. Books get better.

Admittedly this is not the majority of cases, but the few times it is true, it makes it worth it.  I don’t click with all of my favorite books from the very first page.  Sometimes you need to invest in a book before there’s any kind of payoff.  For me, that’s what I sign up for when I read.  I don’t expect every book to grip me from page 1, because the nature of so much literary fiction as well as certain types of genre fiction is that it builds slowly.  A few examples of where this was true for me:

30688435Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: For the first third of this book, I can’t say I was getting much out of it.  I thought the writing was overly flowery, I thought the characters were hard to connect to, I thought the magical realism was jarring and heavy-handed.  If I were wont to do so, I would have given up on this book before the halfway point.  But I decided to stick with it, and I ended up adoring it.  The writing style eventually won me over, and I thought it was perfectly suited to the story.  The two main characters weren’t particularly noteworthy on their own, but the relationship between them was this novel’s main asset.  And the magical realism ended up being an allegorical choice that I really connected with.  This book is stunning, but it takes some time to get used to.

23437156Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Everyone recommended this to me, including my friends who know that I don’t enjoy YA fantasy, so I finally decided to give it a shot.  And for the first 20%, I did not like a single thing about it.  There were too many characters, too many made up vocabulary words I was supposed to care about memorizing, and too little plot.  But then I settled into it and ended up loving it – it’s fun, engaging, and the characters are some of the best developed I’ve ever ever read.  There’s just a bit of perfunctory world building that needs to be taken care of before we can get to the good stuff.

19161852The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I read this one for a book club, and, like Six of Crows, it was off to a rocky start.  I was overwhelmed, to say the least, by the amount of times I needed to flip to the glossary at the back of the book to make sense of anything.  It also begins with a chapter written in second-person, which isn’t my favorite stylistic choice, to say the least.  But it all begins to make sense – even the second-person POV – and I was so glad I didn’t give up on this book at the first sign of difficulty, as Jemisin is an incredibly skilled writer and her world building is beautiful and completely worth your time and investment.

2. I rarely regret having read a book.

I mean a number of things by this, so here are just a couple of examples:

3774496War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: There was hardly anything I enjoyed about this book, but I read it months ago and have since moved on with my life, and now, how cool is it that I’m able to say I’ve read War and Peace?!  I think it was 100% worth it.

 

23513349milk and honey by Rupi Kaur: I knew from the very first page that this poetry collection wasn’t going to be for me.  But it only took about half an hour of my life to read, and since this is a book that everyone’s read and everyone has an opinion on, I like to be able to join in that conversation.  I think it’s valid to read some books purely out of that sense of FOMO.  On occasion.

 

30212107Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: I think when we’re reading for fun, we have a tendency to reject books that require a lot of effort on our parts.  And I totally get that – especially if you’re still in school or raising a family, who wants to read a book that turns their brain to sludge in their free time?  But for me, I’m not still in school and I’m not raising a family.  I have free time, and I don’t have a lot of intellectual stimulation in my life since I graduated a few years ago.  Days Without End challenged me, and I ultimately was not rewarded for the energy I put into reading this book since I didn’t particularly like it at all, but it was an intellectually rigorous book and I did learn a lot from it.  I also felt like I was able to fully articulate my problems with it in my review, and with each review I write I’m striving to improve.  Any book that helps me become a better reviewer, in however small of a way, is definitely worth my investment.

31624992Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen: Listen, I’m not going to pretend to be a totally altruistic person who’s willing to let any book prove its worth to me.  I hate-read this book, occasionally reading passages out loud to my mom and my friend that I found particularly hilarious, and it was fun.  This book was pretty awful in a ‘how did this get published’ kind of way, and ended up going on my worst books of 2017 list, but anything that can make me laugh, however unintentionally, isn’t a total waste of my time.

3. It’s a personal project.

Contrary to everything you’ve just read in this post, I must admit something about myself: I’m a quitter.  If I’m not perfect at something right away, I’ll give up on it before I give it a proper chance.  I get lazy.  I get bored.  A very abridged list of things I have abandoned, or have convinced myself that one day I will un-abandon: learning the piano, learning the guitar, horseback riding, teaching myself German.

This is not something I have ever liked about myself, and I want to get better.  For me, finishing books is a small but significant way for me to fight the overwhelming part of myself that says ‘why bother, who cares, what’s the point.’  Finishing a book you hate may seem daunting, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a book.  It’s just a few hours of your life.  It’s a hurdle I’ve proven I’m able to jump over, time and again.  And I like that feeling.  I like pushing myself through something that’s challenging and saying ‘see, I’m capable of finishing something.’  So maybe it seems like reading bad books is a waste of my time, but I actually think it’s a good mental health exercise for me, which is why I’m going to keep it up.

So, what do you guys think?  Do you DNF?  Why or why not?  I’d love to hear everyone else’s opinions about this, particularly your reasons!

41 thoughts on “discussion: Why I Don’t DNF

  1. These are all excellent points! I hardly ever DNF either, and on top of the reasons you gave, for me it also comes from the simple fact that if I dislike a book, I feel I have the clout to bemoan it if I’ve read it to the end. It’s like, “I’ve suffered through this, I’ve earned the right to say whatever I want about it,” if that makes any sense.

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    • YES absolutely. Also if I were being totally honest I would have added #4 – I love writing negative reviews. If I’m going to spend any amount of time with a terrible book why would I want to deprive myself of that pleasure??? But yes, I agree, I’m really careful about not saying anything against books I haven’t read all the way to the end. I mean, I don’t even make fun of 50 Shades since I haven’t read it 🤷🏻‍♀️ Though this philosophy makes it difficult when I want to complain about Hemingway and Franzen, since I haven’t actually read any of their books either.

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  2. I sometimes force myself to finish some books that I’m not enjoying, because I honestly feel that they may get better. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
    However, when I lose all hope and have that feeling that a book isn’t for me at all, I DNF. I used to feel guilty about it, but then I started to actually feel relieved to be able to pick up a better book for me instead!
    But we are all different readers and there is no wrong or right way of doing things in this regard!

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    • That’s a good point about it varying on a book-to-book basis. I tend to think that people either DNF all books they don’t enjoy or else they push themselves through everything, but you’re probably in the majority in picking and choosing which books seems like they’ll be worth your effort. It’s a good strategy!

      Totally agreed that DNFing is nothing to feel guilty about, and that we should celebrate our reading differences!

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  3. I don’t think I‘ve ever DNFed a book and sometimes I‘m kinda annoying myself with that, because I could be reading a better book? But at the same time, I‘m happy and I love the points you made. Sometimes it takes a while to love a book and even if it really wasn’t for me at all, it still helped me in some way (be that way that I won’t ever pick up a book by the same author). 😅

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    • Oh I FEEL THIS. I get so mad at myself too sometimes but I feel like every time I express a ‘why am I making myself suffer’ sentiment I get 10 comments telling me to just DNF, and then I’m like no, I’m miserable but I’m happy, just let me complain. And that’s another good point about authors – if I’m not liking a book by a popular author I feel like I need to finish it to REALLY make sure the author isn’t for me.

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      • “I‘m miserable but I‘m happy” is probably the truest thing I’ve ever heard when it comes to not DNFing books lmao 😂
        I‘m really glad I‘m not alone with this, though 💕

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      • Same!!! I wrote this post partially hoping to get some insight into the factors that go into DNFing, but mostly to figure out if I was totally alone in this. I’m glad I’m not!!!

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  4. You bring up a lot of good points. I don’t DNF lol. I don’t feel comfortable having a certain book opinion if I never finished it. Besides I like to hope and believe that the book gets better. Sometimes I suffer through it but at least it’s over and done with, you know? Relief!

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    • Agreed! It’s this weird double standard because I don’t judge other people for DNFing, but for me I feel like I’m not ‘allowed’ to have an opinion on a book unless I finish it. And yes, the relief at finishing makes the whole thing worth it!!

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  5. Loved reading your take on this! I’ve started DNFing only in recent years, really. It was just a necessity for me after being too frustrated and not enjoying the way I was spending my time when I thought there was something better suited to me out there. But I like seeing your side of it, it makes a lot of sense to me!

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    • That totally makes sense! I think it also helps that I have a lot of free time to read – I imagine if my life were more hectic I might reevaluate my non-DNF policy and feel like this isn’t the best use of my time. But as it is now, I’m able to read quite a lot so the books I hate that I force myself to finish are definitely the minority.

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  6. I relate so much to your 3 reasons for not quitting a book! I remember only one book that I did not finish reading, as usually I am an optimist and hope that at some point I will start liking it. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it does not happen … But there is something to be learnt from every reading experience, that’s for sure! 🙂

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    • Yes, exactly! ‘There is something to be learnt from every reading experience’ sums up my whole point perfectly, I think. Even the books I really hate, I do get SOMETHING out of reading them which makes it worth it. I’m glad I’m not alone with this!

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  7. I agree that some books take some getting into, but if I HATE a book I’m not going to finish it. Period. I’m on board with the ‘life is too short’ philosophy. I have the problem that I’m constantly being indecisive and switching between different books, so I’ve been trying to make a rule for myself that unless I actually hate a book, I finish it. Excellent post, I can tell you put a lot of work into it. 🙂

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    • The ‘life is too short’ philosophy is something I absolutely understand, and I can see myself potentially switching over to that camp some day. I also read multiple books at once and admittedly it does make DNFing tempting at times, like when there’s one book I really hate and I don’t pick it up for weeks. I have yet to succumb to the temptation though! (Now I feel like I’m just jinxing myself.)

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      • My dad, on the other hand, often says that if he isn’t sucked into a novel within the first chapter, he’ll put it down. I think quitting after one chapter is a little bit premature but it works for him. 🙂

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      • I’m glad it works for him! That is definitely way too soon for me, sometimes I don’t know if I like a book until I’m halfway done. It’s interesting how everyone’s reading styles vary so drastically.

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  8. Love this post! I’ve been struggling with this lately. I never DNF’d because of your first reason: books get better. I’ve read so many books that started out slow or I didn’t necessarily like in the beginning, but as I kept reading I grew to love and enjoy them. But lately I’ve been telling myself it’s okay to DNF because there are SO MANY books I want to read, and why waste my precious time reading ones I don’t like? I think it’s because I’m in college now, and I rarely have time to read, so when I do I want to be reading something I like. (And wow I just realized how long this comment is oooops!) 🙂

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    • Oh no worries, I like the discussion! And I totally get both of your conflicting mindsets here. I feel like especially with literary fiction you really need to invest some time in it before there’s any kind of payoff – I have long ago accepted that this is what I like to read and that it isn’t always going to be engaging from page 1.

      But also, I am always AMAZED when I find out bloggers are in college, because this is such an intense and time consuming hobby. I’ve always loved to read but in one year at college I think I read a grand total of 3 books, because it’s so difficult to find the energy to read for fun when you’re already reading for class all day. So, if I were a reader and a book blogger in college, I probably would have been A LOT more lenient about DNFing. There are only so many hours in the day.

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      • Oh man, I can’t imagine how much worse it is as an English major with your amount of required reading! Do your reading tastes overlap much with your courses, or are the books you have to read for school a slog?

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      • It honestly depends on the class- last semester I took Modern British Lit so I got to read some Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood, which was nice! but overall not much overlap, thus the pressure to DNF books I’m not liking. I try to get myself to read at least the first 50-60%, as a rule, and I’ve found that it works for me!

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  9. Okay, first of all, I love this post. Second, I totally get your decision not to DNF (also I respect the hell out of you for trying to only judge books you have finished). I am a half-DNFer – I do DNF books but I am never 100% sure I won’t pick them back up at some other point. My Goodreads shelf is not for nothing called “will probably not finish” – because I don’t know, but giving up completely on a book doesn’t feel quite right. I might be a different reader in a year’s time! Eternally optimistic I guess. For the same reason I don’t like to give books away.

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    • I love the ‘will probably not finish’ shelf, I think that’s a great philosophy. I have an ‘accidental DNF’ shelf that has a couple of books I… accidentally DNF’d back in 2012 when I was in a weird head space and I kept picking up books and not having the energy to finish them. I snapped out of it a few months later and then realized I didn’t remember anything that had happened in any of those books and I should probably just re-start them. But I fully intend to finish them all one day and get rid of the shelf once and for all. With your probably won’t finish books, if you do end up going back to them would you start over or pick up where you left off? Or would it depend?

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      • I have those accidental DNFs as well – sometimes I forget to even add the books to my currently reading shelf and then remember ages later that I started them.
        I would definitely start from the beginning because if I really am a different reader then, I would probably get more out of reading the complete book. Also memory issues. For example, I rage quit War & Peace around 150 pages before the end. I know I was angry because somebody died (possibly the only one I liked?) but I don’t even remember who it was; or much of anything of the plot (except that the plot is thin, the moral is thick). If I ever get back to this, I would have to start from the beginning. I will get back to it because bragging rights and because then I would have read everything Tolstoy has written (I think).

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      • I’m an ‘add as currently reading after the first paragraph’ kind of girl which I’m always afraid will trap me into reading shitty books, but I’m also obsessive about keeping my Goodreads up to date.

        I cannot BELIEVE you quit War and Peace 150 pages from the end, that is both tragic and hilarious. I can’t believe you’ll have to start over with that behemoth. Honestly ‘plot is thin, moral is thick’ is pretty much the entire book, so you’ve probably remembered it better than you think. And it’s the only Tolstoy I’ve read so far and I definitely want to give him another shot, especially with Anna Karenina, but I need some time away from him.

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      • I usually only add books on Goodreads when I am good chunk in because otherwise I feel like I committed to the book even if I might not be in the right mood.

        It is mostly tragic to be honest because I was not enjoying the book all that much to begin with and I should just pushed through it. Because, man, that book is LONG, and light on plot.
        I did love Anna Karenina when I read it ten years ago – but that was ten years ago and I am now a very different reader. And older. So I would really hear your thoughts. But I totally understand the needing time away from Tolstoy.

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      • That’s probably the way to go but I can’t help myself. I should delete the Goodreads app from my phone.

        Ugh, War and Peace was such a slog. I do not envy you having to start over. I’m really intrigued by Anna Karenina though, I’ve heard good things and it seems like the plot is going to be quite interesting, which will be a welcome change from War and Peace.

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  10. What a great post! I never DNF either, though occasionally I do put a book down for a long time before finishing it. I agree with all of your reasons, but primarily I finish every book because I don’t feel entitled to have an opinion on it without reading the whole thing. (Occasionally it bothers me that DNFers can rate and review unfinished books with such confidence…) In the past, I’ve read entire series that annoyed me because I was so committed to finishing the entire story, but I had to draw the line. Life IS too short. I do still finish individual books, though, and I would add that one of the reasons I push through “bad” books is that I find it helpful for writing; in my experience, writing is largely a process of elimination, learning what to do by learning what NOT to do. So I do feel that I get something out of every book I finish, no matter how I felt about it.

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  11. I try not to DNF mostly because I think it might get better – that happened with SoC for me too actually 🙂 I was bored at first and was worried that I was going to be the odd one out, but since so many people loved it I stuck with it and now it’s one of my favourite books 🙂 I do sometimes DNF though, if I really can’t get through it, but then I put it back on my shelf to try it another day.
    I also sometimes don’t DNF simply because I’m curious lol

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  12. Uh, I don’t think I ever – in my entire life – DNF. That’s not some boast, but stems from a simple fact that I research for ages (maybe even months) before I pick up a book to read. That means that I know I will love the book, and at the very least – like it somewhat. But then, I also think any book deserved to be read to the finish, unless the talk is of some horrendous things in circulation which should not have been published in the first place lol

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    • I tend to be a good judge of my own taste as well, but I also read a lot of books I have a feeling I’m not going to like, simply because I’m curious and I want to give them a chance to prove me wrong. Which is rarely what ends up happening. But when it does happen, it validates my tendency to read outside my comfort zone. I also believe books deserve to be read all the way through – it feels unfair to base an assessment off only a partial view of the book.

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