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?