DNFing, a Personal History

Last week, I wrote a post about how I was in the midst of a book slump. Now, a bit less than a week later, I am freed from said slump. I had a productive reading weekend and actually enjoyed it. Completely related to that fact is that I’m up to 55 DNFs for 2015. I DNFed 4 books last week alone.

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I know that mileage varies for readers and their opinions on DNFs. Some people don’t DNF at all. Some, like myself, DNF with wild abandon. I’ve actually been both types of reader, which is why I want to talk about DNFs and how much I love them.

When I was young, I was a super moody reader. I have distinct memories of going to the library with my mom, wandering the aisles and finding nothing. She’d come up to me with this huge stack and be like “seriously, you haven’t found anything yet?” I’d spend more time choosing books to read than actually reading. Since I didn’t really have a social life, I had time to do this, but I was not a fan. That’s probably why I’ve trained myself out of mood reading. It’s funny to look back on that time period, since now I have a to-read list thousands of books long (4587 according to Goodreads, and that’s only one book per series at a time), which doesn’t even account for rereads. Obviously, when I was a young moody reader, I was a big fan of DNFing, though I didn’t have that term at the time. I’d pick a book off my shelf, read a few pages, and go ugh no. At that point, I almost always DNFed with the intention to try the book again later.

gif forgive me if i'm not in the mood vampire diaries tvd
Forgive me if I’m not in the mood to read this book right now.

The moody DNF is something I definitely still do, though not so often since I’ve mostly stopped being a mood reader. Still, sometimes I can tell a book is good but I’m just really not feeling it and decide to come back to it later. When I say I don’t do that often, I mean it: the only time I’ve done that this year was The Invention of Wings by Susan Monk Kidd.

Nothing changed in my reading habits really until I went to college. I expanded into a whole new world of fiction, driven by friends’ recommendations, most notably Katelyn and Leslie. Katelyn was the one who got me into YA, for example. Freshman year, I didn’t read much that wasn’t for school, which I really regretted. This is where I evolved my system of rewards which I still use to this day and sometimes get side-eyed for even by other book people, though obviously it’s changed now. For every chapter of boring school book I read, I’d get to read a chapter of something fun. I did do way more of my school reading once I started doing this. I don’t recall doing much DNFing during this time period, because my books for fun were almost all recommendations from readers with similar taste.

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Eventually, I got into the habit of also reading multiple books for fun, so that, when I hit a stinker, I could use something more fun to pull me through the bad book. However, I hit a wall with this when I ended up reading seven or eight books sometimes, which turned out to be too many. I’m good up to about five, but seven or eight is way slower and starts causing problems keeping the books separate.

This habit of reading tons of books at once so I wouldn’t have to DNF happened at around the same time I started blogging, which also encouraged my insistence on finishing every book I started. Pretty soon after I started my blog, I joined NetGalley and started getting eARCs. I requested everything that sounded the least bit interesting, which meant I ended up with a lot that wasn’t. If you look at the early days of my blog, you’ll see reviews for a lot of weird shit because I had zero impulse control and felt like I OWED the publisher a review. It felt wrong to DNF a review book.

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Me, after finishing some of those weird books I requested

On top of that, I feared that the book might get better. What if I DNFed after reading a bunch of it, only to hear later that the rest of the book was amazing? I’d have to slog through the boring part AGAIN! Certainly there have been books I almost DNFed that ended up being worth finishing: Code Name Verity and Charm & Strange, for example. With the fact that I felt I had to review the books I’d requested and my worry I might unfairly dismiss a good book, I DNFed almost nothing in my first few years of blogging.

gif alice in wonderland bored

Honestly, I’m not sure when I turned that corner and started letting myself quit books. Somewhere along the way, I probably picked up a book so boring that reading a page of it felt like headdesking constantly.

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For a while, it was hard to kick that sense of guilt, but I’m totally over that now. Embracing the DNF has made reading so much more pleasurable. Sure, I’ve probably missed out on a couple of books I would have ended up liking enough to rate 3.5 stars if I’d given them more time, but I don’t think I’ve missed out on any favorites. Plus, since I generally DNF books in under thirty pages, I’m willing to reread what I’ve already read if reviews from trusted bloggers indicate the book got way better.

Most of the books I DNF end up getting abandoned for one of a few reasons: it bored me, I hated the writing style, or the characters were cardboard and I didn’t care. There are other, weirder reasons, but those three probably capture about 90% of my DNFs. If a novel has excellent voice, I don’t DNF it, even if I hate the book. Some books are fun to read but terrible. Though I DNF some terrible books, most commonly they’re ones that I would have ended up feeling meh about in the end, or at least that’s my best guess.

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If I hadn’t DNFed The Dead House, Ash & Bramble, Mirrored, and Less Than Hero, I would not have finished four books this weekend. I might have just finished my audiobook, which I would have listened to even more so I didn’t have to read my print books. Plus, I’ve been looking through the list of 55 books while writing this post, and I’m still happy with the choices I made.

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The only major downside of DNFing is that it brings out the GR trolls. I don’t even rate mine but it still brings out the misspelling idiots and sockpuppets. The DNFing itself is great and helps keep my interest in reading high. Plus, with all the books on my to-read list, I can’t read them all before I die, so why waste time on the ones that aren’t keeping me entertained?

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What’s your relationship with DNFs?

22 responses to “DNFing, a Personal History”

  1. Joanne Levy says:

    Yep–you’re doing it totally right. Life is too short to read books you’re not feeling. And I say this both as a reader and an author. If you’re not loving my book and want to put it down so you can find something else, that’s cool–we can still be friends. You owe me nothing.
    We’re all different and LIFE IS TOO SHORT. There are SO many books out there that will amaze, entertain, and/or educate you in a way that makes you happy to be alive – find them and read them. Nothing else matters.
    Joanne Levy recently posted…Book News!My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Why, thank you! I know it can be hard for authors sometimes, but a DNF is better than a negative review. For all I know, the book might get better or the book might just not be my thing. A lot of my DNFs are books that aren’t aimed as much at character-focused readers. One of my DNFs this year was a Megan Whalen Turner book. She’s a much beloved fantasy author, but she’s really into plot and world building and there wasn’t enough personality to keep my attention. Plot readers obviously will love her books. I’d never say they were bad, just not ideal for me.

      • Joanne Levy says:

        That’s the thing – books are so subjective (I know I’m preaching to the choir). When you think about it, reading is a solitary activity where you are intimately connected to the author and her creations (in a way). When it works, it can be a very strong bond; when it doesn’t work and no connection is made, well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
        I mean, really, if reading wasn’t so personal, we’d have like ten books, everyone would love them all and we’d have nothing to talk about.
        Blech, no thanks. πŸ™‚
        And yeah, some authors are prickly about it, but we are, by nature, sensitive creatures (which helps with the writing). But again, we all have something unique to bring to the table and have to accept that not everyone is going to dig everything.
        Joanne Levy recently posted…Book News!My Profile

  2. I am terrible about deciding to DNF. I’ve only done it maybe 3-4 times that I can remember (at least in my blogging days). There tends to be a tiny part of me that still is a BIT interested to see how it turns out, and wants to keep plugging along. I really wish I had the willpower to DNF more and it’s actually one of my goals for blogging/reading this year. If I don’t like it, STOP READING IT.
    Lauren @ Bookmark Lit recently posted…Top Ten Tuesdays #56: Fall TBRMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I think blogging does this to most people for a while. Since you start getting books for review, it feels sort of rude not to read them, but 1) there’s just too many to read them all and 2) I think everyone involved would prefer you DNF if you want to rather than review negatively. I mean, I can’t speak officially, but I suspect that’s the stance of most publicists.

      Once you’re in the habit of not DNFing, it’s hard to break though. It took me probably a year to really get comfortable with it once I’d started DNFing again.

  3. lissa says:

    I tried to finish even if I have to skim the book to get to the end but really, if I can’t finish a book, I just leave it at that, what is the use of trying to finish something you don’t really want to? it’s like you’re being force to eat food you know you already hate. so why the fuss?

    anyway, hope you have a lovely day.
    lissa recently posted…Things I learned from doing the ‘Get to know your fellow blogger’ Q&A seriesMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yup! I’m very much on team read what you want, so if people don’t want to DNF, that’s totally fine, but, if all you want is to quit, DO IT. Sometimes I really want to read the terrible books because they’re fun and awful, so I totally still do. It’s the boring terrible ones that have to go.

      Hope you have a lovely day as well!

  4. Joann Downie says:

    Oh my god, I LOVED this post, as I just DNFED 4 books in the past week!! I get my paperbacks at my library,3/$1, so I have a nice TBR pile, however, I loved reading this because I dont feel so bad for not reading those 4. Its a shame we cant trade our DNFS, someone else might love them!!

    • Christina Franke says:

      Whoa! You’ve also had a busy DNF week! Oooh, yeah. I just cleaned out my bookshelves and got rid of a bunch that I purchased at Goodwill and library sales. Back before I had Goodreads, some of my impulse purchases were not the best choices. :-p

  5. Bekka says:

    I have a pretty similar relationship with the DNF, except for the guilt over non-review books. I used to push myself to finish my review titles and I ended up giving out a loooot of negative reviews in my early blogging days. But now, I’ll DNF those with no problem at all. I’m much more interested in keeping myself happy than in keeping the publishers happy. This has lead to a lot more positive reviews which I used to find suspect on other blogs but *shrugs* I don’t even care.

    Like I said on twitter, I should definitely start keeping close track of those books I DNF. There are a handful I have marked as ‘read’ on GR because of the actual amount of time I spent pushing myself to read them (usually a week+ warrants a ‘read’ designation.) But other than that, I don’t keep track since I DNF so quickly and without abandon. Maybe in 2016 I’ll add DNF to my spreadsheet.
    Bekka recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBRMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      To clarify, I don’t feel that guilt anymore. I’m actually very careful in accepting review books these days to say that “I’m happy to try it” or something similar, because I’m not necessarily going to finish it. Not am I necessarily going to review it in full. I’ve been DNFing like a champ for the last year or so. Before that it was a bit more rare and in extreme cases.

      A lot of my DNFs tend to be the unsolicited books that arrive. If they sound somewhat interesting, I open them up to try, because you never know when something will turn out to be a surprise hit (Truest was one of these). Most of them aren’t though. Haha.

      SAME! I used to judge the all-positive blogs, but I’m so much more positive now because I’m DNFing so much. Though I did post a .5 star review last month, so I definitely still have teeth.

      You should! I sort of obsessively track my reading data. I have a DNF shelf. GR sorta sucks for DNFs though because, unless you give them a read date, the shelf isn’t sorted. I use Excel for tracking DNFs (well, actually I have two spreadsheets and they track more than just DNFs but that’s one page). Spreadsheets are fab, and I’d recommend the DNF tab. It’s fun to know!

  6. I changed my habits of DNFinishing too on the last year or so, I used to try really hard to finish all the books that I started but since I’m a big mood reader this usually turned out badly because I would be stuck with a fantasy book when I really wanted to read a contemporary one. Right now I have two shelves for this “DNF” which are the ones I have 0 interest on picking it up again and “to get back to” which are my DNF moods but I’m kind of getting overflowed with the to get back to shelve ugh.
    Deyse @ Bound with Words recently posted…Top Ten Books On My Fall TBRMy Profile

  7. I’m pretty sure this post makes you my hero. I am so bad at DNFing, I don’t even know where to begin. I started a book that 1) I am already rolling my eyes at, and 2) Trusted blogger friends have read and rolled THEIR eyes at and yet… I am still reading it. Why? No idea! It isn’t that I think I owe anyone a review (because it would be VERY easy to explain the problems I did have with the book and why I stopped in a brief snippet to the publisher), it’s more some kind of twisted stubbornness I think? Which is probably even more ridiculous! It’s funny because the books I HAVE DNFed have been review books that sounded quite promising and were so boring I wanted to throw them across the room.

    I think another reason I don’t DNF (and this is REALLY ridiculous) is because I hate that I have wasted however many pages, and then have to start from scratch with a new book. Like I am in some kind of strange reading competition with myself. I think I need a Book Counselor. Do they have those? They should. For book hangovers, character deaths, book boyfriends not being real, and having strange reading competitions with oneself.
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted…FALLing Into My TBRMy Profile

  8. Pamela says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve done two posts so far THIS MONTH on books I’ve DNFd, and while it’s freeing (timewise and, I dunno, brainwise), I still feel that tiny twinge of guilt, or that twist of uncertainty. Like you, I also DNFd Ash and Bramble, and I keep hearing how good it is, etc., but it just didn’t connect with me.

    I used to never not finish a book (mostly when I was in my teens) because I had this weird idea that it would make me a better person if I suffered through it. Ah, the inherited Polish guilt complex! πŸ™‚
    Pamela recently posted…Mini-Review: Rocket Raccoon Vol. 2: StorytailerMy Profile

  9. Kayla Beck says:

    I used to feel guilty about DNFing, but it’s my new favorite. I’m still trying to get myself away from being a snobby reader, and I’m reading more since I’m letting myself throw the truly crappy stuff down. I’ve also whittled myself down to almost no requests from pubs, so there’s really nothing making me read anything at all.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (121): Kingdom of Ashes by Rhiannon Thomas #waitingonwednesday #wowMy Profile

  10. R says:

    God I hate when someone gets pissy because someone gives a book they didn’t finish 1 star on Goodreads. Like, the book was bad or boring enough that THEY DIDN’T WANT TO FINISH IT. How is that worth anything but a 1 star?

    When I, or anyone else, literally do not want to finish reading your book, for any reason, that means you did not do your most basic job as an author. You deserve no kudos, no sympathy. You failed at the most fundamental and important level.

    A 1 star DNF review is just as telling to fellow readers as if I give 5 stars to a book I read cover to cover in one sitting, and I don’t understand why so many people consider it mean spirited or cheating.

  11. Rebecca says:

    I never used to DNF, but I do now. And I’m glad! I can’t believe that I used to read to the end of books I wasn’t enjoying. Who has time for that? Not I! It wasn’t until I started blogging that I even started to DNF. I did it yet still felt guilty. Now, I do it pretty easily. If I’m not clicking with a book or it’s dragging, I move on. So many books, so little time – TRUTH.
    Rebecca recently posted…Dive Into Diversity: How Diverse Are Your Shelves? (Bookshop Ed.)My Profile

  12. […] Christina @ A Reader of Fictions shares her personal history with DNFing […]

  13. Sam says:

    This line, “I don’t even rate mine but it still brings out the misspelling idiots and sock puppets.”, made me laugh! Too funny. I am not a blogger, so I have more freedom when selecting my reading, therefore, I have no DNFed too often. I can relate to the mood DNF. I started Rooms by Lauren Oliver, and I just was not in the proper headspace to read it. It was not bad, it was just too sad and depressing for me at that moment. I think I will revisit it though.

  14. Lyn Kaye says:

    I am confused as hell why the trolls target DNF books. That is one of my biggest issues – someone wants to come along and demand that you finish it. I have seen a person on a 2 star rating, who rated the book 2 stars also, ask the reviewer to finish the book. The HELL?

    This is such a great discussion. I understand your pain – it was hard for me to find a book to read, and I felt like my earlier years was spent looking for my niche instead of reading.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Garden Gazette September Wrap-UpMy Profile

  15. […] “DNFing, a Personal History” @ A Reader of Fictions: Over the past few years, I’ve gotten a bit better at DNFing, and it’s probably due to people like Christina who inspire me and remind me that life is too short to spend time reading a book I’m just not that interested in. […]

  16. Katrina says:

    Hmm…interesting post. I don’t DNF because although I do see the ‘life is too short’ side of the argument, I like to be able to process the whole book before giving it the review I think it deserves. I don’ mind that I read at a slower pace because of it either. Also, I’m sad to hear you temporarily DNFd ‘The Invention Of Wings’ as I adore that book! I hope you find the time and mood to finish it at some point, Kidd does such a great job πŸ™‚

    Katrina @ Chased By My Imagination
    Katrina recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: My picks for ‘Bookish Habits I Want To Quit’.My Profile

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