The Sweet Freedom of DNFing

Though I’ve written at least one discussion post on DNFing in the past, it feels like time for a new one, largely because I’m so fully embracing it once again. In fact, I’m DNFing more than ever before. For the last couple of years, I’ve been DNFing about a third as many books as I’ve ended up finishing, but right now I’ve DNFed 40 and read 60, and many of those DNFs are in the last month.

Ironically the reason I’m quitting so many books is because I’m trying to spend less of my time on books I don’t like. There’s some tendency online to view DNFing as a cruel thing, because you’re judging a book on a sampling. In my case, I often DNF in less than twenty pages, so certainly I wouldn’t review based on that amount of information. However, just because you don’t know enough yet to review or form any particularly useful critical opinions, that can be enough time to determine that a particular book doesn’t work for you.

DNFing to me is a deeply subjective thing. Of course all reading is subjective. My boyfriend and I disagree on books because I read for character arcs and the relationships between the characters and he reads for twists and unpredictability. One of my favorite genres is romance, which, while not dismissive, he has little interest in. One of his favorites is mystery, which I generally find deeply boring because who cares if Blandy McWhoever dies honestly.

Still, there’s something that feels even more subjective about reading a couple of pages and going “yeah, no.” I think it’s because it’s so much about the voice or the opening content that rubs you personally the wrong way enough that any interest about the forthcoming plot disappears. Just whoosh gone.

In trying to focus on positivity and make the most of my time this year, I’ve been making a determined effort to stop reading books that don’t hook me early on. If I find myself skimming an otherwise good book, it’s time to DNF. If I’m not invested in the characters or plot after 20-50 pages, it’s time to DNF. If the writing or content consistently irritates me, it’s time to DNF.

About half of my DNFs are books where the narrative voice very decidedly didn’t work for me. Either the voice was too youthful for the protagonist’s age or perhaps too jaded or maybe just too unrealistic. Sometimes I immediately loathe the protagonist when I don’t think I’m meant to. Other times I find the book a bit too generic and unoriginal.

Probably about half of what’s remaining I DNF because I’ve realized it’s just not for me because of the plot/content. Here are some examples:

  • Oh hey this book is about pregnancy. Hahahahaha, no.
  • A southern dialect. Delightful. Pass.
  • Someone just taped their eyelid open. That is so gross and used as actual torture inĀ A Clockwork Orange, and someone is doing this voluntarily? EWWWWWW.

These are all real reasons I set books aside this year. Note, please, that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these books. Other readers love books about pregnancy, thick southern drawls phonetically spelled out, and/or gross stuff that makes me twinge. They’re just not things that basically ever work for me. It’s me, not the book, and I acknowledge that fully.

Another 10% or so of my DNFs are books that I really knew going in I probably wouldn’t like but that I felt compelled to try anyway. The reasons for that are varied, but it happens sometimes. It’s because I didn’t read the blurb well enough or because the blurb was misleading or because I love the author generally so I wanted to try it or because the cover was so damn shiny. I’ve also been known to want to read those books EVERYBODY is reading so I can know what’s going on, even if the book doesn’t interest me.

The remaining fifteen percent are perfectly nice books. I actually liked them, but I wasn’t invested and I didn’t love them enough to spend the time on them. Those authors I’ll keep an eye on, because I think their next book may work for me. These books were probably three star reads, but I’ve not been finishing too many of those lately. (Three stars is still good, but they don’t inspire as much excitement.)

There’s a part of me that does still struggle with guilt at rejecting a book off of so little, but there’s something so freeing about acknowledging my own feelings and giving myself a free pass to move on to the next. Also, I end up reading much more if I’m passionate about the books I’m reading.

Though I used to fear quitting something that was amazing but with a slow start and then having to re-read that slow part when I realized my mistake and came back, I’ve realized this happens with roughly one book a year, so it’s really not as much of a loss as forcing myself through tons of books that aren’t for me.

If you follow me on GR, I mark my DNFs but I’m mostly submitting them without comment, because I generally don’t have much to say on them anyway. In rare scenarios, I am adding a comment. I’ve gone to putting some of my thoughts in those private notes, because I don’t want to slam them on 20 pages, but I do want to be able to look back and remember why I quit that book with the adorable cover. If you have questions, you can always ask, but don’t assume I think all of those books are terrible, because it’s very much not true.

Do you guys DNF? If you do, how much have you DNFed this year?

7 responses to “The Sweet Freedom of DNFing”

  1. I agree with all of this, I’ve found myself DNFing more and more and its usually not the book, its me. I figure I’ve read enough books in my life now to know pretty early on when a book is going to work for me and when it will not and there is just too much on my TBR to force myself to finish something I’m not enjoying. But like you I dont review a book I DNFed cause thats not fair to the book, but I usually put a little comment on GR as to why the book wasn’t working for me specficially.
    Great post!
    Teresa Mary Rose recently posted…Chapter Reveal: Almost Impossible by: Nicole WilliamsMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Time does make it a bit easier. And it’s also nice with review copies to DNF if I’m not feeling something. I used to force myself through everything, because I felt like I owed the publisher a review. Actually, though, they’d probably prefer I not to do that.

      I’ve started making most of my DNF reviews private to me on GR, but I do put a note publicly still if it’s a content warning or something.

  2. I totally agree with all of your above reasoning, and admire your ability to commit so hard to your own enjoyment of books! I keep finding myself slogging through a lot of unworthy reading material, just based on the principles of “I paid money for this,” or “I’m already halfway done,” or just the sheer hope that it might randomly get better halfway through… I should make more of a concentrated effort to stop wasting my time!
    Savannah @ Playing in the Pages recently posted…Getting Bache-Literate: The Need-to-Read List for Fans of ABC’s Bachelor FranchisesMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Oh man, I used to do that too, especially with books I owned. I felt like I should teach myself fiscal responsibility by trudging through one boring read at a time. Though, to be fair, I am actually a lot better about not buying books I haven’t read yet now. Even with reliable authors, you just never know.

      But yeah, your time really is valuable, and if something you’re doing for fun bums you out, that’s probably not the best.

  3. Ashley says:

    Yes! I DNF left and right with zero regrets. I’d rather spend time on books I love. It’s MY time and I don’t want to waste it if I don’t like what I’m reading. Move on!

    I usually DNF if I don’t click with a book right away, which is usually clear if I’m not that into it, keep moving to check my phone, or it just takes me a really damn long time to get through a page.

    Also, despite all that, I’m not opposed to giving books I DNF a second chance months/years later. I like to think I’m pretty good at differentiating between DNF’ing a book because something specific puts me off, and DNF’ing because I’m just not feeling it in that moment. If it’s the latter, I might actually really enjoy the book at a later date. It just wasn’t what I was looking for right then.

    • Christina Franke says:

      Excellent! It’s funny how hard it can be to do sometimes, but I’m always so much happier as a reader if I abandon something I’m not clicking with. Usually, if I have a bad feeling at the beginning, I start reading reviews to see if there’s anything worth sticking around for, and usually it’s pretty clear that there’s not.

      Most of the time, if I think I’ll try a book at a later date, I just push through, though there are a few I’d be open to giving another chance, depending on how friends rate them or later books in the series go.

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