Ahhh, the dreaded DNF: Did Not Finish. To many bibliophiles, this is considered blasphemy. To read a book is to make a commitment. Many of us were taught as children to be Finishers, and when you as passionate about something like books you take that seriously. Once you start something, you are committed and you see it through. Right?
Take a moment and reflect on 2017. Was there a book you picked up and read all the way through, even though it was torture? Even though you thought it was poorly written, you didn’t connect with the characters, the plot was ridiculous, etc, etc etc? What about the book didn’t you connect with? Why did you keep reading despite this feeling?
As the piles of books in the rooms of our house have grown into furniture and fine sculptures, as I have grown older, I have changed my philosophy when it comes to reading. I am now firmly in support of DNFing books. When I was younger, I pushed relentlessly through. But my life motto is basically Life is too short to read bad books. (If anyone knows where I can get some awesome art which reads that, let me know! I need it posted in my house for sure)
My philosophy started to change back in 2010, but only in recent years have I been able to articulate it. Here are reasons I will DNF a book:
I find myself bored. It could be the plot, the characters, the writing– it doesn’t matter. Honestly, the book could be too academic or challenging for my little brain. It doesn’t matter; I’m bored. If I find that I’m putting a book down and never interesting in picking it up again, this is a good time to walk away.
I find myself skimming sections and mentally checking out. If I have to go back and re-read a paragraph a few times, even if I’m picking the book up regularly. Sometimes, this is due to my own internal or external distractions. More often than not, it means my mind is telling me I have better things to do with my time.
The book insults me. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Yes, I do book up books which challenge the boundaries of what I know. But it’s one thing to expect it when you pick up the book, it’s another to suddenly be exposed to emotional abuse, unhealthy relationships, sexism, etc. I have read through problematic content, but there is totally a threshold.
The book is graphically violent. I don’t do well with graphic descriptions of… well, anything where the human body is doing something it shouldn’t normally be doing. This could be intentional violence, like fights, or it could be something totally medical. I was once reading Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon on a plane. One scene made me wretch due to the graphic description of what was happening. I shudder to remember this. Unfortunately, I’ve had to DNF quite a few amazing books due to my reactions. I will unfortunately never finish The Girl with All the Gifts.
The audiobook narrator is terrible. Well, terrible might be a bit harsh. But a bad audiobook narrator can ruin amazing books. I recently gave Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer 1 star (review to come soon) because I forced myself to finish listening to an audiobook with a terrible narrator. Everyone I know loves this book. Just thinking about it fills me with passionate negative emotions. Never again.
Despite all these reasons I elect to DNF books, I will be the first to admit I still read books to completion when I shouldn’t. This is also part of my philosophy. Here are the ONLY two reasons I will complete a book I would traditionally DNF:
I am in a situation where I MUST finish the book. This is what happened with Annihilation. I was on a road trip and we chose to listen to this audiobook. David wanted to finish the book, so we kept listening. Other times this might occur could be when I am reading to my nieces and nephews, have required reading assignments for work or school, etc. These are not my favorite moments, but I recognize sometimes this isn’t about me. In these situations, I always try to find something I can learn from the texts.
When I want to present a solid argument against the book. This sounds crazy, I know. Sometimes I need to finish a book so I can more effectively debate the merits of people never reading this book at my book clubs. I find knowing the full picture allows me to formulate better arguments. Plus, when others give me concrete examples of things they enjoyed from this book I detested, I can help point them towards similar (BETTER) books they should be reading instead. You might be surprised how effective this is!
As I mentioned above, life is too short to read bad books. It took me years to reach the current philosophy I have around books, but it’s improved my life significantly. I find I’m no longer emotionally dragged down by these books and I am happier when I read in general. I no longer feel shackled to any books. It’s amazingly liberating.
What do you think?
- What is your philosophy around DNF’ing books? Do you DNF or not?
- When do you select to DNF? When don’t you DNF?
- What was the last book you DNF’d? What was the last book you SHOULD have DNF’d?
- Do you have any life philosophies you want to be cross-stitched? Any suggestions on where I can get mine? 😉