Solving for Tsundoku: Embrace the DNF

January 20, 2018

 is a series of posts focused on making peace with the piles.


 

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? 😉

34 Comments

  • Ann Marie January 20, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Here, here! I could cry over all of the great books I will never get to in my life because of my unfortunate lack of immortality. I’m really trying to do better with this.

    As a side note, when I read your first paragraph, it reminded me of how we were always taught to finish everything on our carb-laden plates when we were young too. Finishing is not always a good thing!

  • Novels And Nonfiction January 20, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    I recently DNFed Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, which my real life book club had picked for December. I just found it absolutely uninspiring – it droned on and on trying to sound deep but really not saying much. Luckily someone else in my book club agreed and had also abandoned it so I felt validated.

    In general I do also struggle with not finishing books, especially if they’re part of some kind of blog series or post type (like any BOTM books that I don’t enjoy, which are luckily few)

  • hannahpotamus @ peanutbutter&books January 20, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    What a thoughtful, well-written blog post! You brought up a lot of great points about DNF-ing, and it got me really thinking: Why do I even bother to slug through a book when I know I’ll dislike it anyways? A lot of it, in my case, has to do with sheer stubbornness. XD Personally, I can’t stand being bored, so bland/unlikeable MCs are a no. Purposefully malicious content/hateful ideas also make me cringe (though those kinds of books are very rare!). The last book I DNFed was “The Royal Bastards”, and honestly, I regret not giving up on it sooner. I took six months reading half the story. :’)

    When I’m uninterested in a book, I have a tendency to skip all of the scenes and just read the ending. Terrible, I know, but I can’t help it. I guess that’s my own version of DNFing!

  • Grab the Lapels January 21, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Bernadette Dunn is one of the most famous voice actresses out there, but I just can’t stand the way she sounds. I’ve DNF a couple of her audio books. Since I read a lot of small press books, I expect the reading to be challenging in a way that maybe makes me not enjoy the book, but still be interested in it. A lot of small press authors are professors of creative writing in more experimental programs, so it makes sense. But then there are small presses started by a young person who publishers all of his (yes, it’s always his) friends, so you get a lot of creepy misogynistic crap, like writing that a woman enjoyed her own rape, that I don’t finish. If a book is sent to me for GTL, I always finish it.

    • Jackie B January 23, 2018 at 10:04 pm

      YES! Bernadette Dunn is on my “narrators to avoid” list, too! I feel like listening to her read audiobooks is like watching those YouTube videos where the robotic voice is explaining something to you? I just cannot even HANDLE it. Bad narrators are a PERFECT reason to walk away. The question is, do you ever pick up these audiobook DNFs and read a paper/ebook copy instead?

      I totally respect reading all the books you get sent for Grab the Lapels. If I am working directly with an author, I won’t DNF their book. That’s a good point. I *will* give it a 1-star rating. I am not above that… But, if I get an ARC from NetGalley or it’s submitted to me without my consent (does that happen to anyone else?!), I have no qualms about DNF’ing it. Personal connection is just so important to me!

      *Sigh* Here is why I struggle with the world of small press. I want to support these authors, but I’m not great at vetting books before I read them. I don’t want to become hateful because I made poor choices selecting the books I read.

      • Grab the Lapels January 24, 2018 at 12:27 pm

        Hmmm….if you’re talking about which small presses publish books that fit your tastes, that’s a challenge. You could go to their sites, look up their catalogs, and then check the books on Goodreads and see what they’re about and what others have said. If I were you, I would check out Shade Mountain Press. They are small, new, and publish women. You can find them on Twitter and get in contact that way.

        I don’t get book son NetGalley, but I have been sent books I didn’t ask for. If I give a book a good rating, some small presses feel like that’s the green light to send me any and everything. If I don’t want to read it, I put it in a Little Free Library or donate it. (speaking of which, I emailed you at address you provided on your blog!).

        Bernadette Dunn does this weird shaky voice in the audio books I’ve heard her in, such as We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It was like King Koopa shooting fireballs at my ears, so I turned it off and switched to the paperback version. If I’m looking specifically for an audio book, and the narrator is bad, I just quit, usually. I read audio and physical books different, so if I’m on the hunt for one, I don’t pick up the other.

  • Charlie January 21, 2018 at 8:12 am

    I have never DNFed a book. For me, when I start reading a book it’s like making an agreement with the author. If I end up not liking it, I’m much less likely to read other books by the same person. I can’t think of a book that I regret finishing though. I take positive things away even from bad books… sometimes just a better understanding of what works for me as a reader and what doesn’t.

    • Jackie B February 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      You’ve NEVER DNF’d a book?! I am so impressed with that! Not even a book you had to read for school? Required reading gets a lot of people…

      I really love that perspective: “It’s like making an agreement with the author”. I am with you that if I don’t enjoy a book I’m reading I am less likely to read books by the same author. It’s easy for me to DNF when I don’t feel a connection to the author. I know they put their heart and soul into this novel, but am I really the right audience? And I really the right person to appreciate what they are doing? I don’t want to end up hating them and the time they put me through.

      Just out of curiosity, how do you select the books you will read next? Do you take the lessons you’ve learned from reading books you disliked and apply them in any particular way?

      • Charlie February 1, 2018 at 2:22 pm

        I mostly read stuff I know I will like based on known authors or reviews. I’m in a book club, and there are occasionally selections that don’t work for me. I’ll try anything once. If someone chooses an author that I strongly dislike, I would skip that book. It has not happened so far.

  • theorangutanlibrarian January 21, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Ah yes!! I find it so hard to DNF books, even though I’ve read so many books which I didn’t connect to at all (for me it’s the worst when it’s the characters, cos then I *know* I’ll get nothing out of the book) I think my reason for being a finisher is that I remember two books where either the book or the series ended up being so much better- so I hold out hope that every book I’m not enjoying will get better. But I agree with you, life’s too short, so now I realise unless I’ve been told that the book/series gets better *it’s not worth it*. (sorry for the tirade, it’s a serious bookworm problem 😉 )
    If I’m bored, especially if it’s something that’s supposed to be academic, chances are I’ll never end up enjoying it (cos it’s not like literary fiction ends with a massive magical battle- at least if I’m bored in fantasy I know there’s probably something to look forward to). I’ve learnt over time that I never enjoy stream of consciousness books- so any sign of that and I’m instantly done.
    And yes, definitely worth DNFing if skimming starts. I very rarely quit anything for graphic content (I can only think of one tv show I did this over) but I can totally understand why. I think everyone has their limits.

    • theorangutanlibrarian January 21, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Sorry, my comment got cut off, just wanted to finish with sayinf this was a really wonderful post!! I love how you described it and although I still have some guilt over quitting books, I do find it more liberating now that I do it (well I DNF’d two books last year, which was an improvement on the year before 😉 )

  • Zezee January 21, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I used to push myself to complete books too, but these days I’ll give up on a book that doesn’t interest me or is too annoying to bother with. Last year, I forced myself to complete ELdest by Christopher Paolini because I want to reread the series and I know that the books get better. If not for having previously read the series, I probably would have given up on the book.
    I also tried a debut novel, Himself by Jess Kidd, but wasn’t interested in it after just a few pages in so I had to give up on that too.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 21, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    I am a habitual book finisher… I think I can count on one hand the number of books I DNF. It actually isn’t something that I brag about, as I would love to be able to DNF a book. I am not sure why I can’t do it… I guess I feel like I’ve wasted my time that I have in the book if I DNF? Just recently I read a book that dealt with a topic I am sensitive to: child abuse. It was really hard to read, and I did think about DNFing, but I ultimately pushed through. Did I enjoy the book? No because of the content, HOWEVER I don’t regret finishing it because there were aspects I liked about it. I also read a book for book club that was unnecessarily long and took me FOREVER to read, but again I ended up pushing through. It is very rare I regret pushing though. Not saying I ended up enjoying the book, but I like that I gave it a fair shot.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 21, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Yay! A long comment!!!! How did you fix it? I’m having issues commenting on other self-hosted blogs…

  • Helen Murdoch January 21, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    There are so many incredible books out there that I am all in favor of not finishing a book that isn’t working. Sometimes I don’t even know why I am not finishing the book. It’s like the clothes that hang in your closet and you never wear them. Eventually you should just admit you aren’t going to wear them and give them away. Same with a book. If it isn’t working, move on to something that you will love.

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea January 21, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Learning to DNF took me foreva!!!!! Literally. I suffered some terrible guilt (even on nonreview copies) for not following through. But I have made that change and as a reader, I am happier for it 🙂 That whole life is too short thing.. I have to agree with your reasons for DNF’ing. We seem to follow a very similar approach. The hardest is ARCs and review copies. But I remind each requester that I will DNF if a title does not work for me and will submit personal feedback instead of a review. So far this has received a respectable response the few times it has happened. I think they understand the personal feedback is much better than a negative review! Great post <3

  • Ali (@thebandarblog) January 21, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    Love this! Last year I really started embracing the DNF, and I don’t regret it for second! I DNF for a lot of the same reasons, but especially your first two.

    • Jackie B January 28, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      I’m so glad that you embraced the DNF and didn’t look back, Ali!! It’s completely liberating, isn’t it? Can you think of any books you’ve DNF’d lately I should avoid? That’s a great way to cull the to read list!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! That means a lot to me.

  • Annemieke January 22, 2018 at 2:02 am

    I rarely DNF. I always see something in a book that makes me want to read on. That one character for instance. Maybe I should dnf more, I’d be able to get to all those other books sooner, but I don’t feel it gets my reading year down or anything so we’ll see. Maybe in a few years haha.

    • Jackie B January 23, 2018 at 8:27 pm

      I am with you here! I sometimes have that inner battle myself, “Well, this one character is promising.” or “The writing is just so pretty…” are the phrases I ‘hear’ myself saying the most when I’m about to DNF. I’ve just had this debate often enough with myself that I recognize the signs I should stop.

      I look forward to watching you consider DNF’ing and the related benefits/consequences over the next few years! XD

  • Laila@BigReadingLife January 22, 2018 at 11:24 am

    A book I just read this month was soooo close to being a DNF for me – but I had read the other three in the series before it (and very much enjoyed them) so I just wanted to see if it would get better. It didn’t, unfortunately. It was a bummer. I did skip a page or two here and there, because it was just going on and on. It was the last in the Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child. I felt sort of obligated to finish it because of the strength of the other three.

    Anyway, I agree, life is too short not to DNF! If something’s not working by about page 70 I will DNF. Although I do try to finish my book group books, as I like to be able to join in the discussion!

    • Jackie B January 28, 2018 at 11:26 pm

      ! You almost DNF’d the final book in the Neapolitan Series?! Thank you so much for sharing that, Laila! This is the first time I’ve heard anyone say anything remotely like this with any of Ferrante’s novels. Does it feel disconnected with the rest of the series? I DNF’d Sisterhood Forever, the final Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book for a similar reason…

      70 pages is a good mark to make that decision! It’s early enough you don’t feel like you’ve wasted time, but late enough in most books to gain some real traction. How did you come to this decision on page numbers?

      • Laila@BigReadingLife January 29, 2018 at 10:02 am

        Well, for me it just felt like the focus shifted too much to a romantic relationship (which was awful) rather than the core friendship between the two main characters, which had been the foundation of the other three books. But maybe it’s just me!

        70 pages: Nancy Pearl’s “Rule of 50” plus a little extra for good measure. 🙂

        • Jackie B January 29, 2018 at 8:53 pm

          Yes! This is definitely a similar reason to why I DNF’d Sisterhood Forever — the book took a drastic turn from what I loved and expected. It was far too jarring.

          Oh yes! The Rule of 50– I’ve heard of that, plus a different rule which is “read the same number of pages as your age”. I like 70 pages, though. That gives you time to dig into the text and really decide if you are committed or not.

  • Birdie January 22, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    It took me years to feel okay not finishing a book. These days, I find that there are many times I can’t finish a book. I’ve also gotten pickier as I’ve gotten older. My motto is similar to yours, except it’s ‘There are too many good books out there to waste time on the bad ones’. 🙂

    • Jackie B January 23, 2018 at 8:24 pm

      It feels so good to know that I am not alone with this! I agree that I have gotten pickier as I’ve gotten older. But I think that has more to do with my experience and how well-read I am. If I didn’t read as much, or discuss books as often, I don’t think I would be as scrupulous.

      When you DNF a book for a new author to you, do you still consider reading that author’s other works?

      • Birdie January 24, 2018 at 10:00 am

        It depends on the reasons why I DNFed. Sometimes I give them another chance, and sometimes I dont.

  • Lashaan (Bookidote) January 22, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    I have literally never DNFed a book in my life. I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’d rather read the whole thing and be sure of my opinion rather than end it at any point throughout the book. I do not however recommend this way of life to anyone though hahah One reason, which is often used by so many readers, is that there are just too many great books out there that merit our time more than whatever atrocity we’re currently going through. I can’t say if I’ll be able to maintain this way of life for the rest of my life though. Probably the older I get the less tolerant I’ll be and the less patience I’ll have. Loved your post though. Thorough, 100%. Thanks for sharing!

  • Meagan Deaner January 23, 2018 at 7:24 am

    Hi Jackie! Long time no see! I once heard you should read the number of pages that corresponds with your age before you decide whether or not to finish it. I don’t know that it’s the best advice ever, but it did make me think. Also, I’m pretty sure you could look on Etsy at anybody who makes cross-stitches and commission them to make something with your life motto! Because you’re right. Life’s too short to read bad books. 🙂

    • Jackie B January 29, 2018 at 2:35 pm

      Meagan! Oh, wow, it’s so great to hear from you! I hope life is well across the pond.

      I’ve heard that same piece of advice, but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually implemented it. I feel like it wouldn’t work for 10-15-year-olds, however. Can you imagine being 10 and only reading 10 pages of a book before putting it down? I have certainly pushed into the 40-50% range before giving up, though… and well, that’s a bit too much in most cases.

      Have you ever DNF’d a book? If so, what triggered it for you?

      Ooooh. I never thought about Etsy! I will definitely look into that. Wouldn’t that be a lovely cross-stitch to be hanging by my books?! XD

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Meagan!

      • Meagan Deaner February 2, 2018 at 7:06 am

        Yes, honestly my DNF pile is probably a little too long. I can honestly say, with maybe two exceptions, that I never finished a book that was assigned reading in school. I loved reading but was not excited by those books that were chosen for me. Usually what makes me put a book down is boredom, either by subject or writing style. Now that I’m an adult who is not a student, I’m less likely to just stop even if I’m not enjoying it, just to make sure it doesn’t turn around in the last pages!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer January 28, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    I agree with Lashaan! I normally push through simply because I want to be sure of my opinion and actually I totally related to “When I want to present a solid argument against the book.” I have however occassionally DNFed and want to embrace that more if I simply can’t get into a book.this year. Simply because I have too many hyped books to read. Still I will push through if I can think of a slant for a post! <3 Loved reading your reasons though Jackie… I hate being bored especially!

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