The DNF choice

The DNF Choice.pngThis is currently the big debate among the book community. Should we DNF books? Short for ‘Did Not Finish’ it’s dividing readers, in a rather ridiculous way. I think we need to talk about it more, in a reasoned and respectful manner, to have a wide range of opinions out there. How else can we make informed choices about our own reading habits?

Well, the obvious thing that needs to be stated right out of the gate is that it’s a choice, and there’s no right or wrong answer. If you force yourself through a book, that’s no better – or worse – than choosing not to continue. And how can there be any blanket statements made on the unique situation of each reader and book combination?

I do both. I do lean more one way (not DNFing) than the other, but I let myself stop a book when the time is right for me.

The major caveat here is that I’ve become very good at predicting whether I’ll like a book or not. This means that I usually pick up books that are three stars of more. March 2019 was an off month for me, but it’s rare to have so many average to terrible books in one go. This means I’m only faced with the DNF/continue question a handful of times a year.


There’s a limited amount of reading time and more books than any reader could ever finish – even if they did nothing but read. Supposing they had a super power that allowed them to forgo sleep.

If time is so precious, why bother reading something you don’t enjoy? This is the main reason I see touted, and makes perfect sense – because it’s my reason.

When I DNF, it’s always with books I physically can’t force myself to read. Even after multiple attempts, I still haven’t hit 20 or 30 pages, I will call it a day with that book. I’ve given it several chances, but it isn’t inciting me.

If I don’t, I fall into a reading slump. That’s something I would really rather avoid at all costs. I love books, love the escapism of the worlds and myriad of tales out there, and the idea of not reading is horrible.

I only read one physical book at a time, because I prefer to be immersed in a story and not flit between them. I also find it hard to juggle multiple books. It’s just how I read.

If I haven’t chosen DNF (when I really should), I find things to do other than read that book. So I don’t read, and I start to feel terrible about not reading – and about my looming TBR.

I probably could have had a much better reading experience in March if I’d DNFed half a dozen books, rather than pushing through. I wouldn’t had felt so drained after reading, so disheartened about the prospect of my next book – which probably didn’t help matters. Who knows what I could have read if I’d let myself DNF more. So, in the coming months, I’m challenging myself to DNF if I’m struggling with a book.

For me, assigning a book to DNF (and soon after a charity shop) isn’t a simple matter of putting the book away for me. I always ask myself why I couldn’t get into the book. What was it I couldn’t stand about the book? How did it not live up to whatever promise made me buy it? It’s the best way I find of feeling like buying the book was worth it.

The Guilt

The big problem stopping me from DNFing? Guilt. Plain and simple, and I know I can’t be alone in this.

I feel terrible about giving up on a book – like I’ve done something wrong. I’ve bought the book – so I ought to read it. An author’s poured so much time and effort into the book – why should I decide it’s not for me without reading it all?  It can feel so disrespectful.

I also feel like DNFing makes me a lesser reader someone, that I’m being sneered on because I couldn’t get to the end of a book. It’s so wrong – and anyone who tells a reader this should be ignored or corrected. It’s such a harmful concept. There’s no such thing as a wrong way to read.

This feeling only gets worse if the book is a fan favourite. I start wondering what’s wrong with me that I didn’t like the book. Clearly it’s beloved, and often has won many awards. So I must be doing something wrong.

I struggled with this a lot when it came to THE FIFTH SEASON. It’s a hugely successful book, with several prizes under its belt and a devoted fanbase.

But I just could not get past page 15. Why? Second person narration. I don’t do well with this voice, and there’s nothing wrong in this. Unfortunately, it took me a while to realise this. I put off the decision again and again, trying to get past page 15 again and again, until I let myself let go of this book.

This happens with other books, and I usually feel worse and worse each time I wonder if I should give up. Many times this guilt has stopped me from DNFing, when it probably would have been wiser to just stop.

Taking Lessons

Yes, I know it’s rather horrible to make this a verb, but it’s commonly accept. Such is the evolution of language.

With at least 50% of books that reach the ‘should I DNF?’ stage, I push through. I probably shouldn’t, but I do. As well as the guilt, there are are other factors at play.

As a book blogger, I don’t feel I can give a full review without finishing a book. There might be a time and a place for writing a post of why you couldn’t finish a specific book. Personally, I haven’t reached that stage yet. If I’m going to write a about a book, I have to finish the whole thing. I doubt I’d write a coherent and fully-realised explanation on only a few pages.

The other reason I often push on is to take as many lessons as I can from what I read. As well as a reader, I also write. I would love to be an author some day, and the consistent piece of advice to aspiring authors it to read and learn all you can from those books. In March 2019, I struggled with several books. The biggest question I came away with how do to handle multi-POV well. It’s a particularly pertinent question to me, as I’m currently writing a book with multiple perspectives.

My idea to write a short opinion piece on DNF has backfired and now I’m left with this essay. For those of you who got this far, thank you for letting me talk about something I’ve been struggling with.

Do you struggle to DNF when you know, deep down, it’s probably the best thing for you?

For those of you wonder, yes – those teddy bears sitting among the books? Mine when I was little. I just couldn’t bear to let them go so I stuck them on the shelves.

Ugh, I swear that pun wasn’t intended.

One thought on “The DNF choice

  1. I’ve only ever given up on 2 books in my time – Trainspotting as I struggled with the dialect, and Ulysses by James Joyce. I’ve had one or 2 others that I’ve forced myself to finish, but on the whole I think I’ve been pretty lucky with my reading “career”. I certainly wouldn’t feel guilty these days about DNF-ing. Like you said, there are too many wonderful books out there to waste time on one that just isn’t for you.


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