Is a DNF a reflection on the reader?

Not only has it been a bad week in football for me, I’ve noticed something recently that has me even more disturbed. As Aussie Rules football is the number one sport in the West, it’s got to be something big. I’ve found that I’ve been discarding books at an alarming rate of late. I swear, if you looked up ‘DNF’ online, you’d find my picture. My worry was confirmed when I checked out my Goodreads shelf for books that I could not finish – over half the books there are from this year (considering my account is 8 years old, that’s a lot).

Can you let the sun go down on a book without knowing its ending?

So where am I going wrong? Or, is it not me?

I tend to take pride in the fact that I’m pretty darn good when it comes to choosing books I’ll enjoy. You’ll note that most of the books I review get good ratings from me and I’d like to think that’s part of it. (Plus, it absolutely kills me not to finish a book I’ve spent my hard-earned cash on). Even if I finish a book but don’t particularly love it, there’s something encouraging to make me finish. It might be something as obvious as gorgeous prose or the hope that the horrible character gets their comeuppance. But a did not finish? That’s kind of a failure on my part.

Growing up, we’re conditioned to finish our dinner, finish our homework, finish the dishes. In high school and university, we have to finish the set texts even if we just want to throw them out the window because they don’t speak to us. So perhaps by adulthood, I’ve blindly accepted that finishing a book is like vacuuming – you have to do it. And when you don’t, there’s a niggling sensation that you haven’t quite achieved your goal.

I freely admit I’m a sucker for a good blurb and agree that they’re there to entice you to read the book. But my DNFs lately look like they should have been something I would enjoy – for example, Gothic undertones and a publishing setting (not together – that would have been awesome). Maybe I’m lured by internet hype. Maybe I just made a dumb decision.

Maybe it’s not entirely my fault. My two most recent DNFs were slow to start. For one, at 39% I was still getting background on the characters and I was jumpy to see what was going to happen. The other was 26% before I got fed up with reading every sentence twice and then stopping to put it in context. I wouldn’t say I was only a plot driven reader or one that lack comprehension. Both those percentages were significant investments of time – three to four nights of reading! So what was I to do? Turn to Goodreads for the final judgement – is it me, or is it the book?

Interestingly for these last two books, they fit in to two categories: the reader who adored it and the reader who loathed it. Both of them had more than their fair share of 5 stars and 1 stars. So it seemed that I wasn’t in the minority, which was a relief. A lot of people had similar problems and it’s always soothing to know someone else is in the same boat. But I still kind of feel bad (which is why I’m not naming the books) for not finishing them. On the other hand, life is too short for books that aren’t your thing!

How do you feel if you don’t finish a book? Do you feel guilty? Do you name the book on your blog/social media?

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21 thoughts on “Is a DNF a reflection on the reader?

  1. Hi Sam I do feel guilty about not finishing a book so much so that no matter how bad it is I read it until the bitter end. Sometimes it improves and sometimes it gets worse. I am completely unable to give bad reviews or name the title because I don’t wish to hurt the author’s feelings. What a wimp I am!
    I do think life is too short to read bad writing so therein is the conundrum!

    1. No, you’re not a wimp! I don’t like to name the title (as you might have guessed) because somebody has spent a lot of time and effort and who am I to trash it? I’d be devastated if the boot was on the other foot!

  2. I don’t really the same about DNF books. A wise, young lady told me a few years ago that life was too short to waste on a lousy book. At the time I was doing my best to stagger through a book club book that did nothing for me. Ever since I have given books a good try, keeping in mind these wise thoughts.
    I don’t really use social media that much, but I am always willing to give my verbal thoughts to anyone who will listen.
    Let’s hope the coming months improve for you.

  3. No guilt! I give a book 50 pages, that’s it! I need to be hooked right away or I’m not wasting my time. And this isn’t necessarily because the book is badly written, it just may not be my thing. Life’s too short for unenjoyable reads!
    I don’t usually review my DNFs though. I don’t want to put other people off. (Mind you I don’t review much at all these days, unless it’s something spectacular1)

  4. I always try to finish a book, but sometimes they are just so bad or boring or have serious things wrong with them, I do dnf. I can do better things in my life.
    If I got it for free in exchange for a review I write a dnf review for it, stating when I dnfed and why. There may be things that really bother me but other readers love, so I tell them about it. Or maybe they like to be warned.

  5. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve only had one DNF in recent memory. Unfortunately, it was one of the few print books I’ve received for review since I started my blog. To make matters worse, the publisher sent me two copies so I could use one for a giveaway when I posted my review! That being said, I did have an enormous amount of guilt for not being able to finish/review it. Perhaps I will pick it up again at a later date once I get the bad taste out of my mouth, but for now, both copies are collecting dust on my shelves…

  6. I no longer feel guilty about DNF. I work in a bookshop and I simply don’t have time to read a book I’m not getting into. About half the time it’s me – right book/wrong time scenario. But half the time it’s the book – the writing style doesn’t engage me, the story is not my thing, I don’t connect to the characters etc.

    I occasionally write a post about my DNF’s to highlight the books that don’t work for me & why, so my readers get a broader picture of my reading habits. But I usually finish with something like “can anyone give me a good reason to give this book a second chance?”

    Life’s too short to read a bad book (or a book you’re not enjoying or getting something out of).

  7. I don’t like to keep reading books that I’m not enjoying. I hate it if I’ve spent money on it, but otherwise it’s a waste of time to force myself through something if I don’t like it!

      1. Exactly, me too! I picked up and put down two library books in the last couple of months, and felt zero guilt. If it had been my own book, I’d have clung to them like a limpet!

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