The ‘DNF’

The DNF (Did Not Finish) book is something that all readers come to at least consider, sooner or later. Some have stacks of DNFs. Others just can’t bring themselves to do it, grinding through a read that isn’t really for them, with a steely determination to get it finished. Maybe there are some lucky anomalies out there who love every book they read; we all envy you.

So why the DNF feature?

Well, it’s something I’m beginning to embrace more in my own reading, but it’s a topic worth looking at. Why do readers choose to give up on a book? Is there an underlying theme that tends to make people quit? Are most people confident enough to DNF? Is it ok to review a book that you didn’t actually read all of? Besides this I also just wanted to discuss this sometimes hidden part of the overall reading experience. First of all, I ask…

Why wouldn’t you DNF a book?

I spent quite a while refusing to ever quit, and I still have a reluctance to. Here are some reasons I, and I imagine many others, may continue with a book when tempted to just move on:

  • Cost – we all have different budgets and many ebooks can be bought for as little as 99p/99c, but if you’ve bought a book from the store for retail price as a treat to yourself, it’s going to be harder to justify giving up on than a book you bought for less than a small coffee.
  • Hope – “Just another chapter. It will get going soon. Something will happen that gets me hooked.”
  • Time already spent – This is a big one for me. Instead of having the ‘cut your losses’ mindset, I always reasoned that because I’ve already got to 30% on my limited free time, if I DNF then that time is wasted (ignoring the fact that it’s better than wasting 100%!)
  • Wanting to review – As a blogger reviews are what drive my experience in many ways. Surely I can’t just review books I enjoyed. I can’t write a review unless I’ve read the whole book though – reviewing half a book seems a little unfair unless there was unacceptable content within. So even if I’m not enjoying, if I want to review, I need to trudge through.
  • Sentimentality – if someone I care about buys me a book, I’ll feel guilt if I don’t read it or finish it. I’ll likely feel a degree of bias because I want to like it that little bit more. This is the same if I enjoyed an earlier book in the series or work by the same author. Fortunately I like to think I can notice this bias creeping in and stop it affecting a review.
  • To fulfill personal reading goals – If you were a long distance runner, you could say, “I’ve ran 4 marathons this year,” if you completed them. Running 25 miles in the final run is almost within sight of the finish line. Yet if you give up at 25 miles you can only say, and feel, that you’ve ran 3, not 4. No book added to the read section of your Goodreads. No new review on your blog. No right to fully critique the book. Again, time wasted.
  • Everyone else loves it though! – that book the publishers have been pushing for months, all the reviewers you follow and friends/fellow bloggers can’t get enough of it. It’s the next big book, everybody says it’s groundbreaking. Then you start reading and it’s quite frankly average at best. But everybody else loves it – it must be you, not the book! Keep reading and suddenly you’ll experience the epiphany and everything will suddenly become clear. But then it doesn’t.
  • I told the author/ everyone on twitter I was reading this next – you almost feel obliged to finish or else you’ll have to explain to everyone why you didn’t read it. Made even worse if you casually mention to the author that you’re reading it.
  • It’s an ARC you requested or a review copy – you feel duty bound to give the book a full read through – you got it free! You can’t ignore it. You’re in this til the end.

For your happiness as a reader, would it improve your experience to learn to ignore these reasons, and embrace the world of DNF? For me, yes. But I still haven’t advanced to all circumstances. I’m still in the habit of making excuses to read books I’m not really enjoying. I have a few ideas about why to justify a DNF, some of which were agreed upon by my twitter followers. Taking almost 100 responses, here are the top 5 reasons, along with some explanations from readers:

1. The book is boring, dull or slow

Linda @acrimsondaisy: “Boredom, essentially. If it feels like a chore to turn the page.”

Charlotte @acourtoftales: “If I’m not enjoying a book and I’m actively avoiding reading (not reaching for my book) because of this, I’ll DNF. It’s usually if the story hasn’t gripped me after I’ve read a decent amount, if the main character is extremely irritating or if the author’s writing style grinds

2. Can’t connect with the characters or story.

K Banning Kellum @BanningK1979: “Plot immersion and engagement with characters is everything when I read. I don’t need both at all times – but if neither show up by the first 50 or so pages I probably won’t make it to the middle.”

Jennifer @JRllnd: “I dnf when I don’t care about the characters or what’s happening. Or when it’s too cliché, dumb or unethical (like a MC beating an animal or commiting rape).”

3. The writing style is poor in some respect

Terry @TerryTyler4: “If it’s badly written. That’s all. I can deal with the odd punctuation error, or typo, or any manner of subject matter, but if the author has scant writing talent (flat characters, unrealistic dialogue, unfeasible developments, amateur narrative), I’m gone.”

Polis @PolisLoizou: “If it’s poorly written. Doesn’t matter if it’s “literary” or just some good ol’ entertainment, if nothing about the way it’s executed excites me, I figure it’s not worth the time.”

Nat @NatMarshall88: “Usually if I am not desperate to pick up a book that I’ve started then I know that it’s just not grabbing me. Have also stopped reading books before if I can’t get on with the writing style/structure.

4. The Main character(s) is unlikeable or unrelatable

Angela @litscialliance: “Recently I dnf’d a book because the main protagonist annoyed me so much and I could just tell it was probably going to be a 2-3 star if I pushed thru and I wanted to read something I would like more.”

Darran @Engineer7601: “Lately, it is being stuck in the heads of miserable POV characters. They might move along a story, but I cannot relate to them on any level, actively feel repulsed by, and readily root for their demise. It is one of the common pitfalls of 3rd person close.

5. There is unacceptable, problematic or uncomfortable content

Becky @_headinthepages: “If it’s problematic, if I hate the characters, if i’m bored by it or if I feel like it’s a waste of time. Too often I think I should ‘power through’ then realise there’s no point if I don’t enjoy it”

Kelly @kellyxevans: “I don’t DNF that often but when i do it’s because the book has a trope i don’t like, such as cheating to make someone jealous. because the writing is frustrating. If the content/characters are problematic. or if i have no desire to carry on reading after a month.”


There were a whole host of other reasons and answers for why readers may DNF, for example:

  • Being too predictable
  • Bad guys who are two dimensional and just bad to fill the role in the story – the traditional moustache twirling villain
  • Too much explaining, hand holding and info dumps
  • Strange or stupid decisions from the characters, aswell as characters going against their own morals or views for a non-logical reason
  • Just a general vibe that it’s not to your enjoyment
  • Reading feels like a chore

Interestingly, a lot of people mentioned that they give a book up to a certain percentage of the way through (or page 100 for example) before they put it down if not fully enthralled. I feel it’s very easily to get into a reading slump if we do keep trying to read something just for the sake of it.

Many people are tempted to complete a book so that they can review it. Rightly in my opinion, many people don’t feel they can review a book if they haven’t read it all – afterall they’re only reviewing part of the book if they do this. This gives us a problem because it perhaps means if we have a book that is a love it or hate it type of read – the rating will be inflated because many of the people who disliked it will have not rated. I still think this is better though than giving a book a low rating after having only read half of it. You’d like to think the truly great books will shine through.

I’d like to end the post with this important quote from one of my followers that I really liked:

“DNF’ing is accepting that not every book is for everyone, regardless of the quality and topics of the book, and that’s okay.”

Esmée (@ServillasSpeaks)

Thanks for reading. Feel free to discuss in the comments or on twitter!

2 thoughts on “The ‘DNF’

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