DNF a Book

Vintage Books copyright Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon

© Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon


I remember the first time I saw the acronym in a Twitter conversation between an editor and an author. I politely intruded to ask what it meant.

Did. Not. Finish.

What? Read a book and not finish it? Back then, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept. I was fairly new to the romance genre at the time and was thoroughly enjoying everything I was reading. Prior to that, my love of reading had taken a back seat to my life as a working mom and a visually impaired person who struggled to read small print. Then came the Kindle and my reading addiction kicked into high gear. Not finish a book? Perish the thought! These days I’m an avid reader and more than one book has moved to my DNF list. In the last six months, I’ve had two solid DNFs and a few books that I’ve set aside to come back to with a fresh perspective.

Making the decision not to finish a book does not come easily to me. As a writer, I know the author has poured their heart and soul into the creation of the story. I really want to respect their efforts, but if I’m halfway through a book and every time a main character appears on the page, I want to slap him or her, it’s probably better for me to put the book down.

I should clarify that I’ve completed books that have made me angry. It’s not a different perspective that makes me put a book down, it is usually characters that whine or plot lines that are clichéd or make no sense to me that make me want to throw my Kindle across the room.

When I looked at the titles I put down, there’s no rhyme or reason. There were books by traditionally published authors, and by indies, books by established authors and newbies alike. I haven’t finished books from authors that I’ve read before and authors that are new to me. As a writer this diversity interests me. I’ll admit, I’m much more likely to give an author I’ve read before a another chance after a DNF as opposed to a new-to-me author. I have to remind myself that you can’t please everyone all the time and the book I chose from a new-to-me author might just have been a blip on the backlist. I try hard to really give a book a fair shake. Before I put it down, I will usually come back to a book once or twice before I finally say enough is enough, I’m not finishing this one.

Most of my book recommendations come from trusted sources on Twitter. In general, when I buy books, I don’t look at reviews. I might look at how many stars a book has, but I typically read the description and if that appeals, I’ll download a sample. If I like the sample, I’ll buy the book. if I REALLY like the book, I’ll write a review.

If I do abandon a book THEN I will check out the reviews. Most of the time, others have encountered the same frustrations I have with a story. That always makes me feel better “Whew, it’s not just me.” Without fail a book that has driven me crazy, makes someone else deliriously happy. This phenomena actually makes me happy. I truly appreciate that there are different strokes for different folks. It gives me hope that when I finish my novel and when it gets published (power of positive thinking FTW), there will be people who hate my story, but hopefully there will be people who love it too.

I always feel crazy guilty when I don’t finish a book, (thus the multiple attempts), but I have to remind myself that just like life is too short to drink bad rum, it’s too short to waste time on books that frustrate me.

Sometimes I will FORCE myself to finish a book, but when I do that it is a conscious decision. I have a pad of paper beside me and I’m taking notes on what I think the author did wrong or the things about the story that were making me nuts. Thus making my torture an educational experience.

Do you finish all the books you start?

Do you finish most of what you start?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. You can find her on Twitter @Fearless. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com and she is a regular contributor to the Concord Monitor. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

42 thoughts on “DNF a Book

  1. Like that; it has a hard headed editor feel to it; “we’re going to have DNF that on.”
    I’ve actually stopped buying books this year. So I’m rereading the books on my shelves. I’m surprised by some authors who must have once grabbed me I am now DNF-ing and as a consequence they’re ending up at the charity shop.
    I’ve always held a 25 page or out rule; a book has 25 pages in which to grab me or else it too takes the long walk to the charity shop.

  2. I’m generally a FAAC reader (Finish at all costs) – but I’m also super selective and rarely pick up a book that I don’t have confidence in the fact I’ll enjoy it.

    For those instances where I’ve stretched and made a mistake, I try to figure out what it is I don’t like, so I don’t replicate it in my own writing 🙂

  3. i was once 10 pages from the end of a book when I decided i didn’t want to read it. generally, it’s because the character has done something so obnoxiously stupid that i’m no longer rooting for the character.

  4. I follow a similar policy as yours. I want to give the book a fair chance to entertain me. And I do multiple attempts too. But if it still cannot catch my interest, I give up. I do feel so guilty about it. But after reading your post, I feel I am not the only one. And the guilt eases a bit. Phew!

  5. I admit I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book. I had the feeling it was disrespectful to the author. However, I am now more selective in my reading – I know what I like to read and I know it has to be well written. If, after the first chapter or two, I haven’t connected with the characters or the narrative and I haven’t moved into their world, I leave it. A book has to capture me, make me live in that created reality, if it doesn’t I move on.
    I read constantly, it’s always been an obsession with me, and for the past five years I’ve had a Kindle. This has opened up a world of new and Indie authors to me, some great and some not so. No different to traditionally published authors – The Silmarillion anyone? Took me years to read and I never understood it!

  6. I do admit to feeling DNF guilt but sometimes I think you just don’t feel a connection with a book and that can’ be helped or transformed.

  7. I started to read a book called ‘The Lighted Rooms’ which is about a woman who is looking to put her 80 year old mother into a nursing home. I thought it would have been interesting as I’ve started working in the aged care industry. I got about twenty pages in and had to abandon it as I couldn’t get into it. I don’t like not finishing reading books but I don’t feel guilty if the book doesn’t peak my interest or I can’t get into reading it.

  8. I used to finish every book I started. I felt I owed it to the author and to myself to stick it out before I gave up on it. But then I realized: I am a busy working mom of three, I don’t have time to read things I don’t like! Since then, I’m like a crazy woman, I start books and put them down to finish as much as a year later. I read 2-3 books at the same time, picking up whichever one interests me most at the moment when I sit down to read. I’ve even skimmed parts that are boring in an otherwise decent book that I did want to finish. And yes, I’ve moved many a book to the DNF pile. One thing this has taught me, I really notice and appreciate when an author is so good that I can’t put the book down! 🙂

  9. I do finish most of what I start. There’s a book I listed as ‘reading’ on Goodreads that was taking me too long and so I set it aside. Now it haunts me ; everytime I log in I’m told how long I’ve been reading it. More and more, though I read review first. It won’t necessarily keep me from buying a book but I got stung once buying one that was a dreadful, nasty biography and I was annoyed that I had wasted my money on it. So I am more careful now.

  10. i clear up my mind, take out all the previous story plots, open the book and start reading from page 1, i enter the story….. get bored, do the same and finally finish it. when i start it again the next time after reading it once, i go all the way 🙂

  11. I have a rule for myself. When I have completely finished reading a book I reserve the privilege to verbally “burn it to ground”, “okay it” or “personally recommend it.”

    When I have not completely finished reading the book I only dare to say “I did not like it” or “I have yet to finish reading that book” and I leave it at that.

    Referencing is okay as long as you have the copy in your library, finished or not. The worst part about being an avid read is forgetting titles and details so having that copy in your library is vital. I finish most books I read because I set my mind to it. Reading is essential for the many things I do.

  12. I usually read more than 1 book at a time and have a stack on my night stand waiting. I used to pressure myself to finish a book but not anymore. I’ve been trying to get through a very popular book for about a year now (I’ve talked to other people who weren’t crazy about the book either, which makes me feel better). I’m actually almost done but haven’t picked it up in several months and really don’t care what happens. So, maybe one day I’ll get back to it…and maybe I won’t and not feel guilty. Side note – I’ve run a bunch of marathons and only DNF’d once – it was a trail marathon…much different than road race and I wasn’t prepared. 🙂

  13. I have a ‘put down will pick up later’ shelf. Some of those items become DNF because I don’t have the tolerance level high enough to finish. I also have a DNR (do not read) shelf because I tend to get sucked into the media/marketing whirlwind of books but rely on reviews to keep me out of the vortex. There is only one book on the DNR shelf, for the most part I will read anything.

  14. This has happened also to me. For example, I didn’t appreciate ” underground” by Murakami. Too much repetitive, And , with regret, I didn’ t finished it yet. XMNL86

  15. Years ago I used to finish every book I started, although this didn’t like me, if not I felt guilty.
    But today, if a book doesn’t catch me, or don’t like it, in the first 30 pages simply I give up and start another.

  16. I’m the kind of avid reader who has to finish it. What if there was some crazy twist just a few pages away that suddenly kicked it into overdrive? What if a new character who I just love comes into the story?
    Have I been let down before? God yes. But I always finish them…it’s like a curse.

  17. Pingback: The End Is In Sight | Davetopia

  18. I’ve heard this action also called Abandoning the Book. Although that seems a bit harsh like you said because an author spent so much time and effort on that book sometimes it just has to happen. It doesn’t happen often for me, but when it does I abandon books when I begin to think of how I could better spend reading time in a book I enjoy.

  19. I have definitely felt this way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not finishing a book. Books should inspire you, move you, enthrall you, and engage you. If they don’t do these things, why waste your time? It’s not an insult to the author, just a reflection that you as a reader did not connect to the work. And that’s okay! The book will connect with someone else! ❤ Peace and blessings, have a great day.

  20. I always feel guilty if I find myself not liking a book, so I try to finish every one. Just recently I have been sampling books before I read them in order to avoid that feeling of guilt.

  21. Oh, my pile of DNF’s are stacked to the ceiling! And I don’t even feel guilty about it. How can it possibly be offensive to the author – if I’m not telling them that theire book just wasn’t for me? There are various reasons why I do not finish a book, and the reasons for he most part reflects on me, and not on the book or the author. For instance, if I read a book written in english, then my english (english is not my native tongue) might not be up to par. I can find a book boring into oblivion, then it’s usually not in my preferred genre. Only a very few times do I throw down a book because its crap, thus reflecting on the author. But hey, fill 300 pages with clicheic filth, and you should feel ashamed – not the reader 🙂

  22. It’s true. I have a whole section on my GoodReads of books that I didn’t finish. The fact is that not all books are good. The title or the summary might have been good, but it’s not worth finishing.

  23. Like you DNFs are hard for me. I feel this strange obligation or finish, or maybe more accurately, it’s a feeling that maybe if I keep reading it’ll get better. But in more recent years I’ve come to realize that my time and energy is valuable and have started to give myself permission to quit, if I’m struggling too much with a book.

    My most notorious DNF is with Crime and Punishment, which I have attempted to read three times and have tossed across the room each time. Not for me.

  24. Unfortunately, I’m the same; hate to start and not finish a book. The last one I didn’t finish was because the protagonist was self-destructive in grotesque ways and it made me sick.

  25. Perhaps it has something to do with age…when I was young I read all the Nancy Drew books, loved them! Spent my summers reading Harlequin Romances, never put one down. Currently I have bought several books and haven’t finished one yet…and I really want to but I don’t. Guess I don’t really want to as much I as I think… 🙂

  26. As I age, I care less and less about books I DNF. Life is too short to waste on novels that don’t interest me. It’s not any different than changing the channel or turning off the television.

  27. I DNF all the books I start but I basically mirror your process, guilt and regrets. I DO read reviews now because I havecgood radar for picking out ones that assess the book accurately and I don’t want to waste my time trying to like poorly written books or those with an unworkable plot or characters.

    Harsh, I know. But I look at it as “there are so many good reads that I’m missing if I use my time trying to give a chance to ones that don’t work”.

  28. I used to balk at the idea of not finishing a novel as well. There was a time when I was a voracious reader, and I would pick up anything that sounded interesting. But after buying some and forcing myself to finish, I started to embrace the idea of DNF. Most of those earlier experiences were with traditionally published ones since I used to roam around the bookstore. Now, I read reviews -the good and the bad. It’s not always a guarantee, but it does typically inform me if there are some aspects in the novel I know I’ll dislike. Though I do try my best to give the novel a chance before I dump it into my DNF pile.

  29. Good post. I rarely abandon a book if I can help it. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened. I remember one I read one chapter and felt like burning it to save anyone else from reading it. But that was due to the crappy quality of the writing. One thing as readers we should demand is a good quality of writing. Even if we don’t like the genre, or plot, or characters. I can get through if the writing is good.

  30. Great post. I usually finish a book once I get into it. If I pick up a book and get bogged down in tiresome narrative, I’ll lay it aside and pick it up a few days later and try to get through it. If that doesn’t work then I’ll give up. I think Amazon has redefined my reading choices. I go for the four and five start novels. The last being The Girl on the Train which I couldn’t put down.

  31. I am an avid reader. As a blogger that reviews books my reading time is very important so if a book does not catch my interest by the third or fourth chapter I will DNF. I hate to do it but I figure if I’m not interested in the plot or characters by that point then I should just move on or set it aside to try again later. I read so much that sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same story but different characters over and over. That’s when I usually take a break and read a different genre. Most of the books I get for review purposes are romances, and I do love that genre but after a while romances can seem a bit formulated. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one that feels that way?

  32. I’ve always felt bad about not finishing books. I’ve recently been making more of an effort to push through to the end because I think you can learn a lot from books you don’t like as well as the ones you do. You can learn what to avoid in your own work, especially if you’re fairly new to writing.

  33. I remember bringing back a book two or three chapters in by a local writer at my secondary school. I was the first to ‘read’ it so the librarian asked me of my opinion about it. I don’t like giving negative feedback about books but the reason I didn’t finish it was because although the plot was very imaginative, I thought it was just telling me things rather than showing me. Basically i was given descriptions of characters immediately when introduced even in the first person and lacked future development. It’s hard to pin point when I lost interest, but I think when you had such high hopes it’s hard to let go until it really looses your interest.

  34. There are too many books currently I have not finished. Mainly because the minute I start a book, a day in I realise I’m a day behind 4 hours per A-levels’ worth of extra work I had piled onto the weekend. It was painful, but I had to stop reading in order to focus time on college worth and taking mental breaks i.e. not have my mind actively thinking for a while to zone out. It actually helped in the end but it meant I had to go back to the very beginning of books to understand where I left it.

  35. Reblogged this on by Hannah Rose Govan and commented:
    I am the poster-girl for not finishing books. Mainly due to time management between education and mental breaks, but this summer means no excuse…in theory *damn you YouTube!* This post just makes me happy I’m not the only one, and that there is an acronym for it.

  36. I have many books I never finish and some I never start. It makes me feel really guilty as a person who loves to read. Oddly enough I tend to finish the books I do not enjoy just as often as I finish those I do enjoy. For me I guess it’s an issue of time. Between school and 2 part-time jobs as a tutor, both of which require a lot of reading, I rarely get the time to read for pleasure. I’m hoping during the next 2 weeks, before the Fall semester starts, I’ll have a chance to finish at least 2 books.

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