On Reading: ‘DNFing,’ or Did Not Finish

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I’ve never been a DNF type of reader, aka “did not finish” kind of reader, and I suppose my main thought about those who are: What’s up with your book judgment?! I jest, but what I mean is, it would be an incredibly rare situation for me to select a book from the bookstore, or the library, that I wouldn’t end up enjoying to some degree, much less feeling like I can’t even finish the book. In the last three years, during which I re-upped my earnest attempt to track my reading via Goodreads, there has only been one book I can recall that was difficult to finish because I didn’t like the writing, but I hate-finished it so I could rant about the true crime genre. That was The Last Stone by Mark Bowden, a rare two-star rating from me (essentially, if I like a book, it’s getting four or five stars) on Goodreads.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been a plethora of books over the years I’ve started and have not yet finished, mostly from my youth, but that’s not in the same category as “did not finish.” In my opinion, did not finish is reserved for books a reader hasn’t finished because they did not like what they were reading and/or weren’t into the story. What I’m referring to are books I started reading, and then for whatever reason (most likely procrastination of some sort), I moved on to another book or something else without finishing the prior book yet. However, since I still own said book(s), I plan on revisiting them at some point in the future. It could also be the case, as I alluded to, that the book itself isn’t “bad,” but that you weren’t in the right space to read it at that time. I know, for example, I read The Da Vinci Code before I was ready to read it as a teenager, didn’t finish, and then came back to it when I was a little bit older, and I devoured it. I sense that there’s a strong contingent of DNFers who are in that boat. That they aren’t necessarily making a judgment against the author’s writing, but that they weren’t in the right headspace for the book at that time.

On the truly bad front, though, I’d have to truly scour my brain to recall a situation where I did not finish a book because it was that bad. But this isn’t an unusual thing for me: I’d have to think long and hard for a movie in that realm, too.

The reason I bring all of this up is because there was a popular post on the reddit subreddit r/books about DNF being self care titled, “DNF’ing with gusto has improved my reading so much!” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to shame that poster, nor those who embrace DNFing with gusto. Read, or don’t read whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want. I would never, ever judge how people read, what they read, why they read, and when they read. I’m just happy if you’re a fellow traveler in the world of books!

I’m saying for my own personal reading experience, I can’t relate to that DNF gusto. However, I do agree with the poster that I’m also a “completionist.” Part of me feels like if I start something, I gotta finish it, but again, rarely has it been the case with a book that I started a book I was unhappy with, and then muddled through for the sake of completion. This poster said they DNF at about 30 percent in, or 100-120 pages, which I think is a fair demarcation line. I tend to know if I’m going to love, or merely like, a book at about that point (depending on how long the book is, you’d have to adjust the amount).

The poster and the comments do have a fair suggestion: Goodreads should have an option to select DNF, although I would hope that option would be selected by good faith DNFers rather than the usual trolls, but then again, trolls can give a book one-star, too. I think it would be interesting to see how many DNFers there are on a book, and why. That said, today I learned there is actually a “bookshelf” for DNF books; so far, the top one DNFed 2,211 times is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Nonetheless, the average rating on the book is 4.03 based on 818,250 ratings. That’s a darn good rating! So, I’m not sure what to make of it being DNFed that many times.

My guess is that the reason people become DNFers, in some part, is because they “take a chance” on a book they think they will like, and turns out, they don’t actually like it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because they dipped into a genre they don’t usually read, or an author they don’t usually read, or a style of writing, or whatever the case. It certainly is commendable to go out of one’s comfort zone with reading, or you know, again, if you want to be all up in your comfort zone, do you! No judgment here.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m not a DNFer: Maybe I am staying within my comfort zone?

Are you a DNFer? And why? What’s going on there that you seem to occasionally pick books that aren’t up to your liking?!

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