The (Not So Dreaded) DNF

Many years ago, in the earlier days of my previous book-blogging career, I was of the belief that it was my duty to finish every book that came my way for review. (I wasn’t one of those bloggers receiving multiple books a week, which made the idea seem quite feasible.) It was a holdover from my regular reading habits, where I managed to finish everything – mainly because I was pretty good at picking out books that I would, at the very least, quite like.

But once I became a book blogger of the kind that received even the occasional book from publishers for review that attitude had to change. At first I managed to work my way through books I wasn’t exactly keen on, writing reviews that reflected that. It was a struggle but I sure as anything gave it my all.

Then I met the book that would change my mind on the idea of the DNF – the did not finish. Here is how I opened the review I wrote, all the way back in September 2011.

Those who know me will know that if a book is for review I will do more than just make a good faith effort to finish it. I planned to finish this book, I forced myself to pick it up again and again and keep going. But I woke up the morning after going to bed at page 208, took one look at the book and decided that any book that made my stomach roll at the thought of reading was not one I was going to force myself to finish.

I just could not take any more slut-shaming.

It’s been years and I can still recall the visceral feeling of not wanting to read any more. Although in the end I did not throw it against the wall, I finally understood what other readers were on about when they talked about such a thing.

I remembered then why I got into book blogging before: I loved books, I loved reading, and I wanted to share that love with other people. Forcing myself to finish a book that was upsetting me in any way was contrary and damaging to that love.

Nowadays my rationale can be summed up as: My time, money, and energy is precious and finite. I am not going to waste any more of it on something I am not enjoying. It’s really that simple.

So now if I am not enjoying a book – or TV show, or video game, or something else – I stop and take a moment to think. Is this just the wrong time for this book, and if I come back to it later will I enjoy it more? Or is it best to just set aside permanently and move on to something else?

There’s nothing wrong with marking a book as DNF. In fact, a review of a DNF can be a powerful one: after all, something (or lots of somethings) was not working, bad, or even just plain offensive. If I had read a review like my one, that spoke of constant slut-shaming, sexism, fat-shaming, and the glamorizing of a clearly toxic relationship – and it was so bad, it upset them so much they could not finish it? I’d want to know that.

Now that I work in a library, and get kids and their parents asking me for books, I let the kids know that it is okay to stop reading a book. Sometimes they’re too hard, and you can come back to it in a little while. Others are too scary, and you can come back when you’re older. If you want to. Maybe the book just isn’t what you want to read right now. Borrow a bunch of books but don’t feel bad if you only finish half of them. By reading that half you have had a lot of fun and learned a lot, and now you know more about the types of books you want to read next.

At that age especially, it’s important to enjoy reading and being forced to finish something that is too scary, or bad can really damage that. Hell, keeping reading an enjoyable thing is important at any age. It took me too many years to learn that it was okay to put down a book that I didn’t like. Time is limited, so don’t spend it on bad books.

So that’s my conclusion: Reading for pleasure should be about just that: pleasure. If it’s not, whip out the old DNF shelf and get on with the next show! It’s safer for your walls that way.

This post was previously published at