When I was young, I used to read voraciously. Several books a week was my norm. I frequented my local library, and though I mostly scouted the science fiction and fantasy shelf, I would read almost anything. But every new book meant refining my literary tastes a bit more, and as I grew older, I had less time to read, so I became more and more picky. Yet, I still strove to finish every book I started. After all, I chose them.
The idea of not finishing a book never occurred to me.
The first signs of change
When I was younger, a book rarely took me more than a few days, and that was if I got busy with other things! Most books took only a couple of hours.
But as life threw more responsibilities at me, I couldn’t get lost in a book as easily anymore. My reading habits became more erratic, and I discovered I don’t particularly enjoy reading in short spans. Books were to be savored as portals to other worlds one could immerse themselves in. An hour of lunch break reading was more of a torture than an escape. And reading in the evening? It would see me put the book down, finished, at three or four in the morning, when I had to get up at seven… So reading in bed was out of question as well.
Thus, before I noticed, some books started lingering, unfinished, and the amount of stories I read dwindled.
I thought it was my lack of time that made me read less than I used to. Until a book came that made me realize it was something else.
The book that changed my reading habits
It wasn’t a horrible book. It likely wasn’t even a bad book. But the first chapter had a character doing something stupid for the sake of the plot, and that’s one of my reader pet peeves. Yet, I persevered, rationalizing that something had to get the story going, and I could let this one slide. So I gave it “one more chapter” chance, and I read on. And the book wasn’t bad, but… another character did something stupid for the sake of the plot. I cringed, but I still liked the setting, so I gave it another “one more chapter”. This one, though introduced more of the setting, had also a lot contrived info-dumping. I grimaced, but surely I could give it just one more chapter? It went on for a while, and then I finally realized, I’ve been giving the book a chance after chance. The read, instead of being enjoyable, was frustrating me. It might have been the first time I was not enjoying the book I was reading.
And finally, I decided I would not finish it.
The liberating feeling of D(id) N(ot) F(inish)
The realization that I don’t have to read books I don’t enjoy to the end was quite an enlightening one for a bookworm like me, who used to read labels on products if there was no other text to read. My reading picked up a bit, because I either enjoyed a book enough to read it quickly, or I abandoned it without regrets.
After all, life is too short and books are many, right?
Most of all, it felt like I’m finally reading things I truly enjoy.
What if the book isn’t all bad?
The number of books I DNF-ed grew almost exponentially, but I suppose I should have expected it, being the picky reader I am. But was it really the reason? Maybe I’ve become too picky?
It’s easy to toss a book that is outright unfitting my taste or not matching the standard of what I consider “well-written”. Yet, there were books I found quite appealing, but they still failed to pull me in. I read a chapter here, a chapter there, and days turned into months with only one book finished. I was back where I started.
What’s worse, it made me… dread diving into new books as well. I worried whether they would be good enough or I’d be stuck reading something I don’t seem to truly enjoy.
It’s not you, book, it’s me
It took me a while to stop feeling guilty about decent books I decide to abandon. DNF isn’t always an indicator of the book’s quality. Some books and some readers just don’t click, like a person met at a party with whom you had a pleasant conversation with but whom you’ll not befriend any further: that one party aside, your paths are different. That’s why it’s fine, if a perfectly fine book doesn’t catch your attention. Unless you’re reading for professional purposes or to learn, reading should be a pleasure, so my advice would be: don’t feel guilty if the worldwide bestseller feels bland to you or the book you had high hopes for doesn’t live up to the expectations. DNF and move on, because the next book you pick up might be your new favorite.
What about you? Do you DNF books or always read to the end? Do you have a specific cutoff point, or does it depend on a book? Let me know.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.