How many books do you not finish each year?

I seem to go through phases; I don’t know whether it’s what I’m reading or how I feel about the book and other things I have to do.  Sometimes the book has something that irritates me; sometimes it’s written in a way I find too much like hard work, other times I feel I’d like to keep working at it, but … later.

I’ve not finished three books so far this year.  Two of them were bookclub books.  Sometimes the fact that I need to read it to talk about it at the next meeting keeps me going and I find it was worthwhile finishing it (The Miniaturist was a case in point).  Despite reviewing The Night Circus, I gave up on it about a third of the way in, because the irritations kept mounting up and I found none of the characters really worth engaging with – except for the engineer chap, and when I said that at the meeting I discovered (spoiler alert) he was killed in the next chapter after I’d stopped!

I also gave up on Helliconia Spring.  I think I said as much in my review, which was part of the world-building theme, and I had enough world-building to write about from what I’d read.  I enjoyed the first part, but it shifted to later in the planet’s history and featured incredibly stodgy legends to link up the past with the present.  So many names – I got bored.  I think I’d probably dipped into it when it first came out and decided it was stodgy then.  It hadn’t changed, and neither had I.

Now I’m nearly giving up on The Paying Guests, another bookclub read, but which I proposed.  This surprised me, since I was at an event last year where Sarah Waters read from it.  I recognised the passage, remembered what she had said about writing gothic literature – the details, the smells, the creation of atmosphere, especially darkness.  I love the way she writes.  I admire the way she writes.  But I realise that, as with Fingersmith, it’s an LGBT genre which is going to twist and twist and, frankly, I don’t want to read it.  If I change my mind, I discovered I’d acquired a paperback copy (probably from our book exchange shelf), so I can always go back to it.  But for now, it’s off the ‘currently reading’ shelf.


Then comes the big problem – is it going back onto the ‘To Read’ list?  Or is it consigned to the ‘unfinished’ shelf of the ‘Read’ pile?

Bruce Gargoyle made a lovely post about this dilemma recently.

He said he’d only recently become comfortable with the idea that he didn’t HAVE to finish every book that he started. But he does get more NetGalley books than I do.  He also said:

Then I came across this mind-blowingly sensible article from Anya (On Starships and Dragonwings), challenging us to consider making the DNF our default option for reading.  It would certainly save time.  Theoretically, it would ensure that we were only reading the books that we were really invested in.

So, should we make ‘unfinished’ our default option for the books we start?  With the number of books out there it would make life easier, not thinking we have to continue to wade through things we don’t actually enjoy (in whatever horrible way we might ‘enjoy’ things).  I would suggest that for anyone with a GoodReads Challenge of over 50 a year, or maybe a TBR list of over 100, then DNF should be the default.  Otherwise I’ll never get to those wonderful books that just came out too late to get further up my list.

It might also help authors more if they find their books are being DNF’d, rather than given 2 and 1 star ratings.  Our stats could help them work out what’s wrong with their book (provided we fill them in, which is only kind).  “Progress 12%, unfinished shelf” would tell me a heck of a lot about those first 12% of my pages.

What do you think?

Pictures: header from google images; cartoon from via

The dreaded DNF

11 thoughts on “The dreaded DNF

  • 30 May, 2016 at 6:34 am

    You make a very good point about the star ratings. I never give a star rating to a book I DNF because it’s not really fair (although having said “never” I’m pretty sure I did give a star rating at least once to a DNF’ed book). I do always say where I finished reading though.

    • 30 May, 2016 at 9:40 am

      I think giving a rating is up to the reason you stopped. If you were so horribly irritated by it you refused to read on, then a rating is possible, I think. If you got bored, and realised it just wasn’t your thing, then I don’t think stars are appropriate. I could give a good star rating to The Paying Guests – I think it’s brilliant, but I don’t want to read any more of it!

      • 1 June, 2016 at 3:58 pm

        And that’s an interesting set of reactions!

  • 30 May, 2016 at 8:23 am

    I do struggle with some books, but usually finish, as I hate to be beaten! Maybe I should try not finishing a book, and see if the world ends!
    At the moment, I am reading one of my late sons Granta book/magazines. Some of the stories are so depressing, it leads me to wonder why he had so many of them! He just loved to read I suppose, and as far as I am aware, he didn’t change to ‘e’ books.
    I shall go for something frivolous and light hearted next….. off the pile!! 😉

    • 30 May, 2016 at 9:43 am

      I think that first DNF is a milestone, Julie. I remember the first one, although not the title or author (blanked!); I was reading it when I commuted, and I got fed up with the shifts back and forward between the two timelines. I just got involved with the people again, when ‘poof’ – gone again. I realised nobody was forcing me to read it…. it’s a big breakthrough!

  • 30 May, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Ah, the tyranny of book groups! Well, not really, mine consists of lovely people, but the feeling that you have to finish the book when you’re not enjoying it isn’t pleasant. If I’m not reading the book group choice I feel guilty about reading anything else. In three years I think I’ve had two DNFs and one I finished reluctantly – I didn’t want to slog through 800 pages of The Luminaries, but did because it was my month to lead I then discovered that everyone else had given up after a couple of hundred pages. I was able to tell them that the second half was better and easier to follow, but no-one was convinced enough to carry on!

    • 31 May, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      Oh, mine is full of lovely people but we all have very different tastes. It’s hard to find something we all like. 🙂

  • 30 May, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    There’s only a few books that I DNF. Mostly it was because I started reading and was reading it daily and enjoying it, then life got in the way and I forgot I was reading it. Then by the time I got back into reading, a new book had my attention. The only real book I’ve DNF is Horns and that was because all the characters are horrible (hubby says that’s the point) but I just can’t keep going when I want to strangle everyone.

    • 31 May, 2016 at 10:19 pm

      Oh, yes. It’s so hard when you leave a book and have to pick it up again!

  • 31 May, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    I have recently increased the number of books I don’t finish, but I just delete them from my bookshelves, unless there was something really wrong with them. In other words, I consider putting a book on my DNF shelf a zero rating, but if I just wasn’t into it (as with one recently that you recommended, Jemima! Much to my surprise) I don’t want to make it seem like it’s an awful book.

    I do try to stop reading meh books, as there are so many to be read! The exception: if I have committed to a review (as for a blog tour) I WILL finish.

    • 1 June, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Good point. For a long time I didn’t realise I could delete books from my shelves! I did it with one I didn’t finish and felt wasn’t up to snuff (as we say here).

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