The Big DNF Question

How long do you give a book before you declare it a DNF? Do you even allow yourself to do that, or do you insist on grinding through those pages no matter what?

Up until recently, I’ve insisted on finishing books, for better or worse. I love the feeling of accomplishment, and feel like it gives me more credibility. I can honestly say that I disliked a book, because I suffered through ALL of the pages. Plus, there’s at least one book in my history that I didn’t finish, and whenever I see said book, I wonder if I should have pushed through. (But since it’s a solid 500 page non-fiction, I’m not sure I’ll actually revisit it.)

This year, I’m experimenting with being a little kinder to myself. There are so many books on my physical and digital shelves, and countless more that I haven’t acquired. Because I’m in book clubs, there are a certain amount of books that I have to finish each month, which means that if I’m busy, books that I want to read end up sitting on the shelf. I don’t want to toss away a perfectly good book, but I also don’t want to continue slogging through something when a book I’m really interested in waits nearby.

I feel like I need some guidelines. One friend said that he gives it the first three chapters. Another said the first 25%. I’ve also heard people say 100 pages. Three chapters might be a bit short, depending on the novel. I feel like you need to give it long enough to see what the setup is, get a good feel for the world and characters, and settle into the writing style. But there is definitely a point at which, if the book doesn’t resonate with you – or worse, is actively irritating – it’s not going to get better for you. So do you settle in for the slog, or let it go?

I won’t give the titles of the books I’ve decided to DNF this year, but here’s what wasn’t working for me:

Book 1: Had a lot of fatphobic/weight shaming comments – and while these were for the character’s eventual growth, I couldn’t stomach it. That feels like an unintentional pun.

Book 2: The first chunk of the book was very interesting, but then the perspective started to shift to another character that was boring and entitled. The story itself began to meander and slow down. It was a long book. So I looked up to see what the general consensus was – even those that really liked the book thought that a large part of the middle was a drudge, and it was 50/50 on whether the end was worth it. Since the beginning of the book kind of wrapped itself up, I decided to leave it as a short story and pretend the rest of the book never existed.

Book 3: On paper, I should have enjoyed this book at least somewhat! But the plot felt thin, the characters weren’t showing any signs of evolving, and when the author decided to delve into the real life history behind the novel, the story suffered. I liked the premise of the book, but I could skim a couple of chapters and nothing would have changed. Some books are engrossing enough to get away with that. This wasn’t.

I don’t know how to properly wrap this up…But I hope wherever you fall on the DNF scale, whatever you read, you find enjoyable. If you’re not being graded on it, don’t suffer unnecessarily!