On “DNF”ing

Guys, I did it. The unthinkable. I Did Not Finish a book — The Picture of Dorian Gray, to be specific.  I never do this; I usually see each book I read through to the end, regardless of how terrible it is. In fact, I sometimes read books I’m not enjoying faster than books I do like; I blitzed through Zadie Smith’s On Beauty in about three days thinking that the quicker I read it, the sooner I could move on to something that didn’t bore me to tears.

Not so this time. I was really excited to read The Picture of Dorian Gray after finishing The Importance of Being Earnest, which I really enjoyed. But I Just. Can’t. Get into it. I know it’s a classic and a very good book, but it’s not doing it for me right now. For days I’ve been distracting myself with the other books I’m reading (and too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) because I feel no desire to pick up Wilde’s masterpiece. It finally dawned on me that I don’t have to finish reading it. I can sneak it back onto my TBR shelf and try it again later, at a time when I might be more able to fully appreciate this classic novel. It’s actually kind of refreshing to admit (temporary) defeat and move on to one of the contemporary works I’ve been craving.

I don’t think DNFing will become a habit of mine, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I’m able to stop reading The Picture of Dorian Gray with out guilt is that I’m pretty sure I will enjoy reading it at some point in the future, but it feels good to put this book on hold right now.

What’s your policy on finishing (or not finishing) books? Do you slog through the worst of them, or do you gaily toss a book aside if you’re not feelin’ it? Do you have a special criteria for deciding whether to give up or push on?


24 thoughts on “On “DNF”ing

  1. Leah, I actually have a plan to post about not finishing books. Honestly, I have 2 main things I follow:
    1. Give it to page 100 and then reassess.
    2. I have so many books on my to-read list, that if this one is torture, it’s okay to stop because if I spend so long reading this one, I might not have time to read another one that I do enjoy!

    And putting it back on the shelf works, too, because you can pick it up in 6 months, a year, or 5 years from now and try again.

  2. I used to be the same way but about a year ago, I was reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and I just couldn’t get into it. I felt like I was wasting my summer away on that one exhausting book. That’s when I began DNFing. Now I always try to give up on the books I don’t like. It’s hard, but it’s better this way. Life’s too short for bad books, as they say. Plus, like you, I know I’ll go back to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” someday. And hopefully when I do, I love it!

    I’m actually thinking of dropping “On the Road,” which I only began a few days ago. It’s just not doing anything for me. I’m going to try to reach page 50 (or maybe 75) and then decide.

    Oh and by the way, I love “The Picture of Dorian Gray”! Or at least I did when I read it years and years ago. Definitely give it another shot sometime 🙂

    • “Life’s too short to read bad books” seems like an excellent motto. There are so many amazing books out there that it does seem silly to waste time on ones we’re not enjoying. It’s a tough motto to put into practice, though!

      I think it’s easier to put down a book when you know it’s a good book that probably just isn’t working for you at the moment. I think some books are meant to be read at certain times in our lives; maybe we’re just trying to read the book at the wrong time. Maybe in a year or two we’ll read it and love it.

      On the Road is one of my favorite books! I’ll concede that it doesn’t have much in the way of plot and most of the characters are selfish and immature, but the writing! The writing is some of the loveliest I’ve ever read. I hope it gets better for you!

      I will definitely give The Picture of Dorian Gray another shot. It’s not so much that I didn’t like it, I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about it. I really think I will like it when I’m in the right frame of mind.

  3. Pingback: Book Thought – To finish or not to finish? That is the question « Love at First Book

  4. I almost never DNF a book. I’m a novelist, so even if a book is bad, I feel like I can at least learn what not to do from it. But the reader in me often grumbles at these noble intentions, and I’ve probably come to resent some downright decent books by forcing myself slogging through them whenI just wasn’t feeling them . It has never even occurred to me that I could quit and come back later, that my dislike of a book might have as much to do with timing as with the book itself. Thanks for the cool post–you’ve got me rethinking my reading.

    • That’s an interesting perspective, finishing a bad book to learn what not to do in your own writing.

      I really do think the mindset with which you approach a book has a huge impact on your reading experience. For example, a lot of teenagers love The Catcher in the Rye, but many people who read it for the first time later in life can’t relate and don’t get into it. Or perhaps a book might work for you right now but might really resonate in a few years. I don’t know that this is the case for all books — I don’t think there was/is/will be a time in my life that I would have/do/will love the garbage that is Twilight — but I think there might be a “right time” for a person to read some books, especially the classics.

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

  5. I’ll admit, I DNF all the time. Sometimes I DNF on purpose because the book is terrible or I’m not in the right frame of mind for it (in which case I will attempt it later), but often I DNF by accident because I’m stupid and read eleventy books at once, and just become distracted.
    The only problem I find is that if I have started a book, then stopped for a while, coming back to it with the knowledge I have to re-read part of it I already read because I have forgotten it almost puts me off re-attempting it. But if I can get myself out of this silly thinking then I’m fine. Interestingly, this happened to me with one of my fave authors, Zafon, and his hugely successful Shadow of the Wind. I got through that on my second attempt, not my first, yet it’s now one of my all time favourites. 😛

    • That’s a big part of the reason I don’t like to read multiple books 😛 I’ll forget about one (or inadvertently stop reading it because the other books are more interesting), and I don’t like returning, later, to a book I’ve read part of because I have to start from the beginning because I don’t remember what happened, except that I remember as I’m reading and just feel impatient to get to the part I haven’t read yet. Whoa that was quite the run-on sentence, but thinking about this experience makes me feel slightly panicky.

      • Hahaha that was a sentence and a half, but I get exactly what you mean! I don’t get panicky about such matters though 😛 But I do get the guilts about it sometimes, especially if I accidentally stop halfway through a good book.

  6. Like you, I used to feel horrible about not finishing a book I had started. I would push myself through every book I picked up, no matter how much I wasn’t enjoying it. There is something in my nature (OCD anyone?) that makes me just HAVE to finish something I’ve started.

    I’ve gotten over that, though. There are thousands of books I’ll want to read in my lifetime, and life is too short to waste my time on a book I can’t stand when I could be reading something I love.

    I’ve (so far) only put down two books without finishing them–In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (this book bored me to major annoyance) and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I still have no idea why so many people like this book, or how it has won major awards). I don’t feel the least bit bad about putting them down, and I won’t attempt to read them again.

    • Yes! Some of us definitely have a strong compulsion to finish the things we start; no one wants to be a quitter! I suppose we should think of abandoning a bad book not as giving up or quitting, but as making time for better books. There’s no shame in quitting something you don’t enjoy in order to have time for something you will enjoy.

      What didn’t you like about Wolf Hall? I’ve so far only heard good things about it, so I’m curious.

  7. I don’t like giving up either, but what can you do if the book is torturing you? Just recently I gave up “The Pleasures of Men” and although I feel bad, I also know it’s not the right time for to read that book and there’ll be opportuities later on to return to it.

    I did like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” but enjoyed “The Importance of Being Earnest” less.

  8. I DNFed On Beauty… Good for you for sticking with it, but I was outta there after about eighty pages. I used to always try to read books to the end, or at least give them 50 pages or so. Lately, though, I’ve been fine with ditching them earlier. The other day I started Arcadia (which everyone seems to be raving about) but decided I wasn’t in the mood for present tense and immediately returned it to the library.

    I think the only time I really feel guilty about not finishing a book is if I’ve spent a lot of money on it or a friend/family member has given it to me.

    • It’s interesting how people seem to either love or hate Zadie Smith’s writing. I can kind of understand ditching Arcadia near the beginning; for me, the first half was a bit lackluster, but the second half was really compelling and beautiful. I think it’s one of those rare books that is worth sticking with even if the beginning doesn’t grab you.

      That’s a good point; its harder to give up on a book that you’ve spent money on than one from the library, and I’m sure I would feel terrible about not finishing a book a loved one carefully picked out for me.

  9. I had to read The Importance on Being Earnest last year, and was really not looking forward to it – but I absolutely loved it. Maybe my surprise at enjoying it made my enjoyment better!
    My rule is to get to page 60. If you’re still not into it at page 60, it’s probably not happening, but if you get there, you’ve usually got through the worst and can get properly into it.

  10. I usually don’t finish books accidentally–I set them down and forget to get back to them, or one are due at the library and I just don’t get to it on time. It is rare that I make the conscious decision to DNF–I’m just too inclined to finish if I have the time, regardless of my fondness or lack thereof for the book.

  11. I haven’t DNF’d any books this year but if I want to, I usually ask respected bloggers if I should keep going or not and – if the book is short – I’ll try to finish. But last year, I failed to finish a good number and may not ever go back. It all depends and I allow that some books just don’t fit my mood. Or, I opt to see the movie and that usually derails the chance I’ll ever read the text.

    • Asking trusted bloggers whether the book is worth finishing is a really good idea! I wish I had thought of that. However, there are some cases when the book, through no fault of its own, doesn’t work for a particular reader — like The Picture of Dorian Gray; I know it’s a great book, and any blogger would tell me to finish it, but it’s not working for me right now.

  12. I hardly ever DNF, but going forward, I’m going to give books 50 to 100 pages and give up if they’re not grabbing me. I plodded through The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen for a readalong, and it took me more than a week to read it because it kept putting me to sleep. I always say that life is too short to read bad books, but sometimes I forget to follow my own advice!

    • That’s a good idea, and I definitely agree that life is too short to read bad books! Sometimes it’s hard to walk away though; it feels like failure, a little bit, right?

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