I DNF (book blogger for “did not finish”) books all the time.
Last month, I DNFed 9 books.
Just this week, I DNFed 2.
I’m able to do this thanks to a high school English teacher who said, “Life is too short to read books you don’t like.”
She was right.
Why might I DNF a book, you ask?
I made you a nice list of reasons. Read on.
I react poorly to the following:
- Overly-long conversations
- Very long, very detailed descriptions (esp. of nature or historical battles)
- Thematic rabbit trails
- Author tracts
- Use of the word “ass” in a sexual context
- Unearned angst
Some of my favorite novels include these things. It happens.
If a book I’m in the middle of includes multiple instances of one or more of the above, I bail.
The two leads in The Wedding Date get stuck in an elevator.
Instead of reacting like normal humans, they have a sexy, snappy conversation for two whole pages without dialogue tags.
Lack of plot
I know more character-driven books seemingly “lack plot.”
I don’t object to those.
I object to books that open with long stretches of nothing, as though the editor missed GIANT sections or the author neglected to remove them.
Small talk isn’t interesting.
Dorm room descriptions aren’t interesting.
The details of air travel aren’t interesting.
Give me some sort of emotion or I’m out.
I couldn’t get too far into Christina Riccio’s Again, But Better.
All the characters were strangers, the lead was in a new environment, and everyone went around describing each other’s outfits and making small talk.
I flipped ahead 200 pages to find the characters TRAPPED IN AN ELEVATOR MAKING SNAPPY CONVERSATION.
WHAT DID I JUST SAY??
Characters trapped in an elevator
Apparently this is my least favorite trope of all time.
In Jennifer E. Smith’s The Geography of You and Me, two characters get trapped in an elevator and FALL in LOVE!
I read this book at a very bitter time in my life (so…Tuesday).
I finished the book…but I grumbled the whole way through.
I like to read genre fiction with romantic elements and/or books with equal parts genre conventions and romance.
I CAN’T do romances with genre conventions added for flavor.
I am more interested in assassinations than sexy times.
So I am ETERNALLY frustrated with books whose marketing push an interesting plot to disguise the romance focus.
Instead of billing the book as a romance, publishers bill the story as a fantasy, or a murder mystery, or a time war.
They snag fans of those genres and surprise them with something else entirely.
What if I told you I came here for the mythology and not for the love story??
GIVE ME MY MYTHS, DAMMIT.
If that criticism seemed particularly pointed, you’re right! It was!
I chose The Chaos of Stars as my first Kiersten White experience. It’s about a big, messy immortal family of Egyptian gods! That’s so neat! I LOVE mythology!
Just kidding, the family conflict is a mirage.
The REAL conflict is MC Isadora’s halting romance with an artsy Greek boy.
Something something about Anubis and whatnot, but MORE IMPORTANTLY: will Isadora learn to give her heart away?
This is the ONE time I read a family drama and it’s really a romance in disguise.
I WILL NEVER LOVE AGAIN.
Hey, Audrey Rose, how ’bout you turn down the sexual tension and FOCUS ON FINDING JACK THE RIPPER? THAT’S why I’m here.
Aren’t James Patterson Presents books supposed to be action-heavy and fast-paced? What is THIS??
(CW: violence, abuse, rape, genital mutilation)
I do better with violence in movies.
Most films come with an IMDB Parents Guide so I can prepare for the worst.
During the movie, I can always close my eyes if something grosses me out. (Hence why I enjoyed the incredibly violent Midsommar.)
CAN’T DO THAT WITH BOOKS.
With books, I am HIGHLY squeamish.
Different things hit me at different times, so I never know what will set me off.
Eye stuff and intestine stuff really get to me.
Oh, and if people get their hands crushed or stabbed.
Or familial abuse.
Or genital destruction.
So…most forms of violence.
Who Fears Death opens with a rape and transitions to female genital mutilation not 30 pages later.
I loved the writing style in Wilder Girls.
Didn’t love the eyeball stabbing.
I put the book down after almost vomiting at work.
(Speaking of vomit, there’s a lot of it in this book.)
CLUCK’S BROTHER STABS CLUCK’S HANDS WITH A SEWING NEEDLE.
I’M NOT GOING TO KEEP READING AFTER THAT.
I once told an acquaintance I couldn’t watch Death Note because it reminded me too much of a past relationship.
He told me to pray for healing…so I could watch Death Note? PRIORITIES, sir.
I’m in counseling now, but certain literary tropes and plot devices still set me on edge.
I REALLY dislike emotional abuse from parents, partners, or friends.
A focus on conservative religious communities can feel too real at times.
And if no violence occurs but the threat of it lingers, I get anxious.
Let’s throw mentally ill guardians in there for fun.
My friend Chris loves tense family dramas. I do NOT.
Carry On is my favorite Rainbow Rowell novel because I can read it without stress.
The rest of Rowell’s books, Eleanor and Park in particular, are billed as fun fluff-nuggets when they are CERTAINLY not.
Eleanor is fat and poor! Let’s bully her, then send her home to her neglectful mom’s predatory boyfriend!
Eleanor’s raising her siblings on her own and they often go hungry, but it’s FINE.
What a fun, fluffy story!
Lack of investment
I’m a mood reader. I read based on my mood.
(For people who DON’T do this: how DO you choose books? I can’t even comprehend an alternative.)
I start plenty of books that are objectively good. These books are often well-plotted and well-written. While reading, I recognize why they garner so much praise.
I’m still able to put them aside without much angst.
For me, this happens most often with adult literary fiction.
I feel guilty when I give up on a Salman Rushdie or a Zadie Smith. I KNOW finishing these books will be a rewarding experience. I know I can learn a lot about fiction from these authors.
However…why waste time on an epic family drama when I can read about cutthroat teenage ballerinas?
Good gravy, Donna Tartt.
I told myself finishing The Goldfinch would be enough of an accomplishment.
NOT WORTH IT. PLEASE SUMMARIZE.
(CW: death, grief, suicidal ideation, racism, sexual assault)
The Goldfinch inspired me to add a final reason to this list.
Our protagonist is having a rough time.
Their parents are cruel and/or dead.
Their friends aren’t their real friends.
No one loves them.
They had their hands crushed in a tragic accident.
Now they’ve contracted a dangerous disease.
IS THERE SERIOUSLY NO HOPE IN THIS NARRATIVE?
DOES ANYTHING GOOD HAPPEN?
WHY DID THIS WIN SO MANY AWARDS??
Samantha from Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky loses her father and her house, faces racism from the locals, survives an attempted rape, kills a man, and considers suicide…all in 9 pages.
All of those things could be potentially compelling, so it would be REALLY compelling for all of them to happen at once! Right? RIGHT?
As readers, we’re all very different and will put down books for various reasons.
This is my list. Some of you might not be affected by these things and that’s fine.
If this post had an aesop, I’d like it to be the following:
You don’t HAVE to push through and finish a book you don’t like. (If it’s one you’re reading for school…your mileage may vary.)
Sure, it’s worthwhile to read challenging material.
But if you’re berating yourself for what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be reading, you’re better off sticking to what you like.
Personally, I’d rather have fun while reading than torture myself.
(As a person with a lot of Protestant guilt, this is a big step!)
If your opinions differ from mine, share them in the comments.
Conversely, share your reasons for DNFing and/or books that you couldn’t get through.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: did ANYONE finish The Goldfinch?