When I started the DNF tag at Smart Bitches, I had three responses. Among the first was, “What the hell does that mean?” I still get this question from time to time.
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DNF stands for “Did Not Finish” and is the almost-grade I give a book when I’ve read more than half and I just can’t bring myself to finish. It happens when I’ve tried and tried to give a flying crap, or even a 10th of a flying crap, about the characters and cannot do it, or when one or both characters do something completely stupid or inconsistent to the point where I stop caring about them and don’t want to know what happens. In one case, the Twilight series, I did not finish the second book because I knew what was going to happen in the fourth book and just couldn’t be interested any more.
Deciding not to finish a book is something of a big deal for me. My compulsion to Find Out What Happens is very strong. There are books I’ve read where I didn’t really care much about the characters but definitely wanted to find out the resolution to the plot and have sped my way through to the end just to Find Out What Happens.
But there are times when despite my best and most dedicated of intentions, I cannot finish a book. I just can’t. I don’t want to. If I try to pick up the story again, I read three words and suddenly picking lint off the sofa with a toothpick seems a thousand times more fun than reading any more. (This is very alarming, as I love to read.) Or, if a character has gone the way of much boneheaded action, I am so irritated I don’t want to read more as the book will continue to piss me off in snarly and cranky ways. I don’t read to get cranky. I read to escape the cranky.
And that brings me to reaction No. 2 to the DNF review: That’s Not a Review! Don’t do that!
Not a review? Pah. I disagree. I do indeed think that the decision to not finish a book can and should speak loudly about that book’s ability to engage a reader. If a reader gives a book an A, or a D, or a DNF, I understand better where that reader’s tastes align with mine. If she couldn’t or didn’t want to finish a book that I adored and couldn’t put down, I know we aren’t going to like the same material in that genre.
I absolutely think that a DNF grade is a valid format for review. I don’t give DNF reviews unless I’ve read about half of the book though. Failure to engage in the beginning is different than failure to incite my compulsion to finish. If neither the characters nor the plot are grabbing my attention, I want to know why and explain why. The decision to leave a book unfinished after reading more than half is as important a review for me as the decision to read a book and tell everyone I know about it, possibly also hitting them bodily with the nearest paperback copy. I try not to assault people with hardbacks. They hurt.
The third reaction to the DNF review is “ME TOO.” So many people experience twitches of regret when leaving a book unfinished. Some of us talk about it as a great and embarrassing shame, that we couldn’t bring ourselves to finish a book. Our discussion could take the same tone as not being able to finish a favorite meal prepared by our favorite relative. Regret is palpable in these discussions.
Part of the reason for my use of the DNF review grade is to help alleviate my shame in not being able to finish. I tried! I did! And here are ALL THE REASONS I couldn’t finish. It has helped a little, mostly because there are so many other readers who have said the same thing.
So, what books have you left unfinished? Which books do you wish you could have liked more but had to abandon midway? No shame here—life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy!
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.