You’ve probably seen a comment on Goodreads or Amazon where someone mentions that they “DNF” the book that they’re leaving a review on. It’s an acronym for “Did Not Finish,” which is pretty self-explanatory.
As a young reader, largely in elementary and middle school, I could not bear to leave a book unfinished. Any book that I picked up, I finished without question. I like to think it was because I had good taste and enjoyed reading a variety of young children’s and YA novels. (I think it’s just because I liked reading.)
Once I reached high school, I only ever finished books on my literature class’s reading list begrudgingly. Largely because I wasn’t allowed to pick the books that I wanted to read, but partially because I didn’t care for the novels and plays. (Once you’ve read Hamlet twice, it seems fairly pointless to read it a third time.) It became a frequent problem where I found that I had no desire to read for fun anymore, and a lot of the books on my to-read list went untouched for several months.
This pattern repeated in college, except half of the time, I didn’t even bother to read the books that were assigned*. But come winter break, I tore through four novels in the span of six weeks and I felt like a brand-new person.
The only issue was that one book took me two weeks to read. The others survived only a few short days before they were through and I could move on to the next book on my list. But that one book took me forever. Don’t get me wrong, I was taking frequent trips to Barnes&Noble and local indie bookshops to add to my collection, but I was struggling through this one with difficulty.
And I’m a stubborn reader, I didn’t want to start reading another book until I finished the one that was giving me so much grief. I knew that if I started a different book, I would never get to the one that I didn’t like and it would remain unfinished. And I couldn’t do that.
See, I can’t DNF books. It’s physically impossible for me to leave a book that I’ve started unread. I refuse to even touch another book until I’ve wrestled my way through it. And this is a common occurrence; there are five books that I’ve read recently that I didn’t really enjoy reading but I knew that I had to finish.
Some readers would say that this is foolish and that I’m wasting my time. My mum, for instance, will drop a book without hesitation if she’s not enjoying it. She says that it’s because she doesn’t have time to waste reading bad books, and I think that’s a good sentiment. I just can’t commit to it.
A very good friend of mine is more like me. She doesn’t DNF books either, and enjoys the triumph of finishing a book that gave her so much grief. “But,” she admits, “the one book that I purposefully didn’t finish was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.” She doesn’t regret it**.
There’s something to be said for both arguments. One the one hand, it seems a waste of time to struggle through a book that you’re not enjoying for the pure purpose of saying that you read the entire thing. And on the other, it feels like a waste to purchase/borrow a book that you don’t end up finishing.
The only facet of DNF that I don’t pay attention to is the reviews. Any review on Goodreads or Amazon that contains the phrase “Did Not Finish” or the corresponding letters gets scrolled past. I understand that it might stand for a warning that the book is bad or contains some fallacy that deems it unreadable (or, at the very least, unfinishable) but I find it more worthwhile to get “the scoop” from someone who read the entire book.
And I find that there is a certain triumph in finishing a book that I just couldn’t wait to be done with. There have been moments where, at the completion of such a novel, that I’ve shut it and just breathed, “Oh thank god I’m done with that.”
There are some more dedicated to reading good books that would look at me and say, “You didn’t have to finish it if you hated it so much.” But I enjoy the feeling of conquering a book that I didn’t like rather than being defeated by a book***. Proud readers will look at me like I’m crazy, and I agree with them! But it’s a habit; I can’t DNF a book.
Do you DNF books? Or do you read through regardless of your dislike? Which book did you DNF? Which one did you preserve with? Leave a comment!
*The true mark of an honor’s student is the ability to write a 1,500-word essay about a book you didn’t actually read.
**It was a book that we had to read for a publishing course at university. She didn’t finish it and I never started it.
***Yes, I am dramatic. I understand that the book does not defeat the reader, but bear with me here.