DNF: Why there’s no shame in giving up on books
There comes a time in every reader’s life when they must face a disheartening reality: there are more books than you’ll ever have time to read. As author Maud Casey said, “I was born with a reading list I will never finish”. Your reading time is finite, so why not DNF books you’re not enjoying?
The DNF pile seems to divide readers. Some are staunch believers in finishing every book they start. Others have a strict criteria for abandoning a book.
I had no idea what DNF meant pre-blogging, but I’ve been happily chucking books (metaphorically of course) in that pile my whole reading life. Even with tiny beginner chapter books I was ruthless; they were back in the returns if I didn't like them, was confused, or bored.
At some point, probably when I started taking part in that bloody Goodreads Challenge, I started feeling pressure. Reading wasn’t a solitary journey anymore. It wasn’t just be browsing one shelf in my local library, it was me seeing a whole new world of latest releases, reading prize shortlists, book hauls, and blogging recommendations. My reading world went from black and white to technicolour, Wizard of Oz-style.
At times I’ve forgotten reading should be a joy, not a chore. I’ve felt like I had to finish reading something because it’s been reviewed well, or it’s a classic. It might be by an author who I 'know' on social media and whose work I desperately want to love.
I often buy books as travel souvenirs and feel particularly guilty if I can’t quite fall in love with them. That bound stack of pages and ink becomes my connection to London, or Dublin, or Melbourne.
It can be a matter of timing. Sometimes it’s less about the book itself and more my frame of mind, or the season of my life. There are books I’ve loved I know would have been DNF’d a few years earlier. Sometimes I won’t properly end things with a book, but we’ll definitely be on a break.
There's so much time an effort in a book and sometimes that makes me guilty when I consider giving up. The more I know about the publishing industry, the more authors who I meet, the more I want to love every book I read. But isn’t it better that their books are read by people who genuinely appreciate and enjoy them?
The reality is that there are just too many books in the world for us to love every single one we start.
Sometimes there’s a benefit to reading a book you’re not enjoying. The plot might still be intriguing, or the writing evocative. You can still learn from challenging books that aren’t ones you’d ever want to return to. But when you’re thinking of anything to do rather than read, well, it’s a sure sign that a book isn’t really doing it for you.
Here’s the thing: each book you DNF gets you a little closer to finding your next favourite. Life is way, way too short to spend time not enjoying books (unless, you know, you have to read something for study or whatever). It’s meant to be a joy. Reclaim that and DNF with zero guilt. There are enough books in the world for us to all find something we love.
Let me know where you stand on DNF'ing books. And if you do it, how do you know when it's time to give up?