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DNF-ing Books And Moving On

Sometimes life is too short to keep on reading!

Ever since I started blogging about books seven years ago I have always encountered one awkward and slightly malicious question: “Why do you only review books that you love?”. At first, I did not understand where the question was coming from, though a quick look at my blog indeed reflected most of my reviews fell into the space between good and this-book-changed-my-life. And that has defined my reading (and my writing) for better or for worse. However, things have changed in the past weeks when I have done the unthinkable: I gave up on two crime fiction books.

I have to admit I have always been pretty good at identifying what I want and getting it, be it a new pen or a new book. I prefer to dive into a book knowing as little about it was it can be possibly human in today’s overconnected world, but when I doubt I do my research. If I do not know whether the book is going to be worth spending my time and money on it, I usually check other bloggers’ reviews or I simply try to learn more about the author. This obsessive selection process has been motivated by the little free time my studies left me for what I call pleasure reading but also by the lack of space in my bookshelves currently haunting my bedroom (seriously, send help). So, for many years picking up a book felt very much like questioning a suspect in a CIA interrogation room.

But then I started to get review copies and my reading process changed. I had a lot of books to choose from, some of which I had requested, some of which just arrived at my house and made my parents slightly panicky about my money. It actually took several weeks to convince them all those books were part of my new job as a writer. Suddenly I found myself with towers of to-be-read books with a diverse range of authors and stories to choose from. But instead of having more free time, I got less and picking up a book even became a stressful process. What to read next? What if the book I pick is not what I want to read now, but instead the one I left on the pile is better? Graphic description:

What to read next?

In the process of giving books a chance, I ended up reading books that I did not enjoy that much. I even struggled to read more than a few, having to force myself to read one more line and one more page and one more chapter until I was done with them (this is what years of studying literature do to you). And then one day I realised that reading some books was no longer a pleasure but a task. I was forcing myself to read and/or listen to books that everyone else seemed to love but that were torturing me during the free half an hour of my fourteen-hour work day I cherished so much. And I started to DNF-books: DID NOT FINISH (and it’s OK).

But change does not come easily, and guilt is still there. My current Reading list includes two books that I know I will not finish and even though I have known this for weeks now, labelling them as DNF in my Goodreads account feels like a treason. One of those books is by someone whose previous book I loved. The other one is a crime fiction literary sensation the success of which I seriously struggle to understand. Both are super popular. Reviewing them in a good light would give this site more views, more traffic, more visibility. But I won’t do it.

I won’t write a bad review either because I think you should finish a book to write an informed and critical bad review and I have decided I do not want to spend more time trying to get into the story, trying to understand a set of characters who feel foreign caricatures. This does not mean that I am against critical reviews in any way, and had I been professionally hired to edit or review any of the books I’m DNF-ing I would have done it without a doubt. But not in my free time! I would rather spend my precious reading time with a book that makes me happy. One of those books that makes you want to rush back home to read in bed with a good cup of tea, a blanket, and a dog lying by your side. So, in this case, it is true: It’s not about them, it’s about me.



  • A Life in Books

    I agree absolutely with your DNF policy, Elena. I also stick to books that I would happily recommend to a friend. Life’s too short to waste on those that you’re not enjoying!

    • Elena

      That’s great to hear, Susan. I think that because of my Literature studies I felt I had to finish each and every book I started, but it feels so good not to!

  • Raili Taylor

    I think yours is a sound policy. In the past not finishing a book would make me feel bad, now I decide it is not for me, stop reading and take it to a charity shop. Still, I’d never write a wholly negative review, for two reasons: there are so many books I enjoy and want to tell others about, why waste time and space on a dud? Secondly, I may think a book is not worth reading but somebody else might love it; who am I to say they are wrong and I’m right?
    And, btw, not every book on a bestsellerlist gets there because they deserve a wide readership. Some are lucky, some hit the zeitgeist and some ride on the tail.

    • Elena

      I totally agree with you, Raili. Maybe I find a book terrible, but it can change someone else’s life. However, I do agree that constructive criticism is good and I feel strongly about a book because of any reason I should give myself the freedom to write about it from a respectful place.

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    I totally agree with you on both counts – don’t finish books that you hate (or are just totally disinterested in) and you don’t have to review books you DNF. I feel like one should review the books one is excited about, personally, because it comes out in your review. I have written about some books that I had mixed feelings about but I don’t review DNFs because I just don’t have that kind of time! 🙂

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