Why I DNF Over 30 Books A Year

June 4, 2019 Discussions 40

Why I DNF Over 30 Books a Year


My regular readers / podcast listeners (my podcast is Sarah’s Book Shelves Live) know that I’m an unapologetic DNF’er of books. And, that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, I recently realized that not all my readers / listeners understand why I DNF over 30 books a year (so far this year, I’ve DNF’d 18 books, 32% of the books I’ve attempted).

Given this feedback, I thought it would be helpful if I laid out exactly why I DNF so many books. Keep in mind, the reasons below work for me and may not work for you…and that’s OK! But, if you were to ask me the single best tip for jumpstarting your reading life…I’d tell you to DNF more books.

Why I DNF Over 30 Books a Year

I’m scouting books to recommend to my readers / listeners…

As a blogger/podcaster/Bookstagrammer, one of the primary purposes of my reading is to find great books to recommend to other people. And, I want to find as many of these as possible.

Once I realize I’m not going to recommend a particular book to others, there’s really no purpose in me continuing to read it. And, abandoning books I know I’m not going to recommend frees me up to find the books I will recommend!

For more discussion on this, check out Episode 21 of the podcast with Mary Laura Philpott!

In many cases, I’m reading books before they’re published….

Also because of my role as a blogger/podcaster/Bookstagrammer, many of the books I read are Advanced Review Copies (aka “ARCs”) that I get from publishers well before the books are released to the general public.

This means there isn’t as much feedback or as many reviews available about many of the books I read when I’m reading them. The number one way readers find new books is through word of mouth…and that recommendation source is often not available to me. So, the books I’m reading are often untested…which means there will be more duds for me than for someone who reads books that have lots of positive feedback built up.

My reading time is limited and I want to spend it reading books I’m enjoying (aka the “I read for pleasure” reason)…

We’re all adults here! We’re not in school anymore (well, I assume most of my readers / listeners aren’t…if you are, then keep plugging away at that assigned reading)! We can read what we want without feeling bad about it. 

If you don’t believe me, author John Irving has this to say about it:

Grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying. When you’re no longer a child, and you no longer live at home, you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. One reward of leaving school is you don’t have to finish books you don’t like.

Being free to DNF enables me to take more risks on books outside of my comfort zone…

If I know I can put a book down if I don’t like it, I’m much more willing to try books I may not initially think I’ll like. Would you try a book you weren’t really interested in if you thought you were committed to spending 6 hours reading it?

Most recently, this played out for me with Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review) and City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I wasn’t particularly interested in either, but I decided to give them a try because of all the buzz and I ended up rating both 5 stars.

DNFing helps me minimize reading slumps…

Nothing will slow my reading down faster than trying to push through a book I don’t like. It takes me much longer to get through that kind of book because I’m not motivated to find every available moment to read it.

Why do you DNF books? Or, why do you not?

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Why I DNF Over 30 Books a Year
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40 Responses to “Why I DNF Over 30 Books A Year”

  1. Diane

    This post makes good sense, if we read for pleasure, why continue to read a book that is just not working ? I used to try and finish everything, but this year I’ve had (4) DNF so far and one NF – 1 star that I hated but felt compelled to finish as I just wanted to see how it turned out LOL Have you read/listened to, MAID, Stephanie Land? UGH

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I listened to that one and she definitely rubbed me the wrong way at times. Was meh for me.

    • Elisa Heisman

      interesting – that one is on my list. Maybe I’ll take it off and make room for another one. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Rebecca Foster

    I DNF about 15% of the books I start in a year. I think it’s absolutely essential to give yourself permission to give up on a book at any point. Why waste your leisure time on something you’re not enjoying? I list all my DNFs with very brief responses to each in a couple of blog posts per year and these are always absurdly popular posts of mine.

  3. Angela

    I DNF because I can’t stand sitting there, wasting my time on something I’m not enjoying. Especially if I’m rolling my eyes at characters or situations or something about the writing style that doesn’t work for me, it’s time to stop! I just know it will put me in a bad mood to continue reading or I’m just going to skim it.

  4. Lisa of Hopewell

    There are things that make me quit: In historical fiction, it’s using news stories to fill the story or stilted conversations to explain who everyone is and what is happening in the big, wide, world. Also giving characters amazingly modern views. Yawn. Otherwise, it’s the “ick” factor–unnecessarily graphic sex unless it is a book about that (not that I would read it), child molestation, animal cruelty, extreme profanity used seemingly because it’s 2019 and a book “must” have something from this selection. ICK. And, no thank you. Finally, if a book is Boring it’s gone. I don’t care how many great reviews. If it bores me it’s gone. I’m 57. Life is too short to read a dull book.

  5. Hannah | The Cozy Reading Nook

    DNFing is so freeing! I like your point about being much more willing to try books you may think you’re not going to like if you’ve given yourself permission to put them down. I’m sure that does wonders for finding new things to read. I think I need to work on the reverse: putting down a book that I think I’m supposed to like.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oooh – good point! I definitely am more inclined to push through longer if it’s a trusted author or some hyped book that I think I’m supposed to like.

  6. Tina

    I love your ability to DNF! I’m working on it 🙂 I’ve DNF’ed about 4 so far this year.

  7. Susan

    I too dnf books. I try to make that call by about page 68. I would be interested to read at what page or % of the book do you make the call to dnf?

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’ve DNF’d a book at 2% and 82%…but, I usually give it 25% if I’m the least bit undecided.

      Why Page 68 for you?!

      • Susan

        I usually have my mind made up by that page number. Now that is not to say like you that I haven’t dnf’d sooner or even later. Recently I read something that actually has a math formula for this, and using that formula I should abandon a book at page 44 which, I think can be too soon some books take a while to get going. This was a interesting topic, and I can’t wait to see how others weigh in on this.

  8. Susie | Novel Visits

    I think I saw the DNF math formula that Susan mentioned years ago. I believe it was take your current age and subtract it from 100. That number was how many pages the proponent felt you should give a book. I liked it because it took into account that the older you get, the smarter you are at knowing early what will work for you and what won’t.

    If I forced myself to finish every book I started, I don’t think I’d be much of a reader. The pain of slogging through books that weren’t working for me would take so much pleasure away from the reading process, so why would I want to continue?

    DNFing is an essential part of reading. I honestly don’t see how you can be a true lover of books without being willing to do it. Great discussion, Sarah. I’m so glad you took it on.

  9. Sue

    I’m one of those people that still struggles with DNFing a book, I feel like I need to finish everything! But I like the idea that it leaves you more time to find better books, so something for me to work on this year. What does irritate me are people who give 1 star reviews and proceed to trash books that they have barely started! I don’t think it’s fair to the author, as not all books move at the same pace. So life is short ,and if a book is not for you move on. But don’t make sweeping judgements about a book if you have only read 15%!

    • Alison

      I agree wholeheartedly! I think I’ve read on some blogs or heard on podcasts of reviewers “hate reading” a book just so they can write that negative review fairly. Maybe one of the Readerly Report ladies?

  10. Jenny

    I rarely, if ever, DNF a book. I would have to really, really hate it and I can’t remember the last time I hated a book that much. Many years ago I read Middlemarch, which started off very slow for me. I didnt like it for at least half the book, maybe more (and it’s a long book.) By the time I got to the end, I loved it and the last page made me cry. So… I think I always have it in the back of my mind that a book can turn around dramatically. I will say that I usually get a good recommendation or at least flip through a book before I start it just to make sure there’s nothing about the writing style that will annoy me. So i probably have more DNS’s than you guys!

  11. Rachel @ Never Enough Novels

    I never thought to track the books I DNF. I’m generally very picky about what I start reading though, so I don’t think my number would be very high. Maybe only 1 or 2 this year? I don’t post many book reviews (especially for new releases) so that gives me a bit more freedom to wait and see what others think! It also means I’m talking about books a year or two after everyone else though haha. I do agree that possibly the #1 advice for new readers is to DNF. It helps you find only the ones you’ll enjoy and keep reading more after that.

    • Maureen Allenza

      Adorable wedding pix. Love your title-never enough novels. My guess is you already know this site, but I’ll tell it to you anyhow. You must try thrift books……because there’s…..never enough novels!

  12. Regina OLeary

    I love the fact you don’t finish Sarah … it’s why I read and look forward to your email every week. I am so working on DNF books … I haven’t done one yet but i’m Going to do at least one this year. I have read a couple that you didn’t finish in past years and i was mad with myself … I didn’t enjoy book, read slower then normal … so now I really follow and trust your reviews and I know how you review if I will like or not. No way would I have read daisy jones and the six and I loved it … thank you. Thanks also for explaining “arc” I won a book from goodreads and it said it was an arc and I had no idea. I reviewed it so now i’m Glad I did. Thanks again for your great work and “DNF”

    • Alison

      I am the same with books that have been highly recommended. The best example of this is A Place For Us for me. Without a trusted recommendation source I would have DNF’d but I’m so glad I didn’t because that last third of the book (from the dads perspective) was worth the journey there

  13. Sarah R

    You have inspired me to DNF more! I used to feel like if I started something, I should finish it since I’ve already invested reading time into it. But then, like you said, that can slow down reading even more, and there are already so many wonderful books in the world that I could never read them all!

    A couple years ago, the Book Riot podcast was talking about this, and they said everyone 50 and older should assess if they should DNF by age 50. For those under 50, the formula is 100 – your age, so since I’m 40, I give myself until page 60. If I don’t like, I flip to the end and read it.

    So far in 2019, I have finished 56 books and DNFed 18.

  14. Jan

    I used to be a completionist (Type A!), but now I have no patience for books that aren’t working for me. I have so many books I want to read and couldn’t possibly get through in a lifetime.

    I don’t blog but I do read a lot of ARCs and it’s so true they are untested. I used to feel bad about DNF’ing review books but have decided it actually helps the publisher to know a book isn’t working and why.

    So far, thanks to your tracker, I know I’ve DNF’d 37% of the books attempted. And my reading life is better for it. I’m actually reading more books because I’m enjoying what I’m reading and can’t wait to pick it up.

    Great topic!

  15. Allison | Mind Joggle

    You have definitely inspired me to DNF more books! I used to power through anything I started–now I feel like that wastes precious reading time. I still try to give things a pretty good shot, but I find that I rarely give a book another thought if I do DNF it. Realizing that takes away the back and forth over whether I should keep going if it’s not working–there are other great books waiting!

    I also DNF a lot of audiobooks, but I don’t always rule them out for reading in print later. I’m just super picky about what works for me in audio.

  16. Elisa Heisman

    I DNF’d Educated this past year. I kept going back to it because I thought I’d like it and then I finally gave myself permission to move on – even though so many people try to convince me to give it another try.

  17. Judy

    I DNF a LOT of Audiobooks…because of narrator or pacing…sometimes I do go back and try the book itself and find it to be better. With twisty thrillers or mysteries when I get to the point where I DON’T CARE who did it or how it is going to end I just quit…and there are many of those these days. My curiosity just wanes when the plot of the characters aren’t very compelling.

  18. Sandra

    I have recently started doing what I call DNSing or Did Not Start a book. I’ll read the first chapter or so and if it’s not for me I’ll put it aside. I tend not to mention those books at all because I don’t feel as if I’ve even actually started them. Effectively it’s just a step more involved than reading the dust jacket and blurb and deciding not to bother with the book. Once I get past that point I tend to finish mostly because I’m enjoying the book enough that I think I’ll end up rating it three stars or more. I do a lot odd reading challenges and since I like the feeling of completing them I’ll sometimes push through a book I’m not enjoying, especially if it was a category I struggled to find anything I really wanted to read. Thankfully I more often find I enjoy a book I didn’t expect to so overall the challenges help improve my reading life, even if one or two books per year have a negative effect. Reading a lot each year also mitigates this effect. Classics are another category I’ll sometimes persevere with because I want to be able to say I’ve read the book – even if I don’t always enjoy reading it. Again this is only one or two titles a year.

  19. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis

    In the olden days, when I was young, I never DNF a book. But, as Lisa said, life is too short to be reading something I’m not enjoying. Every year older I get, the higher my stack of DNFs gets. 🙂

    Interesting and articulate post, Sarah – and great discussion!

  20. Alison

    This is fantastic post. Really enjoying this discussion.

    I’m curious if your DNFs are forever DNF’d or revisited at a different time. I find that some books just don’t work if there is a lot going on or my brain is too busy. These same books can be enjoyed at a quieter time.

  21. Catherine

    I guess I fall somewhere in the middle of this discussion. I do DNF but not to the degree that you do. I think it really depends on what your purpose is for reading. If you need to get a reading guide out by a certain date, then you are going to stop books quickly. I have more time and so can give some books more of a chance. A slow start is not enough for me to DNF if I like the writing.

    I also think there are other factors. You mention reading pre-release, but I know you use recommendation sources so, at some point, might they not be working for you as well as they should? Are you seeing this in your tracker?

    When all is said and done, I like that you’re so transparent about it. For readers with the same goals as yours you save them a lot of time. For those who may be willing to give a book more of a chance, they know, based on your DNF reason, whether it might be a book that would still work for them.

  22. Madeline

    Frankly, bloggers (or those who accept ARCs) should have a different sense of responsibility than us “ordinary” readers. I thought those who took ARCs were supposed to review them.

    In culling through Goodreads reviews, I only read the negative ones. I don’t need a bunch of OTT giddy 5* reviews. I want the bottom-line, nitty-gritty — which only negative reviews provide. (Why it is that negative reviews are more distilled about why they disliked a book as opposed to saccharine positive reviews?)

    I read 156 books last year (with a 3.67 overall rating). To date I’m at 67 read and 9 DNF (3.97 rating but I think I’m grading high).

    I don’t mind DNF’ing but I read a LOT of blogs, newsletters and reviews. I do so in order NOT to DNF but to make better decisions upfront.

    Sadly my best recommendation resource are books by authors that I’ve enjoyed in the past. I’d like to stretch that but, for whatever reason, it isn’t happening. (Although happy moment: I was at City Arts & Lectures last night to hear Amor Towles!)

  23. Patricia Anne Bryan

    Never ceases to amaze me why this continues to exercise people!If you had a food that bored/disgusted/irritated you you wouldn’t keep shoving it in your mouth.Especially when there are much more attractive options available.And in my case..aged 71..limited time to sample as many as I want to.Release yourself from shoulda and musts!

  24. Jenn

    I’m still a beginner at DNFing. I’ve only ever DNFed 8 books since I signed up for Goodreads in 2012, but 3 have been from this year! I always tell myself that I’ll go back to these books some day, but I have a huge TBR list and life is short!

  25. Kim@Time2Read

    I’m not afraid to DNF a book, but I try not to do it too soon. Often a book that starts out slow ends up being one of my favorites during the year. I try to get through 50-100 pages, depending on the length of the book, before I give up on it.

  26. Carol

    I wish I had the courage to DNF more books. I keep reading hoping they’ll get better but they don’t. Or people have encouraged me to read to the end because there is a “surprise” or “it gets better.” It doesn’t. I read The Goldfinch because so many people raved about it. I am one of the ones that didn’t like it. I want my 33 hours of listening to it back. I also stuck it out reading “The Power” because everyone said you have to read the last fifteen pages! It was still “meh” for me but I am glad I read it. It was a fast read and I at least appreciate the motivation behind it. This may be controversial, but I count the DNF’s as “finished.” I gave it a try, I read what I wanted and now I’m done with it. I consider that finished. Again, we’re not in school.

  27. Gabby

    I am a hardcore never-NDF, but that’s pretty much entirely for stubborn reasons. It does occasionally pay off with books that improve after a slow start! Not here to judge how anyone else reads, though! With all due respect to Irving, I think grown-ups can read however the heck they want to, whether that’s DNF or finishing everything!

  28. Anne Simonot

    Nothing wrong with DNFs! As many have commented, we’re not in school.. it’s not assigned reading. I often DNF around page 50; if it’s not grabbing me by then, it’s unlikely to start. Plus I’m impatient & there are too many other things to read to waste a lot of time on a meh book. But I have also given up half or three-quarters through (No Exit, I’m thinking of you), or even after the first page or two, if I sense the writer’s style just isn’t for me (ironically, this was The River. But I loved his earlier The Dog Stars!). Not necessarily a bad book, just not for me. No guilt! Moving on to something better! Aaanndd I too am super picky with audiobooks. A grating narrator just stops me instantly.

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