The question of what to do with books that I do not finish (DNF) has been an ongoing one since I started writing mini-reviews of a few sentences in a notebook just for me. My process continues to change, but I thought I’d share how I currently go about it.
The short answer is that I don’t rate DNFs because I don’t feel that it would be fair. Some people treat DNF-ing as an automatic 1-star or 2-star rating since something made them not want to finish, which is valid; for me, I feel like there’s just so much individual variation that it’s not worth figuring out.
I DNF frequently and for a wide variety of reasons, from “Oh wow, this espouses some really problematic ideologies” to “I can’t stand the protagonist, even though I’m pretty sure this is meant to be the start of a dramatic character growth arc” to “Yeah, I’m just not feeling it.” Plus, there are plenty of books where my opinion drastically changed at some point, up to and including the final paragraph. My rating system is meant to look at the narrative as a whole, which I obviously can’t do when I didn’t read the whole thing.
(This is probably where I should admit that I have spite-read to the end for the purpose of giving 1 star and a scathing review. But I like to think I’m getting better about redirecting my time and energy more positively.)
On the other hand, I do think it’s totally fair game to review a DNF, with the caveat that I always specify that it’s a DNF review; I’ll usually also note how far into the book I got as a bit of context.
If you’ve read and/or written them yourself, I probably don’t have to convince you that DNF reviews can be really helpful. While I no longer list content warnings and rep for DNFs — my lists were of course incomplete, and usually that information can be found in other reviews if not from the author/ publisher — it’s another viewpoint on what didn’t (and often what did) work for a reader, for people deciding whether to pick up the book. It can include a callout of inaccuracies and biases
though I have received a lot of author comments insisting that I “missed the point” or that the issues I had are resolved “if you just keep reading”; this is why I now restrict comments on my Goodreads reviews to Friends.
Frequently I start the body of the review — that is, after noting “DNF @ X%” — by stating why I’m DNF-ing at this particular point and more broadly, if applicable. (“I’m just not invested” tends to be paired with another catalyst, so I’ll give them both.) I’ll then add any other comments: the aforementioned inaccuracies and biases, any comparisons to other media that came to mind, potentially even demographics of readers that I think might enjoy the book even though I didn’t.
Unlike other reviews, I don’t tend to spend much time reorganizing and rewriting sections when my “brain dump” is finished, so is the DNF review. I’ll probably proofread for typos and grammar and half-completed sentences, but otherwise it’s ready to be posted and checked off my list. Done.
Oh, and a stealth benefit of DNF reviews is that since they’re relatively quick and easy to write, they’re great for getting me into the flow to tackle other reviews that I’ve putting off!
- Do you rate and/or review your DNFs? Why or why not?
- Or, alternatively, do you finish every (or almost every) book you start? (Props for your commitment; I could never.)