My (Apparent) History With “DNF” Books

I have always prided myself on the fact that I tend to finish the books that I start, even if not right away. When I was younger, I tried to read Black Beauty while I was home one day with the flu, and ended up putting it down because I had no idea what was going on. This may have even happened more than once. The fact that I’d never properly finished the book bothered me so much that I actively looked for another opportunity to read it — which was in university, when I decided to bring books along to read during breaks between classes. It actually was not until just now, sitting down to write this post, that I started to remember a few other instances over the years where I did not finish a book.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I once set myself a goal of reading all of the books on my shelf, starting from the first book and working my way across. That goal was pretty short-lived, considering the first book on my list was The Good Earth when I was much too young to really understand it. The same goes for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I went into expecting the Disney movie while simultaneously knowing that it was nothing like the movie. Until earlier this week, there was only one book that I really counted as “DNF” (“did not finish”, for those who don’t know). In the case of Black Beauty, I went out of my way to finish it. With the other two books mentioned above, I’d read less than a chapter before giving up on them, so in a strange way, I considered them never started, rather than “DNF.” The intent was always there to go back and try them again, although I haven’t done so yet. The same could be said for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a book I never finished because I started reading it as an activity when I did my field placement, and my placement ended before we finished the book. Again, I’ve always intended to go back to that book. It’s actually a bit strange that I’ve always considered myself a “completionist” when it comes to books, and if you had asked me up until this week, I would have said I always finish the books I start.

But now, I can safely say that my streak, or apparently my perception a streak, has officially come to an end. And here is the culprit:

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To be clear, I am not posting this to badmouth the book or the authors in any way. The book just was not for me at all. To be fair, I went into it knowing it was pretty unlikely that I would enjoy it. I picked it up because of a category in my “rejects” challenge, which called for “A children’s book with a choose your own adventure theme.” As it is, this book is probably a big of a stretch for this category since I would consider it closer to YA, although you could make a case for it being a middle grade book. If I’m honest, I’d forgotten the category while at the library and thought I needed a choose your own adventure story geared toward adults or at least teens.

This book focuses on a teenage girl named Haley who has moved to a new town to go to high school. The reader gets to move through the story as Haley and make choices along the way about who she should spend time with, which classes to attend, after-school activities, and sometimes even clothing choices. When I was younger, my brother was obsessed with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, and while I was never a huge fan, I thought it could be interesting to read this kind of book for a more realistic setting. Unfortunately, I thought this particular story was poorly executed.

Generally, when you choose a path in these kinds of stories, it functions completely independently of other choices you could have made. In this book, I would follow one plot thread and find references to characters or events that hadn’t happened yet, and which were presented in such a way that it was clear that it was important to the story. For example, one of my choices led to my character being interviewed on a radio show which had never been mentioned before, nor had the host ever been mentioned although it was clear that they had previously had some interactions. The first time I noticed some inconsistency, I just assumed I’d not been paying enough attention and had missed something. I went back and tried to find it, couldn’t, and decided to give up and just move on with the story. After finishing about half of the pages in the book, I was confused but also very bored with the story. I was hesitant to DNF it, but soon realized that I was literally forcing myself to push through it just for the sake of it. I wouldn’t mind if I was enjoying anything about the book, but in this case, I wasn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to continue it.

I have always found the debate about DNFing books pretty interesting. On the one hand, I can (now, at least) understand why people would stop reading a book that they really were not enjoying. On the other, I’ve always been hesitant to stop because I tend to hold out hope that the book might still get better. Sometimes I’m not really enjoying the story, but I’m invested enough in it to want to know what happens — which especially seems to be the case with longer books. If I’ve already spent several days pushing my way through a book, especially if that book is counting toward one of my reading challenge prompts, I’m unlikely to give up on it. Or, I don’t like characters/storyline but there is some aspect of the story that I care enough about to want to see what will happen next.

I’m sure it has been discussed to death by this point, but please feel free to let me know. What does it take for you to DNF a book? How long are you willing to hang in there to see if it will get better?

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