Four years ago almost to the day, I wrote a post about the 10 Things That Make Me Close a Book for Good. Back then, I was fighting with my tendency to be a Chronic Finisher when it comes to books. I don't fight that anymore. If I don't like something, I have too many books in my TBR pile (10 years worth, actually. I calculated based on my average books per year read rate. Scary.) to waste time on reading something that's not doing it for me. This year so far, I've read fifty books to completion and have DNFed thirteen (so about 20%).
However, when I looked back at that old post, I realized that though some of my reasons have remained consistent, some have shifted. So I thought it was time to revisit the topic again. Also, I found this quote by W.H. Auden on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog, and I think this helps categorize DNF reasons in a broader, more universal way that you might find useful. And though I don't like his use of the word "trash" because we all know where he'd probably file romance, I think the general idea works with some tweaks.
Here's the Auden quote:
“For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good, and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”
So tweaking his use of the word "trash", I've used the quote to come up with the three categories that lead us to not finish a book. Looking at these, I've found that all my specific reasons really do fit under one of these three categories.
The 3 Categories of DNF
1. I can see this is not well-written, and I don't like it.
*My version of Auden's "I can see this is trash and I don't like it."
This, like most of the categories, is mostly in the eye of the beholder. The longer I write, the more I learn about craft, the pickier I can be about quality of writing. If the writing itself is distracting me from the story, it's a no go for me.
I know we live in an age of distraction and it takes some effort to focus on a book. But if I'm not compelled to turn the page or I keep putting the book down, it's probably not the book for me. I'll give books some time, especially in certain genres, to capture me, but if I'm 50 pages in and still not compelled, I'm out.
- Loses steam in the middle
This has happened to me a few times this year. I'm liking a book, enjoying the journey, then it drags in the middle and I lose interest. I know how tough middles can be to write, so I don't make a snap decision on this, but if I'm halfway through and no longer care how it ends, I'm moving on.
- Too stupid to live characters
I can handle characters making bad decisions, but if they're making stupid ones for no apparent reason other than that it serves the plot, I can't stick by them and read the story.
2. "I can see this is good, but I don't like it."
These are the reasons that are specific to me and my tastes. They're not bad books. They are just not books for me. In fact, often when I read a book that is too plot-heavy and not enough characterization for my taste, I have a friend who I know will probably love it because she loves a great, twisty plot and isn't as concerned about characterization.
This is probably my number one reason. I'm a character-driven writer, but I'm also a character-driven reader. I need to care about someone in the book. I need to feel like I know them. I need someone to root for. The latest trend with thrillers where everyone is unlikable doesn't work for me. The book can be written well but if I don't care about the people I'm reading about, I have no reason to turn the page.
- It's all about the twist ending and not much else.
It's a trend, particularly since Gone Girl (which I liked but don't want to read 20 others like it.) Many people want to the big "gotcha" at the end. I get it, but I'm learning it's not for me. I like a good twist if the story has had at least one great character I can root for, but I'm finding often the "twist" books have unlikable narrators and the book focuses too much on setting the pieces up for the reveal instead of telling a story I want to read.
Also a trend from Gone Girl. Honestly, if a book says "like Gone Girl or Girl on a Train," I read that as code for "unreliable narrator" and move on. I just don't enjoy that trope.
- Super sad books, particularly cancer/medical storylines
I write romance for a reason. I can't handle too much sadness in my books with no happy or hopeful ending. Plus, books with medical storylines make me hypochondriac and paranoid about symptoms, lol. If I feel one of those storylines coming on, I bail.
3. I can see this is good, but it's not the right book for me right now.
*This is my version of Auden's "I can see this is good, and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it."
I'm in the mood for something light and a book is too dark. I'm in the mood for contemporary and this is paranormal. I'm absolutely a mood reader, so a book can be amazing but if it's not a fit for what I want at the moment, I'm going to put it aside.
Sometimes I'm too distracted by life to read certain things. Like in stressful times, I need something light and happy to read. Or it may be winter and the book takes place at the beach. The book may be good but it's just not the right time for me to read it.
- One day I may appreciate this but I'm not ready yet
This was me in high school with the classics. I wasn't ready for them. This also could be that I can't relate to a book yet because I haven't hit that stage of life. Or it's about an event that's still too fresh in memory, and I'm not ready to dive deep into it yet.
- Burnt out on a genre, storyline, or topic
I have to mix up genres and types of stories. If I read too much of anything in a row, I start resisting books in that zone.
See? Those three categories really do cover a lot. And for those of you who are chronic finishers, thinking of these categories can help with the guilt because in many cases, you're not saying it's a bad book, you're just saying it's not the right book for you at that moment in time. That's okay. (So is thinking a book is straight-up bad.) Free yourself from having to get to the end if something isn't working for you. Life is too short to waste time on books that you're not excited to finish.
Do you recognize these categories in your own reading life? What are some of the common reasons you DNF a book?