When it’s time to dnf a book

DNF (v). 1. To put a book down without any intention of picking it up again to finish reading it; an acronym of the phrase “Did Not Finish.”

Over the last two years, I’ve had great opportunities to examine my penchant for holding on to something too long, and realizing the harm that it may cause me. I’m the kind of guy that can’t be told the stove is hot — I will only completely understand when I’ve been burned by the stove. I can assure you, this aspect of my personality has done a lot more harm to my well-being than benefit.

I think a lot of it comes from my cultural upbringing. Yes, I am American, but I am also a natural citizen of BFE* Appalachian coal country. My countrymen went to work before the sun came up and went home after the sun went down. We use everything until it can no longer be held together with tape, or glue, and we are going to complain loudly about the cost of replacing it. It is a society norm to see something through because you’ve committed to it. If you spent hard earned money on a book, then by God you better read it.

You could hear that last sentence in a domineering parental tone, couldn’t you?

When you think about it, a lot of us are only two, maybe three generations removed from the Great Depression. My grandparents, my father’s parents, lived through it directly. The Great Depression scared a lot of people and completely ruined their fundamental belief in security and stability. That fear became generational and that’s why a lot of people from my area stick with something long after it’s benefit, because there was some sort of investment in it, and that investment has just as much emotional consideration as financial. Because of that, I wouldn’t DNF a book, and it really strained my love of reading because it felt arduous. My parents paid one cable bill, not per show, so they didn’t care if I flipped through the channels.

I broke that scarcity mindset when it came to reading because I acknowledged one simple fact: my hours on this Earth are just as precious as the dollars in my wallet, if not more so. It would be a more egregious waste of my life-resources to finish the book when I could be spending those hours on books I’d love. That was an epiphany for me and my love of reading bloomed and blossomed again.

Some of you may still be struggling with that, so I have a simple five-point test I go through if I’m struggling with a book, and consider hitting the DNF button:

  1. Would I rather be reading a book I’ve already read than this one? – I want to enjoy my time reading, right? If I’d rather go back to a book I’ve already experienced for the first time, it might be time to DNF the book.
  2. Do I feel the need to skip pages to get the book over with? – Reading should be enjoyable! It shouldn’t feel like a lecture from a class you didn’t want to take on a Friday afternoon before a holiday break. If you feel antsy, like you want to skip pages, it might be time to DNF the book.
  3. Am I remotely interested in the characters or what happens to them? – Ever listen to someone tell a story about someone you don’t know and you wish the Good Lord would strike them down with laryngitis? This is the same thing. If you could walk away from a conversation about the people in that book and not feel compelled to find out what’s going to happen to them, it might be time to DNF the book.
  4. If I lost my copy of this book, would I be upset? – Not because you’re out the money, but because you wanted to find out what happened, or enjoyed the book so much that you might want to read it again. If the book in your hand went missing, would you give a rat’s ass? If not, it might be time to DNF the book.
  5. If this book was a movie, would I pay money to see it? No? It might be time to DNF the book.

I want to point out that at no time did I try to say that a book on the DNF pile was a bad book, it just wasn’t the right book for you. The truth is, I’ve DNF’ed some books that received great reviews. I’ve heard about my own books being DNF’ed — my girlfriend DNF’ed one of my books. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book, it just wasn’t the right book for them.

Thank you for joining me and I’ll see you on your next trip across the Millerverse!

*BFE – Bum-F*** Egypt; Middle of Nowhere


Songs listened to while writing this blog:

  1. “Mother” – Danzig
  2. “Psychosocial” – Slipknot
  3. “Poem” – Taproot
  4. “Hail to the King” – Avenged Sevenfold
  5. “She Hates Me” – Puddle of Mudd

2 thoughts on “When it’s time to dnf a book

  1. I don’t know where the ‘must finish what I started’ practice started in my reading, but I had been a completionist for the longest time. Then I realised I didn’t need to suffer through books I didn’t like because there are so many more I have at my disposal.

    The thing is, some books make up for it in the end, and I’m glad I stuck to them. The trouble is figuring out when I should DNF. Anyway, thanks for this post!


  2. I like that test, you made some good points! Nonetheless I am going to quickly skim to the end of that novelette I am not enjoying right now. Not much left… pity, because it actually won a Nebula award… 😏


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