To DNF or Finish the Book? A Reader’s Dilemma

Not sure if you should abandon or finish your current read? We’ll give you tips on how to decide with this guide on the reader’s dilemma: DNF or finish the book.

a reader's dilemma

Reading Is Fun (But Sometimes It’s Not)

To finish a book or not to finish, that is the question. When you invest time reading a book, and it just doesn’t gel, do you keep marching toward the end, hoping it will get better? Or are you a definitive reader who decides if a book doesn’t spark your interest at 20%, it’s time to DNF?

For some readers, DNF–short for “did not finish”–is an issue that causes anxiety, like anxiety about a person sitting next to you on a train, even if plenty of other seats are available. These book lovers feel a duty to finish every one they start.

For others, it’s as natural as tossing a used tissue into a bin. There are dozens, hundreds–or even more–works on deck in their TBR list (“to-be-read”). So for them, it’s on to the next book.

What kind of reader are you? How do you evaluate when to DNF a book? Is a DNF novel worth reviewing? And if it is, do you give it a rating? Should that DNF count toward an annual total for those who keep track of the number of books they read each year?

It’s a topic worth discussing.

Finish the Book

Finish Reading

Every reader has their criteria for finishing a book, and there are moments that, for whatever reason, call for DNF-ing. But most of the time, we commit ourselves to finish what we started and hope that, somewhere in those countless pages of text, we’ll discover something valuable and enjoyable.

Say No to Always Finish (To Learn How to Always Finish)

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I was always a ride-until-I-die reader. I had a policy of completing every book I started–even if it took me years. Then something happened; I began to read less. Instead of being a much-anticipated treat, books felt like heavy weights upon my ankles as I marched through the sand.

Reading fiction is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby, a delightful escape from the drudgery of the real world’s problems–not an act of drudgery itself.

So I stopped reading altogether. That was worse than not reading.

How did I get my reading mojo back? I stopped following the latest trends and only read what I knew I would like: the genres, subgenres, and tropes that had always brought me joy. I re-read old favorites and didn’t let myself feel guilty for not constantly opening up to new experiences.

Say Yes To Finish (This Makes the Good Books So Much Better)

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The need to finish a read is understandable. I always felt if I paid for a book and brought it into my library, I had a duty to know its contents. Even more so, if one is writing reviews, continue until finished.

Who knows? It may surprise you with a pleasant twist.

But if not, you can give that soporific novel an honest review: 2 stars or 1.

And if your “read” list is marked with more tallies in the lower ratings, take comfort in being fair about most writing being crap. Sturgeon’s Law applies, always.

However, this does underscore that when a book is good to you, it’s beyond that: you love it! It’s one of your favorites.

Devotees of a particular author or series may choose to finish a book out of a sense of obligation. For readers in this position, the best option is to take a break and return to the book later to see if the interest still remains.

Do Not Finish Reading


When a book’s lost your interest, is it time to put the work down and call it a day?

This is a decision that all readers face at some point during their journey with a book. From the chronic reader’s point of view, it can be incredibly disheartening to give up on a book that you expected to like but now find yourself struggling to even get through the first chapter.

Maybe One Day, Maybe Never

cats and books

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this reader’s dilemma, but a few tips can help get you through it.

A good rule of thumb is to read at least the first 50 pages, and if it doesn’t grab your attention, put the book aside. Maybe you’ll finish it one day, or maybe it’s a DNF. But don’t torture yourself with a book you dislike.

Push Through Pain: Finish or Die

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If you’re reading for school or work (or blog), you will probably want to try to push through and see the book through to the end. In this case, you may want to take a few breaks while reading. Maybe listen to classical music or the sound of rain or white noise.

Try skimming or speed reading. This may be easier to do with hard copies when you can see a book from a larger perspective and flip through filler pages. Then again, other people can maneuver easier with an e-book, with larger fonts and scrolling. So if a book doesn’t excite you, but you have this incredible skill, skim, or speed read. You may not absorb every minute detail, but you get the gist of it, and that’s all you need.

Quitters Always Win: DNF the Book

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Don’t feel any self-imposed guilt about your decision to DNF a book. Remember that everyone’s experience of literature is unique. Even if you might have enjoyed the book if you had given it more time, it makes sense to move on when you’re not interested anymore. Life’s too short, and millions of other stories are waiting to be told.

Another thing to consider is the context in which you are reading. Is it for leisure and relaxation? Then it’s okay to DNF and move on to something that catches your attention more. So what if everyone else loves it? Do you want to be like the cool kids and do what the cool kids do?

Ultimately, the decision to DNF or finish a book should come down to a reader’s sincere feelings. Do you genuinely want to continue? Is it worth finishing? If the answers are “no,” then DNF the book. There’s no shame in that! Out in the world is an abundance of excellent reading material, and no one should ever feel obligated to finish a lousy read simply because it’s at hand.

Review, Rate, or Forget Unto Oblivion?

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When it comes to reviews and ratings, it depends.

Are you rating and reviewing on social media or just for your personal records? It is best to stick with a system that allows for some flexibility. Those who use a rating system may want to allow for a gray area between the halfway and full marks. Those who write reviews could emphasize the pros and cons they experienced without assigning a numerical rating.

I adored the first installment in Laurie McBain‘s Dominick family trilogy, Moonstruck Madness. The second entry was a chore to finish, but I did finish it. But the last book in the series was too boring for words to complete.

Dark Before the Rising Sun

I broke one of my reading rules for Dark Before the Rising Sun. Even though I DNFed it, I posted a review. I did not complete the entirety of the 500-paged snoozer. I read half and skimmed to the end. That was a fair compromise.

I don’t “hard” DNF too many books; most of my unfinished books I still consider partly read, waiting to be picked up another day. Now, if I read at least 50% through and am just done, I check out the ending. Then I can rate and review with a clean conscience.

Ultimately to Finish or DNF Is an Individual Choice

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The decision to finish or DNF must be based on the individual’s reading habits and needs. There is no single correct answer, and each decision should be respected. People read for different reasons, and depending on the book, some may take longer to finish than others.

No matter what, readers should remember the reading process should be an enjoyable, rewarding experience — and sometimes finishing a book isn’t always the best strategy. Happy reading!

Your Opinion

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Are you a stick-it-through-until-the-very-end type of reader? Or do you decide within the first chapter if the book is to your liking and put it away if it’s not?

Please, drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

This entry was posted in Discussion, Romance and tagged , on by .

About Jacqueline Diaz

Old-School, retro, and vintage romance reads are my jam, baby! The good, the bad, the cheesy, and the sleazy! I have no shame about it; I love ’em! An auto-didact, amateur historian, and reader of romance novels since 1990, I hope to offer a unique perspective on the genre. As a blogger, you may know me by several names; here, I’m Jacqueline Diaz. I’m also the aspiring author of two works-in-progress, historical romances, The Savage Noble and What She Says with Her Eyes, which hopefully will be released in 2023.

2 thoughts on “To DNF or Finish the Book? A Reader’s Dilemma

  1. Jane

    Thanks for sharing!! I used to feel bad about actually not finishing. Particularly IF I actually paid for it. I don’t anymore. I am a mood reader and life is short. Your comments were very thoughtful.


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