Random Thoughts: The DNF Book

There has been a lot of talk lately about “DNF” books – on whether a review should be written or just how to handle those books that aren’t finished for whatever reason. I’ve actually talked about DNF books briefly earlier in the year as part of another post, and most recently gave my opinion to another blogger who will be posting that, along with feedback she received from several bloggers, at some point in the near future.

But just yesterday as part of my ramblings post, the topic came up again and so I thought I’d talk about it just a little bit more.

There can be many reasons why a book falls into a “did not finish” category. And not all of those reasons are negative. But the only time questions seem to arise is surrounding those negative reasons.

It’s unlikely that a reviewer would consider trying to review a DNF book just to say that they put it down because it was a long book and they just couldn’t commit to a long book at the moment because of other pressing deadlines.

It is also fairly unlikely that they’d write a DNF review for a book they didn’t finish because they weren’t in the mood for that type of story at that moment. I don’t know how many books I’ve set aside because I was in the mood for a different genre. It had absolutely nothing to do with the book itself, I just couldn’t get hooked on the story at that moment because I was really in the mood for something else.

However, whenever a book is set aside because it wasn’t liked, the questions then become: Do we review this book? Do we rate this book? If we do, how should we do it? Where should we post those reviews?

This is actually a rather tough topic that lots of people feel strongly about, from both sides. Which is why I was hesitant to create a post about it in the first place. I have my opinions, which I’ve always been upfront about, but they’re my opinions, they’re not right or wrong, they’re just mine.

But in approaching this topic I decided to look at this in a more objective way. Even though this is an opinion piece, I like to be as informed as possible, even if I have a strong opinion on the subject matter. And in looking at this again from both sides, I think they both have merit and there are pros and cons to both viewpoints.

There are many reasons for and against posting reviews for DNF books. But unless I want this post to go on endlessly, I just thought I’d focus on the one that resonates the most with me – and that’s about being honest with our readers – but if there are any specific reasons you feel strongly about, I’d love to hear what they are in the comments.

Being honest with our readers

On the one side: As reviewers we owe it to our readers to be honest with them. If we didn’t like a book so much that we had to set it aside, how honest are we with our readers if we never mentioned that fact? If we wrote a review outlining our points as to why it was set aside, wouldn’t that be more honest than remaining silent?

On the flip side: How is it an honest opinion about a book if we’ve only read a part of it? Even if we label it a “DNF Review” it’s still only a review of a portion of a book. Don’t we owe it to our readers to read the entire book before we voice our opinion?

My thoughts: We do owe our readers honesty. And if we set aside a book because we just didn’t like it, there should be a way to let them know. Is the right way to do that a review, though?

For me, it’s not. I won’t write a review for a book that I haven’t read cover to cover. I don’t think I can form a true opinion about a book unless I’ve devoured the entire book. I’ve read several books that I didn’t immediately love, but by the story’s end I was floored. If I hadn’t pushed past my initial ennui, or even dislike, I might not have discovered a book that was not only quite good, but actually became a favorite.

That’s not to say I will always give a book a chance if I don’t immediately connect or if I’m not enjoying it from the get-go. But I know enough about books – I’ve read thousands – that I’m well aware that things can change, my opinion can change, for better or worse as the story progresses.

While reviewing a book I haven’t read is not a solution for me, I do agree that there should be some way to share with my readers those few books that I was not able to finish because I found them too flawed or just not to my taste.

I’ve always told readers that they can just ask me and I’ll let them know if something was a DNF. But that puts the responsibility on them, and as a reviewer I think it’s my responsibility to let them know.

So, I’ve tried to think of some other ways that might work in which to let them know about the books I just couldn’t finish.

Other options

  • A Goodreads DNF shelf. It will show readers what books we started but did not finish. If we don’t rate them or add comments, just leaving it as strictly a book on a DNF list, we can tell readers that we didn’t finish the book without affecting the book’s overall ratings, if we don’t want it to be affected.
  • A DNF section on our reviews page or a DNF page on our blog. We can list the books we weren’t able to finish and give a brief description of why. This way our readers will be made aware of what we felt, but again it won’t purport to be a formal review of the books we’ve read and won’t affect the rankings or ratings of those books.
  • A listing of the book on our reviews page with a DNF notation. This way our readers will see we had this book on our list for review but that we weren’t able to finish it. If we wanted to include the different reasons for a DNF – “not in the mood,” “didn’t like,” “no time to finish,” we could add that as a key or just a brief notation next to the book.
  • A monthly/bi-monthly DNF post on our blogs. We could list the books we weren’t able to make it through and why. We don’t have to only list the books we set aside for negative reasons, but books we set aside because of time constraints, etc.

The option I most lean toward is the listing of the book on the reviews page. It doesn’t immediately spotlight those books, but shows that they were on my pile for review and I just couldn’t finish them. As I wouldn’t list books I dropped for reasons other than dislikes I wouldn’t have need for a key or further description.

And my second favorite would be a separate section on the reviews page. It would be more of a spotlight but not one that is immediately in the forefront like a post would be, or like having its very own page.

I don’t like the idea of a Goodreads DNF. There are so many snarky people on Goodreads that having a section like that would probably invite trolls. I’ve seen some of the names people have for their shelves and frankly I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. If it weren’t for the fact that it helps authors to post reviews on Goodreads, I wouldn’t post reviews there at all.

My DNF books

While I’m not planning on singling any out, I just thought I’d share how many books are on my DNF pile. Since I started blogging I’ve had about forty books I couldn’t finish.

Thirty-five of those were just because I wasn’t in the mood and never had the time to revisit them. I have always been a moody reader, which is why I need at least twenty books on my Kindle to choose from. All thirty-five of these books I know that I’ll enjoy, as most are part of a series I’ve already started and loved, which is why I picked them up to read in the first place. But if I’m not in the mood for vampires, faeries, zombies or werewolves at a given moment, then they go back to being TBR and technically count as DNFs.

Two of them were books I had to set aside because of deadlines and never got the time to pick them up again. (Yes, City of Fallen Angels is one of those books. Afterlife is another.)

Two of them were books I just couldn’t make the connection with, but I thought that down the road I would be able to. The writing was good, the story seemed interesting, I just couldn’t connect during the first fifty pages and had no obligation to continue. I do own both and plan on reading them when things on the blog slow down a bit. I see this as a challenge. I may end up not liking them, but I’m dying to find out if I will.

There was only one book I started and just couldn’t finish because the writing and story during the first five pages made absolutely no sense. Yes, that sounds horrible, but it really made no sense. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I read a review which said that things cleared up later, but they did agree that the beginning was very convoluted. But try as I might, I just couldn’t push past the first five pages.

Final thoughts

Ultimately it’s your choice. If you feel strongly enough about a book that you want to talk about it in the form of a review, especially because you couldn’t finish it, that’s up to you. It’s your blog and your audience. You’ll know best what they expect and what they’re interested in seeing from you.

For me, that just wouldn’t work. Even if my readers wanted me to, I just couldn’t put my fingers to keyboard to type out my thoughts unless I knew I’d devoured the entire book. Whenever I have an opinion – and I have millions of those – I don’t like to voice it unless I have as much information as I possibly can. I hate to be wrong. And if I were to say I hated a book based on just the beginning and then found out it changed after the first twenty or fifty pages, I’d be mortified. I also wouldn’t say a book was amazing unless I’d read it all the way through. I’d be just as mortified if something happened at the end that made me hate it.

While I write my reviews for me, I am very aware that what I say, especially on sites like Amazon or Goodreads can have a larger audience and can affect a book’s statistics – for readership, for sales, et cetera. Marking something as a one star can bring it down in the rankings on either site. So unless I’m absolutely certain that I’ve loved or hated a book, I will not post my rating or review. And unless I’ve read a book from cover to cover that’s just not possible.

What are your thoughts?

But I would love to know what your thoughts are on DNF books.

Do you review them? Do you rate them? Do you post those reviews or ratings on sites like Amazon and Goodreads?

Do you think reviewers are dishonest for not reviewing books they didn’t finish and didn’t like? What reasons do you have for reviewing/not reviewing DNF books?

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