To finish or not to finish?

That is the question, or today’s at any rate

Reading various blogs and reviews over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that a lot of readers, if they’re really not enjoying a book, will stop reading and move on to something better. Some even go so far as to have a DNF (did not finish) policy whereby they give every book they read a certain number of pages (or a percentage) to grab them and if it doesn’t they give up and move to the next book.

Up until now I’ve been making an effort to read every book I start to the end, even if I’m not enjoying it (and there have been some truly awful books in there), but I’m starting to wonder if I should change my approach. 

I recently asked the question “Do you finish every book you start?” on Books and Writing Amino and so far I’ve had around 300 votes, with the result (shown in the graph below) fairly evenly split.


With just over 54% saying that they finish, or at least try to finish, every book they read there is a slight majority but there’s not much in it.

So why finish?

There were a lot of reasons given for why people choose to persevere even when they’re not enjoying a book but they can probably be summarized as follows:

  • keep hoping it’ll get better – I’m definitely guilty of this, particularly when a book has good reviews. I may not be enjoying it but I’ll keep reading in hopes it’ll improve or something will happen. I keep thinking I’ll just read a little bit further and before I know it I’m three quarters through and might as well just finish.
  • want to know how it ends – it might be badly written and you may be struggling but sometimes you want to know how it all turns out. Does the guy get the girl, do they catch the killer, will they beat the bad guy? It can be really difficult to walk away from the answer to those questions
  • there’s a sense of satisfaction in finishing a book – no matter how bad a book is there’s definitely a feeling of accomplishing something when you finish it (even if it’s just “I can’t believe I made it through”)
  • you want to get your monies worth – “if I’ve bought it I’m bloomin well finishing it“. I have to confess I don’t typically fork out a lot of money on a book unless I’m fairly certain I’ll love it but if you’ve taken a chance and paid for it you’re probably going to want to read till the end.
  • morbid fascination – have you ever come across a book that’s so unbelievably terrible you just can’t stop reading? This has happened a couple of times to me and I just had to keep reading to see just how bad it could possibly get.
  • you’re committed – you’ve received a free copy in exchange for a review, you know the author, someone has lent you their favorite book ever and wants to know what you think or it’s your latest book club or school read. There are some occasions when it seems like you really don’t have a choice but to read it (although I have been tempted to fake it)
  • you can’t really judge a book unless you’ve read the whole thing – is it fair to rate a book if you haven’t read the whole thing? I’m not sure about this. I’ve seen a few one star reviews which say only read 50 pages and gave up. Personally, I think unless there was something truly awful in what you did read (offensive, profane, contrary to your beliefs) you probably shouldn’t give it one star. It’s totally acceptable to say it wasn’t for you, you couldn’t finish it and give your reasons but I’m not convinced you should be adding a rating.

Why DNF?

Unfortunately there are probably an equal number of reasons for not finishing:

  • it’s not interesting enough to hold your attention – it’s not a subject that interests you or you just find the writing is not to your style, too descriptive, not enough action or you don’t like the characters and don’t care what will happen. If that’s the case is there really any point in continuing?
  • don’t have the time or get distracted – if you’re reading multiple books at the same time or if you have other things going on in your life it’s really easy to put a book down and forget about it or you may think I’ll just set it aside for a bit and come back to it (and never do).
  • you already know how it ends (or can find out) – it’s not that uncommon to come across spoilers for a book. If you do accidentally hit upon one, and it’s not a book you’re enjoying, it seems a bit pointless to finish. Alternatively, if you have to read a book for school, book club etc it can be kinda tempting to try and find out what happens so you can fake your way through. Often there are TV or film adaptations or you could just track down someone who’s read it.
  • got it free from the library or a friend – let’s face it if you didn’t pay money for it it’s much easier to set it aside.
  • there are plenty more books in the store/library/shelf – if you’re anything like me you’ll  have a mountainous TBR pile that you keep adding to, and that shiny new book with the pretty cover you just got is one you’ve been desperate to read for ages. Do you really want to persevere with a kinda boring book you’re not enjoying?

Basically most of these come down to life being too short to spend time reading a book you’re not enjoying, particularly when there are thousands of books out there you may love.

Should I implement a DNF policy?

Having realized just how many people regularly put down books and never finish them and thinking about the size of my TBR it is kind of tempting but I’m not convinced I could do it.  I know I’m probably spending far too much time on books I don’t enjoy but I still have this need to get to the end.

One suggestion I did get was to set up a GoodReads shelf for books I should have dnf’d so I think I’m going to try that and see just how many books would fall into that category.  If it turns out to be a lot I may re evaluate but I think I’ve gotten pretty good at picking books I’ll enjoy.

Do you finish or dnf?

So where do you stand in the debate? Do you finish every book you start, or at least try to, even if it’s a struggle, or do you have a policy and how good are you at sticking to it? I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment below


24 thoughts on “To finish or not to finish?

    • It does seem fair enough as an approach but I can’t remember ever having done it. I have on occasion read a couple of pages and decided against starting something because I’m not in the right mood but I almost always go back.


  1. This is a really interesting post. I used to keep reading books that I was not enjoying, even those where it became a struggle to even pick the book up. I found that this had a really negative impact on my reading – and was a big cause of book slumps. I do not have a DNF policy as such but if I find that I really am struggling to read a book it is better in the long run to put the book aside for a while. There are times I have done this and then picked the book up to try again to find that I enjoy it. There are of course times when I try again and still do not get on with it – then I give the book away to friends, family or charity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the hundreds of books I read last year only 1 could I not finish. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and try and get through all of them The one I couldn’t was a short and it was so vulgar I couldn’t and didn’t want to finish it. i did not review it just gave the author feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a creative post! Books Amino is great for polls. 😄 I sometimes do try to finish a book just so I can have another book added to the reading challenge, but most of the time, I give up. I’m weak.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Challenges are definitely a big motivation for finishing. I’m starting a team challenge soon so I will definitely need to make sure and finish.

      I’m loving the polls on Amino. Thanks for introducing me to it 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an argument I’ve gotten into with a few of my friends LOL!

    But honestly, I just hate not finishing a book. Someone worked hard to write it, and then there’s a whole team of editors, production workers, sales, marketing, and publicity efforts that went behind producing the book (if it went through a publishing house). Since I’ll be on one of those teams in the near future, I owe it to everyone in my industry to continue on with a book no matter what.

    With that being said, I do understand why a DNF policy should be in effect. It just comes down to personal preference, and how much time / dedication someone is willing to spend on a book.

    This is such a great post, I love this 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I was younger, pre-Goodreads, I finished every single book I started. Occasionally it paid off, because something flipped and I’d end up loving it. Most of the time I finished the book and felt like I’d wasted my time though.

    Then, post-Goodreads, when my TBR grew exponentially with so many books that weren’t even on my radar before GR, I tried to continue to read every book I started but I eventually accepted that I could be reading something else that I’d enjoy more.

    I guess, for me, I realized (not to be morbid or anything) that life is short. Wile E Coyote could drop an anvil on my head any day, so I decided that I needed to be better about letting go of what wasn’t working, to find something that would.

    Now, if I decide to set aside a book I’m not into I try to determine if it’s a true DNF, or if it’s just because I’m not in the mood for it. I have an ‘Abandoned’ shelf, and a ‘return to later’ shelf.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I used to really stick it out to finish every book I’ve read, but I’ve become better with stopping books that just aren’t holding my interest. I understand that the end might better, but I shouldn’t have to be 50% through a book before it becomes interesting. Sometimes I judge how long it will take me to finish vs. how much I dislike the book. If I can finish in an hour or so, I might just go for it. If it’s going to be awhile, I’d rather read something I’m actually interested in.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have a DNF shelf on GoodReads. It has 54 books on right now, that’s in five years of using the site. If I DNF it, I usually put some comments explaining why, but I don’t rate the book. I am pretty ruthless about DNFing; I generally give a book 50-100 pages or 15-20% to grab me and I give up if it hasn’t at that point. My TBR is way too big to waste time on books I’m not enjoying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I feel like with the size of my tbr I should be DNFing more but I know on reality it probably won’t happen. Other than one non fiction book, 7 habits of highly effective people, I can’t think of anything I have DNF’d

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ll keep reading something I’m not enjoying that much but not one I find disgusting. I recently started a book that to me was just full of two old men exchanging racist jokes and after about 3 chapters of it, I decided, ENOUGH! One book I started and then got sidetracked but have every intention of going back to finish. I try to choose books I’m going to really like. I take more time now to read reviews before I buy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been trying to be more selective about the books I get but sometimes there’s too much temptation. I totally agree with not finishing a book you find offensive. The example you give sounds horrendous.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Once I start reading a book, I try to finish it even if it doesn’t interest me anymore in hopes that it’ll get better somehow! Because there are books you don’t really enjoy until the latter part or the build up of story is slow so I try to stick it out until the end. And yes, there’s also some satisfaction in finishing a book no matter how boring and uninteresting it is!! So I don’t DNF because I believe that some books, you just have to be patient with.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I don’t complete books I’m not enjoying. Reading is my main hobby and it doesn’t make sense to waste time trudging through a book I don’t like when there are so many others out there I know I love waiting for me to tuck in. However, I certainly don’t review them – it’s plain not fair to give a book a rating when I haven’t got to the end, I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

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