Musing by Moonlight: 7 Reasons Why I’ll DNF (Abandon) A Book

musing by moonlight

Welcome to my new series of posts Musing by Moonlight, where I take the opportunity to get off my chest anything and everything to do with books.
Or maybe not.
Depends how I feel.

If you died tomorrow would you be stuck reading a book you weren’t enjoying? How would you feel about that?

Last year I abandoned more books (7) than I finished and gave 1 star (5).

In hindsight, several of my 2 star ratings should have been abandoned as well, but when I started this blog I had a policy of ‘not giving 1 star’ because if I wasn’t enjoying it I wouldn’t finish it. *shrugs* You know, my rules, I can change them as I see fit. I figured a book would automatically get 2 stars if I could finish it because then it at least had to be ‘okay’.

I’m wrong on that count, too. Some of the books I finished and gave 2 stars? I wish I hadn’t finished. Some of the books I enjoyed but were only okay. There’s a difference there. Two of the 2 star books I regretted finishing had me languishing at about 70-80% going ‘I don’t want to finish this waaaaaa I’m so bored/this is so poorly written’ but by then I figured I was most of the way through, I may as well finish and give them a proper review.

So apart from the books I wish I hadn’t bothered with and ending up giving 1 and 2 stars to are the books I abandoned, or DNF’d (did not finish). I’ll DNF for a few reasons, and I’ll generally try to make it at about 15-25%.

Here’s why:

  1.  First and foremost, it’s editing. It’s obvious if a book hadn’t been edited. Similarly if the author doesn’t have a firm grasp of the English language. If there’s confusion between homophones I’m outta there. If the punctuations isn’t correct, I’m outta there. Small details like that make the biggest impact on me.
  2. The writing is simply of low quality. Everyone can write. Not everyone can write well, or craft a story, or even tell a story. If I’m bored out of my skull because there’s passive writing or shoddy dialogue tags or crap info-dumping or oodles and oodles of description that mean absolutely nothing, or weird-assed non-nonsensical reactions (I once beta-read a book where every dialogue tag was ‘laughed’ I shit you not) then I’m not wasting my time on a book that’s not being told by a storyteller. Similarly if the story is being told but nothing is actually happening, I’m outta there. If you simply can’t write, I simply won’t read it.
  3. I’ve struggled with books that don’t deliver what the blurb promised, but I’m starting to get more ruthless. I can’t stand books that pretend to be one genre but are really another.I DNFd Mist because it promised the story of a Valkyrie, not a super special snowflake. I should have DNF’d Words Once Spoken because it’s advertised as a YA high fantasy but it’s really a young adult paranormal romance in historical fiction’s clothing.
  4. I’m finding lately that I don’t like books with too many points of view (POV), especially if it’s not advertised in the blurb. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes was one I should have DNFd. Way too many points of view including ones not mentioned in the blurb. A Breath of Frost has a surprise POV not mentioned in the blurb, bringing total POV up to four.
  5. If something major happens and the characters aren’t reacting at all, that’s a red flag. I’m reading the story for a reason: I want to know what the characters would do in this situation. if they do nothing, do not react at all, that’s poor storytelling. In Words Once Spoken Evelyn’s parents abandoned her and she didn’t react at all. In A Breath of Frost there’s an earthquake and then a fire and the three lead girls are wandering around NOT REACTING. Not even going “Isn’t this fire interesting?” Just like it’s not big deal. WELL IT IS. It’s a skill of storytelling, to make even the most mundane of tasks seem interesting.
  6. If I am personally offended by anything, mostly relating to the depiction of women in adult romance novels. I can’t stand casual sexism, I can’t stand dickish grown men trying to disguise their dickishness by being ‘alpha’, I can’t stand abuse disguised as romance.
  7. I’m pretty good at suspending my disbelief, but it only goes so far. FOR EXAMPLE contortionist-level feats of incredible flexibility or too many limbs in romance, unemployed people owning their own private jets and so on.  If a book stretches even my pretty flexible suspension of disbelief, I’ll have to get rid of it. I can’t even think of many examples because my suspension of disbelief is pretty good.

 But here’s the thing:

I have DNF guilt.

I feel OK DNFing unedited self-published books, and traditionally published books who have been through several edits and are still unreadable, but I feel guilty DNFing ARCs.

ARCs are often NOT the final copy, so it’s a given there’ll be a final editing sweep before publication. But if there are just too many errors it drives me crazy. I’ve read some books where almost every single time the term of address for royalty was incorrect and it drove me batty. I should have given up, but I didn’t, because it was an ARC. I didn’t see how the editor could clean up the entire manuscript (plus all the other errors) by the time it was due to be released. I can deal with the occasional typo or punctuation that will obviously be caught and fixed, like dialogue tags not closing, but dozens and dozens of mistakes in a review manuscript make it so hard to judge whether it will be ready by release date.

I specifically request ARCs so I feel bad being unable to give feedback on a book I was really excited for.

I’m still learning about my own reading habits and preferences

Sometimes I forget to listen to my instincts. Out of all the books I finished that I wish I hadn’t bothered with, there was something in those opening pages that didn’t quite gel with me, but I pushed on because I felt obliged to for a number of reasons. The most important being ‘how can you criticise it when you didn’t even finish it?’ Whereas books that are 4 or 5 stars generally have excellent beginnings as well, a strong first 15%.


If you’re the type of reviewer who is like I NEED TO FINISH EVERY BOOK IT’S A SICKNESS that’s OK. I’m totally not judging anyone for finishing a book they’re hating of abandoning it on the first page (which I have done before). If you’re the type of reviewer who believes in ‘say something nice or don’t say anything at all’ you can go jump off a ledge. I’ve already blogged about the importance of negative reviews.

What’s your opinion on abandoning books?
Can you abandon books?
Do you finish reading everything you begin?


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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13 thoughts on “Musing by Moonlight: 7 Reasons Why I’ll DNF (Abandon) A Book

  1. alexia561

    Great post! You explained it much better than I could have! I used to finish every book, no matter how horrible. But the bigger my TBR pile grew, the clearer it became that I shouldn’t waste my time on horrible books when there were so many others out there, just waiting to be read. I still feel guilty not finishing a book, but I explain why in my review and do point out a few positives.

    1. Nemo

      Thank you! One way to help the guilt by not finishing a book is to point out a few positives but still stay honest about why it just isn’t working – the toppling TBR pile helps, too! I think there’s a huge weight of expectation on book reviewers to finish everything, but sometimes we just can’t, because we’re all different people with different backgrounds, experiences, and tastes, and what works in one book for someone won’t work for another.

      Thank you for your support!

  2. Tanya Patrice

    Ack – it’s so hard for me to DNF books, and I’m not talking ARC. It was that way before blogging and it’s still that way today, so I just accept it. I DNF 1 last year and it was 2312 – which has won many book awards. Before that, it was Wolf Hall – which is like the 2nd coming, it’s so acclaimed!

    1. Nemo

      I know it is hard for some people to DNF, but I look at it this way: in the past two days I read a 5 star and a 4 star book, and the last book I DNF’d it took me nearly a week to get to 20% and decide to abandon it. I do look up to people who can’t DNF: you must have such amazing willpower!

  3. Rain Jeys

    I’m at a place where I KNOW it’s better to DNF a book, but I still feel like I should read it. Most of the time I just put the book down and figure it was just me not being in the mood for it and plan to return to it at a later date – and then usually don’t. I get where you’re coming from with ARCs, but I wouldn’t stress about it. Reading is supposed to be fun.

    1. Nemo

      You’re right, reading is supposed to be fun. I guess there are some books I don’t have the patience for at the moment that I might try in the future – five or even ten years from now, or more – because they’re not going anywhere. I’ll always have them, and my tastes might change between now and then. You never know.

  4. Therin Knite

    This post perfectly describes my feelings about books I don’t like. Just…everything. I feel you. Really I do. Especially this part: “I can’t stand books that pretend to be one genre but are really another.” I have written multiple posts about that exact problem. It just…I don’t think irritates is a strong enough word. You hit all the rights notes here.

    And I totally get the ARC thing. Which is why I request the first 1000 words when someone wants a review before giving an answer. If that sample doesn’t excite me, then I won’t take the book for review because I know it’s not going to work for me. But sometimes, things slip past the filter, and I’m left in that awkward position where I don’t want to NOT review the ARC, especially for an indie who needs reviews — but I’m trudging through the book, and it’s painful.

    At the end of the day, though, I just remind myself that reading is supposed to be an enjoyable activity, even if someone is asking for feedback or needs reviews for a new release. If it’s not working for me, it’s not working, and if it’s a request, I have to fess up and tell the truth. It’s awkward on both ends. Sometimes, it’s just that way. Writing is hard, yeah? Sometimes reading to review is, too.

    Anyway, great post. Nice to see someone break out the honesty about reviewing. 🙂

    1. Nemo

      Thank you Therin! I’ve never ever thought to ask for the first 1000 words before deciding – I guess I thought that was more of a beat reader thing than a reviewer thing. It is hard to have to abandon an ARC for a debut indie author, but sometimes it’s just not up to my standards. It’s all very personal.

  5. bookgeeking

    I like you hate to DNF a book especially ARCs, but I feel if I do try and force myself when I hate it, I feel like I put myself off reading for a while, and if it is truly that bad, me finishing it is not going to give it a better review, it just makes me take longer and push back books that I might actually like.

    1. Nemo

      You’re right: when I’m reading a book I’m not enjoying I’ll put it off and do other things, whereas if I’m reading a book I’m loving I’ll tear through it.

  6. Wendy Darling (@MissWendyD)

    I am pretty ruthless about DNFing books, hah. I used to be a lot more patient, but with so many books publishing each year and the impossibility of getting to them all, I just can’t be bothered to waste my time. (I think all the reasons you listed for DNFing are pretty much mine, too.)

    I totally understand the guilt about doing this with ARCs, though. I try to finish the ones I’ve requested at least, or to pass them onto my cobloggers or friends or do giveaways, but I confess that doesn’t always happen.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. Nemo

      I know you in particular and many of the other big name, well-known reviewers receive a lot of unsolicited books as well, so many that there’s no way you can get to them all. In that case, I think I’d not cope very well with the pressure, and it’s completely understandable to skip books. It’s lovely that you try to pass them on, very generous of you.

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