Blog, Bookish Life

What DNF Really Says About Us


A black and white photo of a stack of books, the one on top is open. The letters DNF are in the top left corner

Are you the type to slog through a book because you feel like you have to, even if that book isn’t giving you anything you want? Or are you team DNF?

DNF, or translated from book nerd lingo, Did Not Finish. Our choice to put a book down says a lot about our choices as readers, or at least we feel like it does. Or you could be such an empath that you care about the feelings of inanimate objects such as books… 

Whatever your reasons, sometimes there is a sense of guilt for not finishing a book. I recently asked a bunch of people on my Instagram what are some reasons why they feel guilty when they DNF a book. Reasons ranged from “I paid 30 bucks for this hardback” to “FOMO– what if it gets good?”

But there are some deeper, and I dare I say political, reasons why we choose not to DNF a book. 

The author worked so hard

Writing is so hard! It is a vulnerable experience putting your thoughts and beliefs on paper (or screen) and sharing them with the world. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted. And if a writer says they don’t do it for fame and they want to get their work published, they are LYING!

What’s harder than writing a blog post like this, is writing a whole novel. With like characters and setting and that little plot chart we learn about in elementary school. Authors put their blood, sweat, and tears (many, many tears I suspect) into their books. As readers, how ungrateful would we be if we just didn’t care and tossed that book aside?

Just because you feel like a book isn’t for you, doesn’t mean it’s not for someone else. Writers work hard, yes, but you don’t owe them anything (I’m hurting my own feelings right now). 

I would be remiss if I didn’t say SUPPORT INDIE AUTHORS! The publishing industry is another system rooted in classism and white supremacy, so it isn’t equitable for all voices. Give a chance to an indie author who you stumble across. You might be surprised.

You might also hate an indie book and that’s cool too. Just don’t automatically rule it out. Because I frequently DNF books from major publications with lots of #bookstagram hype. 

Feeling like we aren’t smart enough

I know I have personally felt like I am just not smart enough to read some books. For the longest time this applied to the “classics”. There is so much hype around the classics being must-reads (see the Jane Austen following), but they are culturally inaccessible to so many people.

This is the limitation of old white European writers (and old white American writers) being pronounced as the apex of literary art. These are the books we study in school; therefore if we feel like we don’t understand the subject of these books, we attribute it to something being wrong with us.

So we push through for bragging rights, talking points to bring up to others in conversations in order to make us look smart and well-read. Because it just doesn’t seem as impressive that you have read 25 V.C. Andrews books (which I have, and if you don’t know her work, you should look it up and be disturbed).

And that goes back again to culture, and how these books have been deemed smarter, more important, and universal by those who have the institutional power (a.k.a white men, but white people in general) to designate it so.

Feeling like a story doesn’t resonate with you

Sometimes you just don’t vibe with a story, and that is totally fine. You shouldn’t be beholden to a book that doesn’t give you joy. Life is too short to read books you don’t care about.

But let’s look closer at why a story doesn’t resonate with you. Is it because of the writing style? Are you tired of reading the same kind of story time and time again (I sure am)? Or is it because you feel like you don’t understand a certain character’s experience?

I know I mentioned earlier that most of the classics can be considered culturally inaccessible texts. That argument was rooted in white supremacy dictating that those experiences are universal to everyone.

What I’m talking about here are books by authors of color, especially books explicitly talking about race, getting negative reviews because white book reviewers (who constitute a majority of book reviewers) say they can’t relate to the content of the book. 

So do you have a hard time relating to the story because you’re not a mom and you have never experienced motherhood, or is it because the characters are Black? Because I’m not white, but it’s expected for me to accept the experiences of white people as universal (so universal, in fact, that if race isn’t mentioned, we are automatically supposed to assume they are white, and white people get in an absolute tissy if the character is played by a Black person *cough, the Little Mermaid, cough*).

At the end of the day…

Quit all the books you want! I am a huge fan of quitting books. I quit one earlier this week! You will be that much closer to finding books that will change your life. Just pay attention to your DNF intentions.

Why do you choose to DNF?

Tayler Simon is a nerdy black woman in search of liberation for all. When she's not reading/listening to audiobooks and writing, you can find her laughing at memes and chatting incessantly about astrology (Cancer/Sagittarius/Gemini). Favorite genres: African American fiction and memoir.

Comments:

  1. @mariakeepsreading

    You are so right about the ‘classics’ — I used to feel like I should know the stories and even own copies of the books. As I’ve gotten older tho, I’ve finally begun to read for (only) me. I read what I want, and buy what I want, and donate books that I won’t read again. And it’s opened up a whole new world! I read graphic novels now, and manga, and YA… whatever suits me. And when a book doesn’t work for me, I don’t feel guilty DNFing bc there are a lot of other books on my TBR that I want to get to.

    1. Tayler Simon

      Exactly! My mom and I were clearing out a storage unit today, and I found some old classics she got from the thrift store, none of which I was interested in reading or she would ever read. I asked her why should we keep them, and she answered simply, “Because they’re classics”. *face palm*

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