DNF as Your Default
I have an idea for you all and I hope you hear me out before the shouts of “Blasphemy!” start up ;-). I know a lot of us struggle with marking a book DNF (‘did not finish’), especially if you’ve already invested a fair amount of time into it. I definitely do.
I’ve realized there is a murky place in between “I love this book and can’t put it down” and “I hate this book so much that I have no problem putting it down.” That murky place often leads us to finishing books that we knew were only okay all along, when we could have been reading something that we loved.
In my hunt for a first book for my not so secret project, I’ve been doing something new: starting every possible book with the intention of stopping after the first chapter or two. Certainly, some books could get markedly better later on, but for this project, I want to find the books that grab you from the first page anyway. A side effect of this method of winnowing possible books is that I’ve found the ones that I’m heart-broken to stop reading. I’ve filtered out the ones that are in that murky space between love and hate. I feel no pull to continue them after the first two chapters, and that makes it clear they aren’t the book I’m looking for in this moment and that they probably would be one of those books that I struggle through and end up rating 3-stars or lower.
We always say that life is too short for books you don’t enjoy reading. We have given ourselves permission to stop reading a book we don’t like. But that still means that a book has to be bad enough to make you set it aside and mark it a dreaded DNF. What if, instead, we switch the direction the decision needs to go. What if instead of needing to decide to DNF, we make that the default option — and therefore easier to do — and make continuing the option that requires deliberate action.
There are so many amazing books out there to read, why spend a moment more reading something that doesn’t inspire you? That doesn’t remind you why you absolutely love reading? Think about how many first chapters you can try in the time it took you to read the last ‘only okay’ book you read. You could have found an unexpected favorite instead of finishing a book you celebrated being done with. Doesn’t that sound better?
Sure, maybe you’ll pick up one of those discontinued books in the future when it calls to you again. You’ll have read the first chapter, so you’ll have a good idea what sort of mood the book would work for and will likely like it better then anyway! There’s nothing wrong with having an arsenal of first chapters to help you pick a mood book.
Now, I do here you calling, “But what about review books??” And I understand your worry. It obviously depends on why you review books — what your goal is in reviewing books — but if your goal is to help your readers find books that they will want to read, you have at least two options: 1) you could do mini or first chapter reviews for ones that don’t inspire you to keep reading (similar to my Just Hatched, though I encourage you to come up with your own way of doing it!) or 2) you could make sure you try those books that are less-hyped and likely to have been overlooked by many of your readers. I personally would prefer reading a review for a book I hadn’t heard much about, but the blogger loved, than a review of an ‘only okay’ book.
Obviously negative reviews can be very useful too, so if you want to push through every book you have for review consideration so that you can outline the negatives and positives, go for it! A negative or ambivalent review of a super-hyped book is something I seem to specialize in at times and can be exceedingly useful. However, I think that that should still be a deliberate decision that you make: ‘I’m continuing this book even though it isn’t compelling me to do so, specifically so that I can write a comprehensive review about it.’ Really, it’s all about making deliberate and thoughtful decisions about what you read instead of reading the equivalent of potato chips because they are there on the coffee table.
So what do you say? Do you want to be able to sample more books and only read the ones you can’t live without? Then let’s do it! Instead of feeling bad about DNF’ing a book and making that the less likely event, let’s embrace trying lots of first chapters and finding those unexpected but amazing reads. I know I’ve personally already found two books that I likely wouldn’t have had time to read before, but now suspect will be new favorites and I can’t wait to share one with you all ;-).
What do you think? Is this a mindset you might try out? Do you feel you have to try to finish every book you start?
© 2016, Anya. All rights reserved.