It was inevitable. I had the same algebra teacher for three versions of the subject in as many years of high school. An uninformed student asked the question every year. The rest of us just shook our heads and waited for the answer.
Naive student: “Mrs. Poplin, I don’t know why we have to learn this anyway. We’re never going to use it.”
Mrs. Poplin: “Because if you don’t pass, you won’t graduate. If you don’t graduate, you’ll spend the rest of your life slinging tacos at Taco Tico.”
I had never eaten at Taco Tico, but I knew for damn sure I didn’t want to work there. That little lesson got this word nerd through Algebra 1, 2, and 3. It also taught me a lesson — sometimes you’ve just gotta get through it, even when you don’t enjoy it.
A bad book is an exception to this lesson.
I’m a HUGE supporter of DNF. There’s no reason to force yourself to finish a book you don’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter if your friends think the book is great or if the general public accepts that it’s a classic. If you think it’s a bad book, drop it! DNF that bad boy! If it’s required reading, say for a college course, power skim and move on.
Life is too short to read bad books.
What Does DNF Mean?
“DNF” stands for “Did Not Finish.” It’s when you decide to stop reading a book before reaching the end.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to stop reading a book. Contrary to popular action, you don’t even have to go onto social media and ask people what they think about a book and if you should keep going. What they think has no bearing on your decision. Even if they think it’s the best book they’ve ever read, that doesn’t mean you need to keep reading. You can hate a book someone else loves. It’s perfectly acceptable.
Why You Should DNF Books
Sometimes I get really sad about books. Not because they’re bad, but because I know I’ll never have enough time in my life to read all the books I want to read.
When you think about it that way… that you have unlimited hours and millions of amazing books just waiting for your attention, it’s pretty easy to drop a bad book. Your life is too short to waste time. You have better books to read.
Other reasons you should DNF a bad book include:
- Reading is Personal. Everyone’s taste is different. Just because a book is popular or critically acclaimed doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. I love Oprah and Reese, but that doesn’t mean I like the same books they read. In fact, I often don’t like their book club pics.
- Avoid Reading Burnout. Forcing yourself to finish a book you’re not enjoying can lead to reading burnout. It can make reading feel like a chore rather than an enjoyable hobby. And it will take you WAY longer to finish the book because you have no interest in picking it up.
- Reading is Supposed to be Enjoyable. For most people, reading is a leisure activity. It’s a hobby we enjoy. Why would you force yourself to do a hobby? I’m pretty sure that goes against the very idea of a hobby.
- There’s No Obligation. Outside of academic or professional requirements, there’s no obligation to finish every book you start. You can drop a book and never even tell anyone about it. That’s right, you don’t have to announce it on social media or get permission or anything.
- Growth and Change. I used to love the Flowers in the Attic books. I think I read them all. I can’t imagine reading them today. I also can’t fathom the amount of time I spent on chick lit in the ‘90s. My reading preferences have clearly changed. As people grow and change, so do their tastes.
- You Can Always Come Back. Just because you DNF a book now doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t come back to it in the future. Sometimes, it’s just not the right time for a particular book, and you might find it more appealing later on. I dropped Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Sorry, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I swear it isn’t personal. I went back later and read and adored each of them.
Knowing When to Drop a Book
When people find out that I so readily drop books, they often want to know how or how quickly I decide. I DNF books pretty quickly. If you read a sample of a book and don’t like it, don’t bother reading the rest. If you read the first chapter and it feels like work, or you can’t stand the characters, drop it like it’s hot!
Signs you should drop a book:
- You’re Bored. If you’re consistently uninterested or your mind frequently wanders while reading, there’s no need to keep torturing yourself.
- You Avoid It. If you find that you’re actively avoiding the book, choosing other activities over reading, or consistently picking up other books instead, it may be time to let it go.
- Feeling Obligated. If you’re reading primarily for a sense of obligation rather than genuine interest or pleasure, reconsider if it’s worth your time. This feeling is one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of book clubs. I enjoy talking with other people about books, but I don’t want to read what I don’t find interesting.
- Lack of Connection. If you’re far into the book and still don’t care about the characters, plot, or message, the book might not be resonating with you.
- Negative Emotional Responses. If a book is causing distress, anxiety, or triggers without offering a valuable or constructive challenge, it might be healthier to set it aside.
- Repetitive or Predictable Content. If you feel the content is too repetitive or overly predictable, and it’s reducing your enjoyment, it might be a reason to DNF.
- It’s Taking Forever. If your reading pace has slowed drastically because you’re not engaged with the book, switching to something else might be more enjoyable.
- You’re Not in the Mood. Sometimes, a book might be good, but it doesn’t suit your current mood or emotional state. It’s OK to put it aside for another time. The opposite happens, too. I wouldn’t want to miss reading the right book at the perfect time just because I felt like I needed to finish another one.
- The Writing Stinks. Sometimes, the writing style can be a barrier, whether it’s too complex, too simplistic, or just doesn’t gel with your preferences.
- It Feels Like a Chore. Reading should be enjoyable or enlightening. It might be time to move on if every page feels like a laborious task and you find yourself not wanting to read.
Your Permission to DNF
I get it. For some of you, it’s just really difficult to DNF. It feels wrong to you not to finish something you started, especially, perhaps, someone’s creative work. So, here’s your permission slip. From now on, if you don’t like a book, you have my permission to drop it. Life’s too short to read bad books. A “bad book” is any book you don’t enjoy. And a book you’ll love is out there waiting for you.