#DNF: Why I stop reading some books…

I love to read for pleasure. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was nine years old. My love of reading and books is a big reason why I wanted to write and to become author. And while I read now to keep abreast of my genres, and to support my fellow authors, those are secondary reasons. I still read for entertainment and enjoyment.

My motto is this: If you’re doing something for fun, but it’s not, why do it?

woman with book

This is how I want to feel when I’m reading a book.

I normally read 60-70 books per year – a little over one per week. This year, I’ve challenged myself to read 100 books – almost two per week. So far, I’ve finished 73. I review most of them on Amazon and Goodreads. I run a list on my blog. And I make monthly update announcements on Facebook.

What I haven’t mentioned are the books I don’t finish. This year so far, 28 books have ended up in in my DNF file. Twenty-seven percent of the books I downloaded I did not want to finish reading. Some I read almost half way through. Others I literally exclaimed aloud, “Oh God, no!” and discarded after a few pages.


Sometimes I have this reaction to a book.

So why didn’t I finish them? I refer you to my motto. At the moment I realize I am not having fun and am not being entertained, I decide I do not want to spend any more of time on that book. There are too many others I want to read and too many authors I want to support to spend my time on something that doesn’t engage me.

So why don’t they engage me? Here are the top reasons in descending order of frequency:

  1. The story is boring, and I lose interest. Some books start off with a bang, but peter out or sag big time in the middle. There is not enough conflict and/or the stakes aren’t high enough. There are just not enough highs and lows. Or, the story feels “padded,” like the author kept adding stuff to make the book longer.
  2. I dislike one or both of the characters. Reading a book is like being invited as a guest into somebody’s home. If you don’t like the people, you don’t want to stay in their house! Heroes and heroines should have flaws, but they should not be fatal flaws that make them unlikable. And often, it’s not the flaw that makes them unlikable but the trait(s) that the author thinks is admirable or sexy. For example, while authors might intend their heroes to be aggressive, dominant leading men, sometimes they come across as immature or control-freak abusive assholes. Any woman with a modicum of self-esteem or common sense would (should) run like hell if she encountered one of these guys.  Show me a hero who cares for the heroine. Conversely, sometimes the heroine is so spoiled/immature/irresponsible, I don’t like her either. She is not someone I would want to be around, and I can’t understand why the hero is attracted her. Sometimes the character development is so shallow or nonexistent, I never get a chance to get to know the hero/heroine,  If I don’t know them and/or dislike them, I don’t care what their story is.
  3. The book is a “romance,” but there isn’t any. A romance might be erotic, but it is still a romance. It is still supposed to be about two people falling in love, meeting his/her Mr./Ms. Right. A romance is not an excuse for a screwfest or a kinkfest.  Even erotica has a story and a plot. I encountered one “romance” recently that I would consider porn. It was all kink upon which the author had slapped a little window dressing. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it doesn’t make it a beauty queen.
  4. I don’t believe the story/characters actions or motivation and find myself rolling my eyes.
  5. The kink squicks me out. Context and tone can make a huge difference whether something is sexy or icky. However, some acts/scenarios fall way out of my comfort zone.  I’ve tried some books I just didn’t like.

I understand why some readers leave snarky or attack reviews. When you read a book that is so egregiously bad, it angers you.  Most books that end up in my DNF file got there because they evoked a meh reaction. But a few? Pissed me off big time.  Fortunately for those authors, I don’t write negative reviews. I just DNF the books.

Do you finish every book you start reading? What makes you give up on a book?

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34 Responses to #DNF: Why I stop reading some books…

  1. Leigh Smith says:

    There are many books I do not finish. I too am a voracious reader and if I’m not entertained, I don’t waste my time. There are too many good ones out there to make me happy. I usually know within the first few pages whether or not the book is worth my time. If it’s not, it gets deleted. Sometimes, if I’m slightly intrigued I’ll give it a little more but rarely have I been wrong in my first assumption.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Usually I know within a few pages too. I almost always get the Kindle samples–which have saved me from buying a lot of books I never would have finished. But a few books had a good start, but then didn’t live up to the promise.

  2. I definitely don’t finish all books I start and I too know within a few pages if the book is for me or not. There are SO many books out there in so many genres and if the writing is poor or editing is lacking, I just stop. If anything squicks me, I stop, actually, most of my reasons are the same as yours. As far as fillers, they makes me feel cheated and I’ll usually lose interest in the story and stop.

    I too try to support fellow authors, but I can’t read every book published. I take breaks now and just read what I want to read purely for pleasure and nothing else. It refreshes me. I don’t leave negative reviews (I won’t review what I don’t like), but I also don’t tell people what I’m reading in case a book becomes a DNF.

    As for ARC’s, I’d almost rather not have them most of the time for two reasons, well, no, three. If I leave a review on Amazon, I want it to be a verified purchase. If I don’t like the book for whatever reason, I don’t want to feel obligated to read it and potentially say things I don’t mean so as not to hurt feelings.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a DNF list! I figure at least the authors got the sale, even if I didn’t read the books or leave a review.

      Sometimes I’ll announce I’ve bought an author’s book, but usually I try not to do that, because I’m afraid she’ll ask me later what I thought, and what if I didn’t like it?

      • Kelly Dawson says:

        As a new author, Cara, I would be honoured if an author of your calibre was to give me constructive feedback. Obviously I would be pretty gutted if you said to me “hey your book is utter crap” but if you didn’t like it and could tell me exactly WHY (kindly) I would learn a lot that way. That’s just my opinion though, others may not feel the same way.

  3. I hate to quit reading a book because I know how much work went into writing it, but sometimes I just can’t continue. In addition to the items you mentioned, a huge turn-off for me is repeated grammatical errors. They take me out of the story, and my mind switches to editor mode. After working so hard to create a world in the story, surely no author wants that to happen!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Kindle samples can help a lot. Within the first chapter or two, you can tell if there are grammatical errors. If a book is riddled with errors, then I know it hasn’t been professionally edited. If a few slip by, I’m forgiving of that.

  4. I’m with you and Natasha on this, Cara. I do my best to finish every book I start, but sometimes I just can’t do it. If I feel a protagonist is TSTL (Too stupid to live) I often can’t or won’t finish the book. Like you said, so many books, and a finite amount of time. Most of your reasons apply for me as well, and Miss Piggy is the only pig I want to see wearing lipstick.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      TSTL heroines bug me too. They make the story feel too contrived, like the heroine had to do the dumbest thing possible to make the plot work.

  5. If a book doesn’t grab me in the first chapter, then I will probably not finish it. I have about five on my Kindle at the moment that are only partly read. Time is so limited, so I hate wasting it reading something I don’t enjoy. It also depends on my mood at the time. Sometimes I want an easy romance, and at others I prefer something a little more gritty. Perhaps one day I will get around to my DNF books, but somehow I doubt it, because there are always so many good books coming out. Plus, I am addicted to writing, which leaves less time for reading than I would like – but there are only so many hours in the day.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Right now, I save my DNFs in a file, but remove them from my Kindle. One day I’ll probably delete them from the cloud too.

  6. Laurel Lasky says:

    I’m with all of you. I now read mostly authors I have previously read and enjoyed. I do have books I put down after the first few pages. I only review books I like. My mother always said, if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything. I signed up to read 75 books and am at 125, and those are only the ones I reviewed. I’m a fast reader and if it doesn’t grab me I stop.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’ve noticed how fast and how many books you read! You’re always one of the first to post reviews when a book comes out.

      I’ve noticed that the better a book is, the faster I read it. I read 5 star books faster than 4 stars books. Not only do I think my reading speed actually increases, but I have to know how it ends, so I read in longer stints.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Its hard for me to quite on a book…. I feel like I owe it to the characters to finish their story. But every once in a while there is one that is just too badly written to read all the way through

  8. Minelle says:

    I do not finish many stories every year. Many of my reasons for not completing a book are the same as you have voiced. However, I often skip to the end if it is a romance…. Just to see how it ended!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I have skipped to the end when the story concept is good but the writing is so bad I can’t stand to read it. Too much telling and not enough showing, constant repetition of words and phrases, boring dialogue, unintentional POVs shifts. One thing that will kill a book right off is when a book begins with a “data dump” of backstory. And I hate the contrived, “As you know, Bob.” Hate it so much, I blogged about it: https://carabristol.com/2015/07/fwritetip-dos-and-donts-of-using-backstory/

  9. Livia Grant says:

    A great topic, Cara. Like everyone else, there are way too many authors and books that I love to keep going on a book that just isn’t capturing my attention. One thing I’ve also noticed about myself is I get in moods for different types of books. The more stressed I am the more likely I am to read a light hearted story. I recently set aside a good book only because it was just too dark and added to my anxiety. I went back to it a few weeks later and thoroughly enjoyed it. But that was because it was a well written book.

  10. Aubrey Cara says:

    I have a ton of books that I bought right before starting a writing binge and by the time I’m ready to read I’m in the mood for something completely different.

    I rarely DNF if I’ve gotten through the sample and I’m into it, but I have quite a few ‘hate’ reads. I’ve been known to spend the evening reading samples b/c nothing is jumping out at me. So if I’m actually intrigued enough to buy the book and the story turns, I tend to power through, but I’m not happy about it. At that point my mind goes into 1950’s dad mode, and I’m thinking things like, “I can NOT believe he just said that. Oh, she found it sexy. Of course she did. This is what’s wrong with the youth/world/etc these days.”

  11. Jaye Peaches says:

    I’m quite stubborn and I don’t like leaving things unfinished even if I’m struggling to enjoy what is supposed to be entertaining, but in recent years, I’ve chalked up more and more DNF because, well, life is too short. I would never dream of writing anything negative about a DNF, because generally if a book doesn’t work for me, it’s not due to anything especially wrong with it, it just not my kind of book. If it’s badly written, but keeps my attention with the plot, I skim read to find out the end. A well written book with interesting characters, even without a snappy plot, will keep me engaged. I do have a problem USA vernacular sometimes, but it doesn’t stop me reading if it ticks other boxes.
    I wonder if the advent of subscription based systems like KU has made it ‘easier’ to DNF, whereas a book, especially print, has the satisfaction of completion and putting back on the shelf. I love my little library, where as my Kindle seems to hide my achievements as a reader.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’m not on Kindle Unlimited, but I do acquire books through promotions like 99-cent specials and freebies when they’re available. I also recently signed up for Book Bub. And in general, ebooks are much cheaper that paperback.

      When I used to pay $7, $8, $9 per book, I took fewer risks in my reading purchases. I focused more on “sure bets.” When books are cheap, I’m more apt to give an “iffy” book a try.

      I do DNF more ebooks than I used to DNF print.

  12. Your DNF ratio is lower than mine…but then, I do most of my pleasure reading via Audible, where the author has another mark to go in the plus or minus column. The performer. If a book isn’t performed well, if the characters are read flat and boring, even an interesting story can become…well, flat and boring.

    There are some authors I trust to deliver on chemistry — it’s one of those things that make or break a book, and likewise one of those things that many authors confuse or try to make up for with steamy sex scenes. I like seeing the characters interact and, more specifically, clash.

    I’ve been rereading some books that I had fond memories of….and that was a really bad idea in some cases. One book in particular I remembered loving, but on a revisit nearly a decade later, it’s a major DNF. The hero’s an asshole — a “no means yes, take it bitch” asshole. And the heroine is of the weak, sniveling TSTL variety. She has literally spent most of the book sobbing. Which, I guess I understand on some level, considering the man she’s with is an emotionally manipulative, sexually aggressive douchenozzle who’s just “misunderstood.”

    I actually think my evolving tastes could be the reason so many books fall flat for me nowadays. Over the past few years especially, I’ve really embraced the “feminist” mantle, which has resulted in even some old favorites that I COULD get through falling a bit. I want strong, independent characters, sizzling chemistry, and believable dialogue. My current go-to authors include Molly Harper and Julie James since they deliver on both (James in her US Attorney series most prominently; she has some older stand-alones that I didn’t really care for). There’s another author whose work is hit and miss for me — her series was strong, even if all her heroines were written a little old-school for me…but the latest in her series (and the last installment, I believe) was a DNF because the leads had zero chemistry, the heroine was obnoxious, the hero was a jerk, and their “witty” banter was ripped right out of some high school’s hallway. I did look up the reviews before I officially threw in the towel, and saw a lot of other readers felt the same, so I at least felt a little vindicated.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Tastes do change over time and that affects perception of a book. I don’t often re-read, but when I have, often my favorites did not stand up. The story didn’t change–I did.

      I’ve about had it with heroines who take abuse from the heroes because they’re “submissive” and being objectified turns them on so much.Put your clothes back on, get the hell out, and grow a backbone!

      I cannot imagine what editor goes through–seeing the same mistakes over and over. Fortunately, an editor can say, “it’s not right for our house,” and pass.

  13. I’ve always loved reading for pleasure, and because I read quickly, I’m able to devour books at a crazy rate. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of kink and erotic romance because that’s what I write. Some of it is hot, some of it is well-written, and some of it is abysmal. Like any crowded market, erotica runs the gamut from Nobel-worthy to “please learn how to use a dictionary and a comma.”

    But it’s not just good grammar and punctuation that keeps me reading. I want to feel spell-bound when I’m immersed in a book. I want the author and all of the writing scaffolding to fall away, and become invisible, and for the words to float me along with ever increasing tension to the pinnacle of the story.

    When the author shows through, it’s like tires hitting the guardrail, or nails on a blackboard; it instantly snaps me out of the story and I have to work to get back in. Too much of that, and I’m done, I’m out — that’s the point where I shut the book or click away on the tablet.

    I remember reading an article about writing in The New Yorker about a year ago. The author said she always waits for “the swerve” in a story, the point where everything snaps into place and the themes coalesce into the ultimate message. She was talking about writing in a general sense, but I think I look for the swerve too, whether it’s a thriller, a drama or a romance. I want to find those moments where I’m surprised and then somehow not surprised by the inevitable progression of the story to this point. I want the story to keep me guessing, and then have me saying, “Yes! It couldn’t have gone any other way.”

    Lately, when books don’t do that, or when they don’t even promise to try, I give up on them. There’s not enough time now to waste on reading stuff that doesn’t sing to my soul, now that I’m writing myself, and spending time with my kiddo, and doing all the other various things that come with life.

    So I’m also increasing my DNR reads! But in the process, I’m learning what makes a book a “finish this all the way & recommend it”, and that’s time worth spent! 🙂

  14. Didi K says:

    I have a “crap ton” of DNF books.

    For me it’s almost always either the kink is too much for me, the author delves into a topic that is a trigger for me (self injury), or the editing is SO bad that I can’t take it. Usually it’s 1 and 2. 🙂

    I have some books that I have been in the middle of for a LONG TIME and I havent finished because I respect the author too much to rush it, but I find the current spot slow or boring. They arent DNF more like…. pause indefinitely 😉

    And my answer for ARCS is if I cannot in good conscience leave a 4-5 star I just won’t leave a review. I’ve read 6 books in the last 2 days and only one was too bad to review lol.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      With everything everyone has said, I’m wondering if authors ever change what they write because of what they’ve read?

  15. I know some finish a book whether it is good or not just because they started it. Not me. If you don’t hook me then I’m gone. I also like to be entertained and swept away. That’s why I don’t read much literary fiction. Now that I write full time it is hard for me to read as much as I want. I need to follow your lead. The problem is I tend to get books that are over 400 pages. Thanks for a good blog post.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I do tend to read novellas, although in August, all but one of the books I read were full length novels. That’s another thing I dislike about DNFs: in the time I wasted on reading several books part-way, I could have finished a good one!

  16. Heather says:

    I have many of the same feelings as everyone else. I have DNF a few books since I was asked to do reviews a couple of years ago. In those cases I have usually contacted the author & explained when & where their book “went off the rails for me”.

    I don’t leave reviews or ratings for books I DNF because I didn’t read enough to form a knowledgeable opinion. And its very possible the reason why I couldn’t continue reading will not bother someone else.

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