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Should You Finish A Book You’re Not Enjoying?

A photo of three books I wouldn't have finished, with bookmarks in them: The House At Riverton, Sovay, and Lord Of The Rings

In the days before the Internet and casual reviewing online, I didn’t finish many books. If I didn’t enjoy them it made sense, but I do look back sometimes and wish I’d made more of an effort. But it didn’t seem like a big deal back then.

Now it feels more important. I would say that perhaps it is due to the differences between childhood and adulthood, and the way the world has changed – except I can’t help applying my own context to it. I can’t help but see it from the point of view of a book blogger, a reviewer, and indeed it is an issue at the heart of our “work”.

Should a person finish a book they’re not enjoying? It’s the million-dollar question but there is no one answer and there never will be. This is because it all depends on why you’re reading the book in question.

If you’re simply reading for pleasure and just want to enjoy your time, finishing a book that’s lacking doesn’t make sense. We don’t like to do things that aren’t fun and considering this reading happens during one’s free-time (an often scant resource), you want to make the most of it.

However if you’re reading for the above reason but with a catch – it’s for a book club – you’ll likely want or even need to reassess that line of thinking. It would, in this case, depend on how the group in general perceives giving up on a book. They may be far from strict, but a book club is about a number of people and involves discussion of the pick.

If you’re reading a book for review then you probably ought to finish it so that your review is informed and fair, that you’ve ample evidence and “authority” to criticise it. That said this can be hard when the book is so bad and people get around it by writing about the fact they couldn’t finish it and why. This is surely far more fair than pretending to have finished it or making assumptions, not least to keep your integrity. DNF reviews are great because being so open allows others to feel they can really give their own recommendations – that you made the right decision, that you should give it another go because it improves, and so forth.

Obviously there are other reasons outside the book-centric ones (I apologise for the strange turn of phrase but am hoping you get my meaning). If you’re studying the book or it’s another item on your course list, you’ll want to finish it unless the Cliff/Spark notes are particularly good. That said it’s a risk to take because the notes may not help you enough should you be asked to comment in detail.

You should finish a book if you want a sound knowledge of its contents, whether for yourself or conversation. If you need the information for context or culture (thinking here of classics and modern classics) you will likely have the drive to get to the end no matter your level of enjoyment.

Yet perhaps the most important reason, when it comes down to it and we’ve stripped away keeping up appearances and work, is the sense of fulfillment. True, it may not happen with every book (though it might be said it happens with famous ones no matter how bad they are) but the act of finishing a book, of being able to say you’ve read it from cover to cover, is empowering.

Of course I am on the side of finishing books, it’s there to see on my reading lists and my list of posts in which exists a solo DNF, but it would be impossible to prescribe one way for everyone and at all times. And our interests and motives change. So an analysis this post must remain.

Do you finish books you’re not enjoying? Why/why not?


Maria @ A bookworm’s life

February 20, 2013, 10:13 am

I agree that reading is meant to be fun so there’s no point in finishing a book if reading it is torture. In general I finish the vast majority of the books I read. If I’m really not enjoying a book then I’m fine with not finishing but I don’t review it. I think reviewing and saying I didn’t finish would make it look like it was the book’s fault while I usually assume that I was not in the right mood or I’m not in the book’s primary audience. That being said, I don’t read ARCs or self-published books and I’m picky about the books I select, so you could say my reading material is kind of vetted from the start.


February 20, 2013, 1:54 pm

I used to be obsessive about finishing, but now I will finish only if I have made a commitment to review the book. On the other hand, I started several in the past year I hated, and emailed the person who recommended it, with that person then insisting I keep going because it would get better, and it did! :–)


February 20, 2013, 2:50 pm

When I was a lot younger I would finish every single book. Now that I’m older and wiser (ha!) I don’t. There are too many great books out there to waste time on the terrible ones. :)


February 20, 2013, 5:01 pm

I finish atleast 99% of the books I start. I used to force myself through every book but recently I decided to be far more leniant on myself. If I’m not enjoying it I shouldn’t waste my time on it. This doesn’t mean I give up completely most of the time I just place it back on my tbr pile because it might be not right for my mood. If its not my mood but the fact I just can’t stand it then I pass it on but that very very rarely happens.

Audra (Unabridged Chick)

February 20, 2013, 5:25 pm

YES to everything you say: DNFing, finishing for finishing’s sake, finishing for a review, learning to finish… I go the whole gamut. If I had my druthers, I’d DNF more but as I almost exclusively read to review, I feel like I need to give a book a fair shake.

Judith / Leeswammes

February 20, 2013, 7:34 pm

Great points, only I don’t quite agree. I read for pleasure ONLY (unless I read to learn something new), and so even review books I will put aside if they don’t interest me. I’m bold enough to even write a review about such a book, but only the part that I’ve read, of course.

I always hope to write a fair review and say why I didn’t finish it. I’m not worried I’m doing the publishers a disservice. Some readers actually become interested in a book because it gets a negative review, and sometimes people just remember they saw a review on a particular book, but don’t remember whether it was positive or negative and will buy it because of having seen it mentioned(that’s me, too!).


February 21, 2013, 12:01 am

I sometimes finish books I’m not enjoying, just so I can review them as crossly as I want to review them. But if I don’t see any prospect of writing a sensible review of a book I’m not enjoying, and if I’m not obligated to finish the book for some reason, I’ll usually stop. There is a finite number of books I’ll be able to read in my lifetime, so I want to maximize the enjoyable ones.


February 21, 2013, 1:45 pm

What does DNF means? (I’m sorry, but I’m not sure)

Well, I usually finish all the books I start reading BUT there have been some of them impossible to finish, and I don’t feel bad for not finishing them because I really wanted to throw them to the rubbish.

BUT sometimes I love to write a review criticizing the book and explaining to the world why they shouldn’t waste their time with that book.
I feel like “REVENGEEEEEE” :)))
And a little revenge is good from time to time.


February 21, 2013, 10:29 pm

Blogging has helped me learn to put down books I’m not enjoying. Why waste my time? And I’m slowly but surely embracing the DNF review.

Maria @ A bookworm’s life

February 22, 2013, 8:23 am

So I’ve been thinking about this some more and there’s another reason I’m reluctant to put a book down. I think that a lot of books that are significant can be somewhat difficult to read. But I don’t want to be a slacker reader and only read the easy-reads; I think it’s good for me if I read books that perhaps require a bit of effort. Plus there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a difficult book, kind of like the feeling after a gruelling workout…

P.S. Yet another fascinating discussion post, Charlie. I’m glad you incorporated the subscribe to comments option.


February 22, 2013, 9:31 pm

Unless someone has requested I review a book, it is for a book club or it is a recommendation from a friend I am a firm believer that a book shouldn’t be struggled through. I used to have a policy where no book went unfinished, but I found it made me love reading less and stopped me getting to books I would end up falling in love with.

I don’t often post about reading failures, but on occasion I do as it can be nice to discuss why certain novels don’t work for you.

It works differently for everyone, and I will always try and get a third of the way through before thinking something isn’t for me, but I don’t see anything wrong with putting a book down if it’s not working for you.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

February 23, 2013, 11:59 pm

I actually did a post similar to this, about strategies to help you finish or if you should just give up called To finish or not to finish, that is the question.

I give a book 100 pages, unless it has something that I can’t stand, like witches or ghosts. But if I read 100 pgs and I can’t stand it, then I feel confident that I can give it up. If it’s a classics that I “must” read, I’ll just set a schedule like I had when I was in school to help me get through it!

Tanya Patrice

February 24, 2013, 12:22 am

I can’t help it – both before I started blogging and now – I HAVE TO finish a book once I’ve committed to it past a few chapters. There has only been 1 book in 2 years that I simply couldn’t make it through – Wolf Hall!

Alex in Leeds

February 24, 2013, 11:23 pm

I browse the first 100 pages of more books than I ever finish, mostly the hyped books that are on my radar via Twitter or other bloggers. The library is perfect for this because I can get a taste of the titles that have caught my curiosity but I only commit to the ones I really enjoy and want to finish. I didn’t set out to do this but when I realised I was depressed by the number of DNFs this seemed a more honest way to treat the books that are more ‘did not get hooked’ than ‘hated enough to abandon’. It works pretty well for me. :)

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

February 24, 2013, 11:52 pm

I absolutely hate not finishing a book. That being said I did just blog about my first ever DNF book. I’ve come to realize that sometimes calling it quits is better for my sanity, but really I just wish I’d picked a better book!


February 25, 2013, 10:51 am

Maria: That’s a fair way to be :) Interesting that you assume it’s your mood – that’s surely the case often, but then at other times it could well be the book. I’m not sure I could be as fair as you in that way!

Rhapsody: Very fair :) Was it the same person recommending? Sounds like an interesting trend if so!

Jennifer: That’s very true, so many books so little time.

Jessica: The only thing with putting it back on the TBR, I find, is you sometimes have to start it all over again because you forget what happened. Otherwise it’s a good idea.

Audra: I suppose if you do that then you want to give the publishers the same “chance” – review every book.

Judith: Putting review books aside is bold enough! I’ve done that once, it’s difficult when you’ve accepted a pitch and know you have one of a limited number of copies. That said I can see it being easy enough if it’s an unsolicited copy. Very good points about negative reviews. I often find negative reviews are the better written reviews in general and they can indeed make you interested in a book.

Jenny: I used to do that a lot. I stopped because I could get quite negative, though yours are a lot more objective. Sensible is the key.

Isi: Did Not Finish. Indeed some are impossible, though it’s interesting how for some they will be amazing (hello Fifty Shades Of Grey). When you’ve taken time to read a book and you hated it you do sometimes feel like pulling it apart, because you’ve invested your time into it.

Liviania: I like your comment, it’s different to my own thoughts but I can see exactly where you’re coming from. And I’ve found reading the blogs of others does make you feel DNFing is an idea.

Maria: Yes to what you’ve said. Sometimes books that are very worthy of our attention are difficult to read. It’s ironic, and it is off-putting but you want the knowledge etc that the book contents. I think having a balance of easy and difficult, if you are someone who gets bored of bad books (I don’t know anyone who doesn’t!) is important. Thanks! I’m glad for the feedback about the subscription :)

Alice: That’s a very good point about loving reading, and it’s so much about time, too. Definitely, an all-positive blog can make you think twice. A third of the way is a good amount . Lots of books don’t pick up until later than that, but really by 1/3 of the way there should be something interesting happening.

Rebecca: Regarding your own post, I do the 50 page then reward thing too sometimes – when you really want to finish the book but it’s hard going. Yes, with classics you do feel you want to finish it regardless!

Tanya: That is pretty much my situation. Wolf Hall is huge, if you weren’t liking it, no wonder you put it down.

Alex: That does sound a good way of doing it, especially using the library – a lot easier than looking at your own bookshelves of books you gave up on. I like the idea of separating it from DNF, giving it a trial instead.

Christine: Welcome! Yes to what you’ve said. Even when you hate not finishing that first DNF is wonderfully freeing. I think no matter how much you read and know yourself it can still be hard to pick a book you know without doubt you’ll like.


February 26, 2013, 5:54 am

Wonderful post, Charlie! I liked what you said about feeling empowered if we read a book from cover to cover. I rarely abandon a book, because I think there is something beautiful in every book. Sometimes I keep a half-read book aside and read something else, but the plan is always to get back to the half-read book. I have discovered that even in books which are slow going or which look quite uninteresting, the reading experience improves after a while. There are books which I haven’t liked after finishing them, but even they had some nice things. Enjoyed reading your post very much :)



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