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Our Reading Lives

How I Learned To Embrace My DNF Pile

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Kristen Kwisnek

Staff Writer

Kristen Kwisnek is a public librarian based near Baltimore, Md. who specializes in children’s literature and services. When she’s not reading, writing, or librarian-ing, Kristen can be found with her amazing husband eating something delicious, watching ‘90s music videos, and dreaming of one day having a dog that she’ll pretend is Sirius Black.

This is a guest post from Kristen Kwisnek. Kristen Kwisnek is a public librarian based near Baltimore, Maryland. She specializes in children’s books and loves nothing more than putting books into the hands of young readers. When she’s not reading, writing, or librarian-ing, Kristen can be found with her amazing husband (he built her a Beauty and the Beast-esque personal library!) eating something delicious, watching ‘90s music videos, and dreaming of one day having a dog that she’ll pretend is Sirius Black in his animagus form.

Until recently, not finishing a book was a foreign concept, a sign of weakness, a readerly sin. Giving up was not an option. The immense guilt I felt for even entertaining the idea of abandoning a book made the notion of a DNF (did not finish) pile impossible.

That all changed last fall. I woke up in the wee hours of a November night with the worst headache I’d ever had. My husband rushed me to the ER where we found out I had a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Long story short, I had brain surgery and have spent the past year recovering.

How I learned to embrace my DNF pile, with tips and tricks for how other readers can DNF without fear, too. book habits | reading habits | DNF books | how to DNF books

I am incredibly lucky. I can walk, talk, and do almost everything I could before the surgery, but when your brain gets poked and prodded, there’s bound to be a few things that change physically and mentally. For me, one of the biggest changes has been my ability to stay focused while reading. It takes a lot more energy to concentrate for long stretches of time, and I often have to backtrack and reread because I can’t remember what I’ve just read.

I used to pride myself on reading at least three books a week. Now I’m glad if I get through one, and that one book better be spectacular if I’m going to spend so much time with it.

In the early days of my recovery while I was still in the hospital, I picked up Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and I couldn’t get through it. I kept reading the same lines over and over and none of them stuck. I wondered if I should force myself to keep going.

I looked at the IVs I was hooked up to; I saw my husband sleeping on the uncomfortable vinyl couch in the hospital room; I touched the bandaging around my head and I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this to myself? Life is too short to read books I don’t love!”

Annihilation wasn’t a bad book. It just wasn’t for me at the moment. I latched on to the idea that my time on this earth is limited and I shouldn’t spend it feeling frustrated and miserable. I closed Annihilation and made it the first book in my DNF pile.

I felt incredibly liberated and have since added a bunch more books to the pile. I want those of you with DNF guilt to experience this freeing feeling as well, so I’ve developed a list of reasons why it’s okay to abandon books you’re not enjoying. Let that DNF pile grow!

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Life is Too Short to Read Bad Books (or books that just aren’t for you)!

Life is too short to be doing anything that makes you grumpy during your free time. Let go of the “I shoulds” and embrace the “I wants.”

You can always revisit books you’ve put down.

There is no rule forbidding you to try again if you want. Sometimes a book just isn’t the right one at the time.

You’ll be more fun to be around.

When I’m not connecting with a book and reading it feels like a chore, I’m a drag to hang out with. Why make my loved ones suffer when all I have to do is move on to something else?

If your book is from the library, DNFing and returning it gives someone else the opportunity to enjoy it.

Just because I didn’t enjoy a book with 137 people on the library hold list doesn’t mean the next reader in the queue won’t absolutely love it. Set that book free.

By sticking with a book you don’t like, you’re missing out on your next best read.

Who knows? Maybe the next book you pick up will be your favorite of the year. There’s no way you’ll know if you keep slogging through that book you’re only reading because you want to sound smart at dinner parties.


All of this is to say, reading for fun should be fun. If a book isn’t doing it for you, close it and give yourself the permission to try something else. Looking at my DNF pile actually gives me a sense of pride now. Letting go of obligatory reading and finding books that excite me and enrich my life has been a game changer.

Now, I just have to figure out how to transfer that letting go mindset to the rest of my day-to-day life. Maybe there’s a book that can help…