Our Reading Lives

Help Me, Readers: How Do You DNF?

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Abby Hargreaves

Staff Writer

Abby Hargreaves is a New Hampshire native living and working as a Children’s Librarian in Washington, D.C. She fulfills the gamut of the librarian stereotype with a love of cats, coffee, and crocheting (and likes a good run of alliteration). Her MLIS degree enjoys the company of a BA in English from Hollins University, making Abby an advocate of women's universities. Her favorite color is yellow.

I’m a purist. I like being thorough, which is pretty obvious when you look at how I don’t even know how to rate books. I will not DNF (that’s did-not-finish [a book] for those newly initiated; welcome, by the way). When I do, it’s way OOC (out of character). In fact, aside from books from which I was required to read excerpts in high school, I can name only two books that I have DNF’d. (They are George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings and Frank Herbert’s Dune—but I intend to go back to the latter someday. So maybe that one doesn’t count. And I never read the whole of Moby Dick after being assigned an excerpt—but I plan on reading it in full.)

i will not DNF books

Part of the reason I don’t DNF is because I’ve got major FOMO (fear of missing out—am I using enough acronyms?) and well, what if the book finishes splendidly and I miss out? It’s possible for an ending to redeem what is otherwise a terrible book—I’ve seen it happen, albeit rarely. But also, I feel an enormous amount of pressure around this from Goodreads. How do I categorize a DNF?

I have friends who have set up DNF shelves for themselves on Goodreads. I’m so glad that works for them, but for me? I can’t do it. Even if you add a shelf and mark a book as DNF, Goodreads still requires you to select one of these shelves: read, currently-reading, to-read. If I haven’t finished the book, I can’t say that I’ve read it, so read doesn’t work for me. Meanwhile, if I’ve truly decided to give up on a book (like with A Clash of Kings), then I’m not currently reading it, so there goes currently reading. Finally, there’s to read. And I think it’s pretty obvious if I’ve started something and decided even my purist personality won’t stand in the way of me quitting the atrocity (no offense, George R.R.) that it won’t be on my to read list.


I’m not the only one who struggles with Goodreads’ parameters. And there are Goodreads alternatives out there. But I’m committed (remember, I’m a purist). I suppose I could remove the book from my Goodreads entirely, but if I do, I don’t have a record of it. This is a problem because I could encounter the book again and forget that I’ve tried it and didn’t like it. Plus, again, I want the most complete data I can manage about my reading history. Simply removing it would taint that data pretty significantly.

I could also just stick to a paper log, but even then, I would still want to keep up my Goodreads. And then my data wouldn’t match. And that’s bothersome.

DNF Suggestions?

So I want to know—if you’re someone who keeps a history of your books and you’ve been known to DNF a book, what is your strategy?