Our Reading Lives

I’m Breaking Up With 3-Star Reads

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

One of the many questions that divide the reading world (Paperback or hardcover? Rereads or no rereads? Owning everything you read or borrowing?) is where you fall on the DNF spectrum. To DNF (or to mark as “Did Not Finish”) a book is a personal choice for passionate readers. Some will toss aside any read that loses their attention, happy to collect a pile of DNFs until they find a story that earns their interest. Others refuse to ever DNF, slowly slogging through even the worst of books. I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ll DNF a book early on if I realize I’m unlikely to enjoy it. Usually writing style is the dealbreaker for me. If a book is slow, it might pick up. If the writing is awkward, clumsy, or too flowery, that’s unlikely to change.

Once I’m close to halfway through a book, though, I’m unlikely to put it aside. I feel like I’ve already invested too much to turn around now (a classic sunk cost fallacy), so I tend to stick it out. By that point, I usually already know it’s impossible for this book to become a 5-star read on my personal Goodreads scale. Even if the latter half of the book is truly exceptional, it can’t make up for boring me in the middle.

These books that I refuse to DNF almost always end up 3 stars. They’re not bad. If I had hated them, I wouldn’t have gotten further than the first pages — I don’t even count that as a DNF because I never properly started it. Usually, there was some element I was enjoying. So, in the parlance of the 3-star rating on Goodreads, “I liked it.” I just didn’t love it. And honestly? I’m beginning to wonder if those experiences are affecting how much I enjoy reading as a whole.

Recently, I was reading a book (title left out to protect the innocent), and it was…fine. I was liking parts of it, disliking others. Since I enjoyed the premise, I kept going in the hopes it would improve. By the time I realized it wasn’t going to become a 4-star or 5-star read, I was already about halfway through, so I decided to finish it. Because, of course, does it even count as reading if it doesn’t contribute to your Goodreads total? Also, isn’t it my readerly duty to review this book?

This was a short book, but it took me about three weeks to finish. I usually read one to two books a week. I chalked it up to an ongoing reading slump — but the next book I read, I finished in two days. That book also had flaws, but I enjoyed the reading experience so much. I thought about it when I wasn’t reading it. I felt absorbed in the story. I began to realize: it’s not a reading slump. I’m just not reading books that I love.

My TBR list is endless. There are more books out there that I would adore than I will ever be able to read. So why am I wasting time on books that I am damning with faint praise? I think it’s time for me to demand more from the books I’m reading. I don’t just want to recognize their strengths in a distanced way. I don’t want to merely acknowledge that they’re good quality. I want to love the books I read. I want to be immersed in the story and dread having to get to the ending.

It’s one thing to watch TV that I like and not love. In fact, most of the TV and movies I watch, I merely like, and that’s fine! Sometimes you want to watch a show where you don’t have to worry about missing anything when you glance down at your food. Also, I don’t want to weep over my mashed potatoes. (Yes, we mostly watch TV while eating.) My books, though? I don’t want the books I read to be of that same calibre. When I’m reading, I want it to be the only thing I’m thinking about.

So, I’m breaking up 3-star reads. I’m committed to try to DNF books as soon as I realize that they’re never going to be 4 or 5 stars. These are arbitrary numbers, of course, but they signify to me that a book is not going to be memorable, and that I’ll likely drag my feet reading it. From now on, I want the books I’m reading to call out to me from my nightstand. I want to look forward to reading them, not to just pick them up out of obligation. And if that means I have to start ten books before I find The One, so be it. It’s time to start DNFing with reckless abandon. I can’t wait.