When (not) to DNF a book

by Sunita

I DNF a lot. Life is too short to read a book that makes me feel less good when I’m done than I did when I started. After more than 25 years of reading romance novels, I know my tastes. There is some writing I find so problematic that no strengths in plotting or characterization will overcome it. There is some wallpaper so shiny that I can’t see past it to the rest of the room, er, book.

Nevertheless, when I’m reading for review, I make myself finish. Now, I’m more than happy to read DNF reviews like the ones by my DA colleaguesJanine’s in particular. Sometimes they can be more insightful than reviews of fully read books. It’s worth remembering that there are a variety of reasons readers DNF, and there is as wide a range of DNF reviews as of completed-book reviews. Some are one- or two-sentence dismissals (“it was a wallbanger”) with no further explanation, but others are informative and thoughtful. And as someone said (probably Robin), we don’t hear many complaints about the short, uninformative, “I loved it!” A reviews.

But despite my enjoyment of other people’s DNF reviews, I can’t seem to write reviews like that. And I’ve come to realize it’s important for me (and for anyone who thinks my reviews might be useful) that I review both the ones I like and the ones that didn’t work for me. Even when I know a book isn’t working for me, I feel that I have to read the whole thing, just in case I’m going to miss something that explains why the author went the way s/he did, or a late twist that redeems the book.

I finished a couple of books recently that failed on almost every level for me. I kept reading, thinking they were going to get better. But they never did, and one even got worse. Nevertheless, I wrote up the reviews, and I think (I hope) I was fair to them. The reviews aren’t favorable, needless to say, but they are pretty clear about what I found dissatisfying about the reads, and in one of the cases I think people who like the aspects I didn’t will go out and buy the book for precisely those parts.

I also read two books that I had serious reservations about in the early stages. One uses a trope that I don’t find particularly appealing (okay, that I generally hate). But I love this author’s books, so I kept going, thinking if anyone could pull it off, she could. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the end of the book, but I’m glad I read it. And when I went back to read parts of it again while writing the review, that trope made more sense to me and I appreciated it more than I had on the first reading. It’s still not one I’d seek out, but I thought the author did a good job with it and it was interesting to see it used thoughtfully.

The second used a setting that I tend to avoid. She’s written in this subgenre before and the books have been well received, but I hadn’t read those when I had the opportunity to review the book. I’ve loved the books I’ve read by her, so I thought, why not? I read the first 50 pages twice. I found them confusing and I wasn’t at all sure I could continue. But I said I’d review it, so I felt that I had to try again. So I started from the beginning, reading it only when I could really concentrate, and around Page 95, everything suddenly fell into place. It’s a story with a lot of characters, and I haven’t been reading a lot of those lately, so I was out of practice. I’m still not sure how well the book is going to work for me, but I’m sufficiently engaged that I will definitely keep going until the end.

I still DNF books I read purely for myself, i.e., books I buy or get as freebies from Amazon and other sites. And I imagine at some point I’ll be able to DNF a review book and write a post that conveys enough for me to be satisfied with what I’ve written. I understand why some authors and readers are so opposed to the idea of DNF reviews; authors in particular can feel that it’s unfair to their effort.

But reviews are for readers, not authors, and as long as there are readers who find DNF reviews useful, reviewers should feel comfortable in writing and posting them. And for people who don’t find them useful, once they see that DNF tag/title, they can stop reading and find another review. After all if there’s anything we have in abundance in the online romance world, it’s opinions about books and places to find them.

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