Things have been particularly interesting for us book bloggers over the past few months, especially those of us reviewing in the YA category. It seems that everyone has weighed in on the topic of what, why and how to review a book, be it negatively or otherwise. However, the topic of the DNF (Did not finish) review has been an especially hot button one.
A few weeks ago, author Mayandree Michel blogged about the line between book reviews and book bashing, a topic my fellow torch bearer Vinaya has already discussed at length far better than I could, and while I had a number of issues with some of the things Michel said, including frequent use of the term ‘hater’ to describe critical reviews, her paragraph on DNFs seemed especially interesting to me: “But why review a book you haven't finished? Most read because they enjoy it. If you find that you are reading a book that you are not enjoying then just put it down. And just because you find that you don't like a book, doesn't mean that the book sucks. It just means that it's not the right book for you.”
Personally, I don’t think this is a fair assumption to make. As a dedicated reader and reviewer, I want to give every book a fair chance, even if it’s something that’s not particularly suited to my tastes, and I seldom don’t finish a novel, but I have no problem with writing a piece on why I didn’t finish a book. This is mainly because it takes a lot for me to put down a book and not return to it, so if a book is so bad or so problematic that I can’t even finish it, I want to say exactly why this was the case for me. Of course not all books are for everyone, but it’s not fair and rather suspect to label everyone that doesn’t like a book as it just not being to their tastes, or giving them the dreaded moniker of ‘hater.’
There are several reasons I may not finish a book. It could be bad writing, uninspiring world-building, lack of originality, etc. The last DNF review I posted (which I didn’t give a star rating to – I think to do so is subjective to the reviewer and their own judgement call) was The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder. The book was so uninspiring, so derivative of every high school set book or movie I’d ever seen, so devoid of wit and nuance that I just couldn’t force myself to care about it. I’ve also heard the argument that you can’t critique a book without reading it all, but honestly, if you have to read a 300+ page book and it only starts to get interesting in the final few pages, that’s not worth my time. You don’t leave all your good writing for the climax. I do think if one is reviewing a sequel that they should read the rest of the series first, unless it’s been explicitly stated that one doesn’t have to read the rest of the series in order to appreciate the other books (e.g. Discworld novels.)
I have often forced myself to finish a book I know is awful and won’t get better. If a book disgusts me and is so jam packed with disturbing messages and archaic attitudes towards women, sex and relationships that I can’t not speak out against it, then you damn well know I want as much ammunition against that book as possible! This isn’t being a hater, however you want to spin it, it’s about wanting to be informed. However, if you have such passionate reaction to a book that you have to put it down without finishing it, I still think you have the right to review it. Reviews are by consumers, for consumers. I completely understand why people don’t read or write DNF reviews, but if they want to seek the opinion of a reviewer they trust then that shouldn’t be dismissed. It doesn’t make them a hater, it makes them a reader.