Word Nerdery: Did Not Finish – Some Insights into the Life of a Book Reviewer

I didn’t realise that I read quickly until I was told that my average of two to four books a week wasn’t normal. I thought that those who chose to read were of a fairly similar pace to me, and it was a bit shocking that I was wrong. Now that I think about it, of course, it makes sense. My goodness, do you know how complex books are?! Just because my brain is wired for words (I’m neurodivergent, I mean this literally) doesn’t mean that everyone’s mind works in the same way. And that’s perfectly alright! Read one book a month. Read one book every six months. Read a book a day (I’d be very impressed with this). Read everything. Read nothing. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

Unless, of course, you’re taking an English class or other related academic course, and then you’d better read the books you’re assigned. Even if they’re terrible. Sorry.

Which actually brings me, in a roundabout way, to my main point of this article. I am a book reviewer. I read a lot of books, averaging about 200 a year. Most of these are indie books, sent to me by authors who signed up for my review service. And while I am very pleased with that number, the number I don’t often share is how many books I DNF (Did Not Finish) in a year.

It’s probably closer to 400.

Yes, you read that right.

For every book I read, I DNF two. 

Usually, I can tell within the first 10% of a book whether I’m going to like it. This is to do with the prose, narration style, characters, and content of a book. If I have a difficult time understanding the language, because there are too many similies or everything is convoluted and nothing is stated outright, or even if the characters do some questionable things, then I will immediately DNF the book and move on. Sometimes it takes me up to 50% of a book before I’ll give up, but usually if I’ve made it that far, I’ll finish the book.

I used to feel badly about this. People were sending me their books, hoping I’d review them. I never charge for reviews, only ask that I get a copy of the book. So I felt guilty that I didn’t finish a book. However, I know that if I finish reading a book I do not enjoy, then the review is going to be unfavourable, and I hate writing bad reviews more than I hate disappointing authors. 

Some authors will say that a bad review is still a review and that the algorithms don’t care one way or another. Other authors will obsess over every review they get, and can take a bad review to heart in the worst way. Personally, I don’t read my reviews, for many different reasons. However, I also don’t want to discourage other authors, because they’ve done a great thing by writing and publishing a book, and most of the time, the reasons why I don’t like a book are purely subjective. Therefore it’s not helpful for me to review negatively. Nor do I review books I don’t finish, but that’s because I haven’t gotten the full story. Essentially, if I finish a book, it automatically gets three stars, because it held my attention long enough to follow through. And that, I think, is worth a review.

Yes, I will fully admit that I am picky. I have a background in linguistics, I’ve been practising story craft for many years, and I read a massive amount. I know very quickly, therefore, what stories will be interesting to me. I can point out what works and what doesn’t, and I am fully able to admit when something is an objective problem or a subjective one. (Objective problems are mostly to do with editing.)

There are millions of books in the world, and millions more are published every year. Traditional publishing and hybrid publishing and self publishing, it doesn’t matter. There are multitudes of books, and I am happy to give them a try. But if I don’t like a book, then there is little need for me to worry about finishing it. I read many books I didn’t like during my English class days, and I burned to have the freedom to choose my books. Now that I have it, I will exercise that freedom and move on to a new book.

Because there is always more for me to read, and I want to read it.