DNF (Did Not Finish) reviews seem to be a bone of contention among reviewers, and I can see both sides of the argument-shaped coin.
On one hand, there’s the troubling issue of a person talking about a book when they haven’t read the whole thing. Some feel that this could be likened to disliking (and it is disliking, since people don’t tend to write a review based on a book they didn’t finish because they liked it too much) a house based only on the living room. It seems unfair to judge an entire book by only a portion of it. Problems that a reader encounters with an unclear plot, for instance, could be explained with perfect clarity later on.
Others argue that if a book is continually failing to interest a reader after a certain amount of time, pages, chapters, etc, then that says as much about the book as if the reader continued to the end.
Me, I’m in the latter camp. I don’t often write DNF reviews (thought I did do a short series a while ago, where I looked at books that I haven’t finished and talked a bit about why), but I see their value. I think that the reasons a person didn’t finish reading a book are just as valid as the reasons they did finish it. Maybe the characters felt flat and unrealistic. Maybe the plot didn’t appeal to you. Maybe the story seemed to be glorifying something you felt was abhorrent.
You don’t need to sit through the entire book to realise these things.
Part of the divisive factor on DNF reviews is the uncertain idea about who reviewers are reviewing for. Most of us take it as a given that when we review, we’re trying to boost a book’s presence in the public eye, give it some publicity, greater ratings, to try to convince other people to buy the book and support the authors and publishing team. That much we all get. But in that very idea there’s the notion that doesn’t get talked about as often: we’re reviewing for readers.
If all we did was spout buzzwords back to an industry that wants our buzzwords, then really, there’d be little use for our honesty, which is a word seen in a lot of disclaimers on book review blogs: “This book was provided by the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.” The publishing industry wants good words from us, and who can blame them? Everyone benefits when good reviews cause a book’s sales to increase!
But there’s an element of trust in this. While we often review into a vacuum (most of the people who read my reviews are, I strongly suspect, reviewers themselves), those who read this blog are readers themselves, and have put some amount of trust in me to be honest with my opinions, be they positive or negative. Readers of my blog likely have similar taste in books to me, or else why would they be reading me? It’s the same with blogs that I read. I read them because I trust the reviewer’s opinion and we share similar tastes.
So if they review a book positively, chances are I’ll enjoy the book too. If they didn’t like it, then depending on their reasons, I almost probably won’t. And if they couldn’t even bring themselves to finish it…
You see the pattern.
To simplify the matter, if I were to say that I’ve never gone skydiving because I’m afraid of heights, then other people who are afraid of heights might know that the activity isn’t for them. Is it fair to say that this opinion should not be made public because I can’t say, “I went skydiving and didn’t like it because I’m afraid of heights?” Why is it necessary to put oneself through continued discomfort in order to legitimize something they already knew? Why waste your time going skydiving, when you don’t really want to, when you could be using that time to do something you actually do enjoy?
But that’s just my take on the matter. I can also understand the opinion of those who think that reviewers shouldn’t write reviews about books they didn’t finish, because without finishing it, how can you get the whole picture? Sure, in the end your opinion on the book may not have changed any, but at least you can rest assured that you sat through the whole thing and know that the book wasn’t redeemed, rather than just suspecting it. And the idea of reviewer honesty plays into this as well, and in exactly the same way. Someone whose opinions I trust sat through the whole book and didn’t like it, and chances are I’m not going to either.
I think there’s also some lingering traces of, “If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” in the mix. Some reviewers have expressed that they don’t write negative reviews at all, because that can do nothing but harm. And in a way, that’s true. Just in the same way that a positive review can influence a person to buy a book, a negative review can influence them away from it. If nothing at all is said, then it’s a crapshoot as to whether someone else will pick up that book at all, but at least you didn’t actively cause sales to drop.
But since the reasons people don’t finish books are often negative ones, I think there’s a great amount of intimidation at play. You’re badmouthing a book and you didn’t even read it all? Geez, what kind of jerk are you, to do something like that? It’s like piling badness on badness, and anything you say might be seen as twice as negative as it really is. Never mind that your opinions would probably be the same had you actually finished the book. I find that more people are actively discouraged from writing DNF reviews than they are from writing just general negative reviews, when often what’s written amounts to the same thing. It’s still a negative review. The only difference is the amount of time you spent on the matter, and whether or not you confess to not reading until the last page.
There’s no definite end to this debate, no certain “Yes you should” or “No you shouldn’t” consensus that can be reached. At the end of the day, it’s largely a matter of person taste and opinion. I do dispute that DNF reviews have no inherent value, though; as I said previously, the reasons a person didn’t finish a book are just as important as the reasons they did.
So what’s your take on the matter? Do you write reviews for books you didn’t finish? Do you find any value in them when other people write them? Do you think that judging a book based on only a partial reading is unfair? Let me know in the comments!