August 19, 2013

The Curious Reader - Do DNFs deserve a rating?

Usually I don't give up that easily, but sometimes there's no way around calling it quits after the first couple pages ...

Do DNFs deserve a rating?

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Long gone are the days that I would finish every book I started. I guess from a certain age on, and keeping those vast mountain ranges of unread volumes in mind, one has to pull the line somewhere and why waste precious time on reading a book when each page feels like getting your teeth pulled ... slowly and without anesthesia.

To finish or not to finish that is the question. 

Up until last year I would plow through the worst books and sadly some have stuck to my memory in all their horrific glory more than they could ever deserve. What did all those bad baaad novels have in common? They got a 1-star rating from yours truly. Now, some might say there are books that only deserve zero stars, but I'd like to disagree. If someone sits down and manages to finish a whole book this alone is worth 1 star. The rest is a bonus which an author should definitely aspire to, but let's not digress.

The point is that if a book simply doesn't work for you for whatever reason and you then decide to call it quits after, say, four chapters or maybe 50 pages, how do you rate it? Unfortunately places like Amazon or Goodreads do not offer a DNF option so in lack of it the most obvious choice has to be handing out one measly star. Why? Because if you cannot bring yourself to read straight through to the very last page the book obviously doesn't deserve praise.

Did. Not. Finish.

This raises yet another important question. Should we even rate a book if we never made it to its last page? After all, things might go uphill after chapter 7 and what we felt warranted only 1 star in the beginning might actually climb a few steps to - let me take a deep breath - an unbelievable 3 stars. Of course, in my experience more books will start out promising enough that you could almost believe you'll end up giving it 5 stars only to end up as average for you whilst books who are off to a rather, shall we say, slow start, rarely manage to transform into a true literary gem.

Either way, the moment you decide to quit reading is also the moment you have made up your mind about the book. And let's be honest, even if we did not finish it, we do judge the few pages we've read. So in all fairness the most logical thing might even be to say a certain novel's first half deserves only 1 star and the rest is better left unread because of it.

Oh my star! Singular.

How do rate books you did not finish? Do you give them no stars at all or do you resort to 1 star as I do? Even more so, do you think a book you never finished should consequently not get a rating at all?

16 comments:

  1. If I could, I would give them no stars, but I give DNF 1 stars, because it's easier to combine with Goodreads. I always state that it's a DNF. Really horrible books I end up finishing also get 1 stars, so I need to make sure people know it's a DNF. I think it would be fair to give DNF books no stars, but this is easier with GR and labeling.

    Mel@thedailyprophecy.

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    1. I can totally relate - if there were a DNF option on Goodreads that would solve this quandary!

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  2. I have a goodreads shelf called DNF and there I stuff my books I was not able to finish. Depending on how far I got I do give it one star or they really made me cringe in all the bad ways. And some I just leave at the shelf because it says enough.

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    1. I never thought about having a DNF shelf on Goodreads, hmmm ... not a bad idea!

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  3. If I don't finish a book I don't give it any rating at all. Sometimes I think it could improve, maybe, or it could just be the wrong book at the wrong time for me. I'd like a DNF category on GR and Amazon, although there is the option on GR to not give any stars, but these don't show up anywhere except on your own books - I think ...

    I don't actually have many DNFs because I'm quite picky about what I read, although I've started plenty of library books and given up after a couple of pages and I don't count those at all - all part of the choosing process. If I've bought a book that's a different matter and I do persevere as long as possible - they don't deserve any stars.

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    1. I know what you mean - you never know whether a book improves (or not) after you stop reading and I'd never rate a book of which I only read a few pages. Usually I struggle through at least a few chapters or up to 100 pages before giving up. As I mentioned before, a DNF option would be helpful with books like these!

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  4. I have a hard time with this, too. There are verh few books that I don't finish, especially if the book is an ARC I won specifically because the publisher or author wants reviews.

    I always say in the comments area that I only got as far as page such and such. If I read less than half the book, I don't think it's fair to rate it. But if I read more than half, it's not only fair to rate it; I think I'm doing other readers a disservice if I don't rate it. If I don't rate it, the book's average rating displayed next to the book remains high when it doesn't deserve a high rating.

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    1. I'd say it's far easier to explain why you did not finish/rate a book if you have a blog, but on Goodreads I don't think that's an option? I think books don't show up if they have no stars or do they? And another thought just hit me - can you write a review without giving a star rating? Never tried this so I have no clue.

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  5. I don't rate books I don't finish because that seems unfair. On the blog I write a short review as to why I'm abandoning a book, so that I have some frame of reference if I decided to try the book again after a few years. There are several books I've had to stop and restart a few times before bringing myself to finish them, and sometimes ended up loving them (Charles Dickens is a notoriously slow start for - it takes about 100 pages before I get used to his writing).

    I should perhaps make a DNF-shelf on goodreads, so that they can calculate what books I need to stay away from.

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    1. I'm all in favor of doing short reviews explaining what didn't work for you in a book you decided to abandon. As I mentioned in a previous comment, this is easier done on a blog than on Goodreads which, the more I think about it, seriously needs a DNF option along with their normal rating system!

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  6. I've only ever DNF'd one book and I decided not to rate it. Like FBT, I wrote a short review explaining why it wasn't for me, but that's all. The main reason I think it's unfair to rate a book you didn't finish is because some people will only look at the rating and not know that you didn't finish the book. Oh, which reminds me that I have seen some reviews that include DNF in the title and give a rating. I think that would meet my criteria for fairness because your readers know you're rating without having finished the book.

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    1. You bring up a good point there - people who only look at the rating and no further. Quite a silly thing to do, really! Personally I don't pay attention to star ratings alone as they won't tell you anything about the book. On Goodreads you'll find plenty of review-less ratings so I don't care about those either.

      BTW I am impressed that you finished all books except for one. Obviously I need to know which book it was!

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  7. I don't really rate books on my blog (though I end up having to when I cross-post to places like LibraryThing, Goodreads, and Amazon), so I don't really think about this as much as I know a lot of other bloggers do, but for me, I think it's still fair to rate the book - as long as you make a point of mentioning that you didn't actually finish reading, so the rating applies only to what you managed to make yourself get through.

    I've only put aside very few books without finishing, but usually I end up trying to give them another go at some point down the road (COUGHjaneeyreCOUGH).

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    1. Agreed. You should definitely mention that you didn't finish a book whether you rate it or not. In my mini-reviews every Sunday I also just jot down a few thoughts but skip the ratings. On Goodreads however I do rate, but that's more for me personally than for anyone else.

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  8. Oh, awesome posts! And so many comments!

    When it comes to *me* rating DNF titles.. Definitely depends on the book.

    Let's say you've read 70% of A Guide To Preventing Homosexuality. After those 70%, you're probably already certain that it is not a lure of a title, but the real deal. I don't think anyone would argue with me about giving that title a one star rating.

    It's harder when it comes to fiction. Fiction's often like a really long joke, and if you don't wait for the punchline you'll walk through life thinking that Jelly-Peanutbutter-Joke was tasteless when it actually wasn't, or with people telling you that your opinion is unfounded because you haven't finished the book. But if you're as certain as possible that finishing the title will only make you feel awful, why finish?

    I guess, in general, it depends on why you rate books, too. For other people? For yourself? To say "This book was entertaining" or to say "This book taught me something" or "This book was well-written", because Hitler's Mein Kampf probably taught a lot of people something, but it's certainly not well-written. Neither is it entertaining. Twilight can be very entertaining and educating (in a meta-sense), but I'm not sure if I'd call it well-written, or a "good" book.

    There was a time when I gave books I loved low ratings sometimes, because a 5 star rating didn't equal "like" to me. There was a time when I didn't know that there are people on Goodreads who use the rating function to express their interest in a future publication.

    There was also a time when I gave word-ratings because they were easier. And if you think about it, for many people, 1 star means "bad". Well, if a book is so incredibly bad that I don't finish it, it's a 1 star title, right? But then, what if a book starts with a very explicit overromantacised rape-scene? And the reader instantly stops reading, not realising that it was narrated by the rapist who was also the Big Bad of the book? (Obviously that's stuff readers find out by interacting with eachother and reading other people's reviews. Sometimes, when authors complain about "unfair" ratings, they seem to assume that we live in a vacuum.)

    TLDR- I don't think it's really about rating DNF titles, but about the reason we rate and the reasons we use to justify our ratings?

    If you've never read the Bible, don't believe in God, don't know any Christians, have never spent any amount of time really reflecting on the religion, but had one dude who happened to be Christian pick up the last taco thingie in the local supermarket, and based on that one encounter, rate it one star.. Well, my example is probably not very good, but you get the idea I think?.. if you give a one star rating with no actual foundation whatsoever, I'll probably judge a little?

    I'll probably change my opinion in a few minutes though. God, pain medication.

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    1. First of all let me just say that I would never be in a situation of having to rate a book titled "A Guide To Preventing Homosexuality" simply because I wouldn't touch a book like that even with a ten-foot-pole. I might be tempted to rate it 1 star solely based on its title though ...

      You brought up a great point about why people are rating books. In a perfect world you'd do so for yourself AND other readers, but sometimes you feel pity for the author and hand out an extra star just because of that (never happened to me though, I've given away 1 star ratings to favorite authors when one of their books, in my humble opinion, sucked big time). And taking a step away from ratings - I think ultimately it is about the review itself and not the stars, but let's face it, those stars are usually what attracts our attention in the first place.

      P.S.: Looong comments - I always appreciate those! :-)

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