Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

DNF-ing: How, Who, and Why


Kimber the Magnificent!

Mom and I love good books! We love good books so much that we do not do lousy books. You know. The kind that top our DNF list.

Look, Cupcake

One of us used to feel a wee bit guilty about our Did Not Finish list. But then I says to Mom, “Look, Cupcake. We get zillions of requests for book reviews every day. We don’t have time to slog through sludge! “

“Yeah, but…” sputters Mom.

“Oh, c’mon Mom! Our time is valuable. Why waste it on sludge? Or stuff that’s so grimy and gross, it belongs on the bottom of a bird cage. Or the kitty litter box.”

“You may have a point there,” concedes Mom. (“A point? Really. More like, Game. Set. Match!”)

We used to slog through sludge cuz we felt duty-bound to finish every book that came our way.

Not anymore.

One of us realized that if a book doesn’t grab us in the first few chapters, we’re unlikely to keep going. Or if we do, it’s through gritted teeth. (Hi, Mom.)

Well. Life’s too short. I mean, really. Who wants to waste their time on sludge? Especially when there are so many other good books around. Nowadays, we don’t bat an eye at consigning a book to our DNF pile. (For more, see 4 Reasons Why We’re World Champion ‘Book Bailers.’)

Anyway, here’s the short list of our usual criteria for sludge that’s headed for DNF pile ignominy. Followed by a list of recent inductees:

Basic DNF Criteria:

  1. A pointless slog to the Middle of Nowhere littered with unsympathetic cardboard characters we don’t know, don’t want to know, and could care less about.
  2. Poor writing littered with spelling and grammatical errors and typos.
  3. Political polemics disguised as fiction.
  4. Badly overwritten, tedious and mundane. Dull as a box of rocks and twice as dense.
  5. Does not enrich, enlighten, educate or inspire in any way.
  6. Gratuitous violence and/or profanity
  7. Has no transcendent theme or redemptive qualities and falls into the “So what?” category.


Here are some of the newest additions to our DNF List. Consider this a Public Service Announcement. Like, we’re saving you a lot of time here, okay?

Latest DNF List

Maiden Voyages

By Sian Evans


Are we there yet?

This book is billed as a “collection of selected biographical tales, both cautionary and life-affirming, about dynamic women on the move, set primarily between the two World Wars, during the golden age of transatlantic travel.”

It’s really a collection of mildly interesting stories about some semi-interesting personalities and historic figures set adrift amidst a sea of banality. Do we really care about a female Olympic swimming champ’s shopping trip to Bloomingdale’s and the Woolworth Building in New York? How many packs of cigarettes Tallulah Bankhead smoked in a day? How many card sharps plied their trade during transatlantic travel?

The book is meticulously researched but badly over-written in places. Some readers may find the multitudinous details of the personal and private lives of select personalities, both crew and passenger, fascinating. Others will be ready to buy stock in No Doze after a few chapters.

I jumped ship about half-way through. Could not keep my eyes open on this cruise.


By Scarlett Thomas


This is supposedly “a darkly comic take on power, privilege, and the pressure put on young women to fit in – and be thin – at their all-girls boarding school.” It includes social pecking orders. Eating disorders. A murder mystery. And way too many drama queens.

One reviewer put it this way:

“… Oligarchy is not a good novel in any respect. I am trying to think of a redeeming feature, but cannot. At its best it might be considered merely trivial; sadly, it is worse than that.”


“This book took an interesting concept and wasted it. The prose was self-indulgent to the point of being nonsensical and switched viewpoints, sometimes mid-paragraph, for absolutely no reason.

… it skimmed superficially along the surface of something that could have been dark, beautiful and disturbing but ended up sort of sad and limp.”

Roger that! Five chapters in and we’re reaching for the Kaopectate and skedaddling to the nearest exit. Ugh.

One By One

Ruth Ware


Look! Up in the French Alps sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a weeklong trip for a “trendy” London-based tech startup where each member of the shallow, self-centric “team” has something to hide. And something to gain and lose. And starts disappearing.

Talk about a brick. It’s not yet dinnertime but we’re since we’re already knackered, let’s all slosh over to the den for a little corporate chanting before the surprise PowerPoint presentation no one cares about.

Get real.

Another over-hyped dud that falls flat. Tries too hard. Is peopled with cartoonish characters in perpetual junior high mode.

Oh, we are so cool. We invented cool. So Snoop on us. Cuz we’re… the epitome of stale, superficial, somnambulant, and potty-mouthed puerile.

So not impressed. Dumped it – literally, like, on the floor – after about fifty pages. Cuz…barf.

The Constant Rabbit

By Jasper Fforde

Anybody’s guess

Snooze alert! This sort of thing has already been done. Way better, too. Hi, George Orwell.


Ashlords Book 2

By Scott Reintgen


Take a bunch of marginally related characters, all with different backgrounds and viewpoints and allegiances. Add three cultures at war with each other and the gods. Dump in a second-person narration that looks like choice Okefenokee real estate. Toss ’em in a blender. Whirl. Pour out this schlock.

We’re not big on incoherent around here. One hundred and twenty pages was about 100 pages too many. Buh-bye!

Celtic Magic: The Eternity Knot

By H.R. Conklin

Anybody’s guess

One of us accepted an invite to join a blog tour promoting this book. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This book is supposedly about the Faerie Realm, Scottish folklore, and an “eco-heroine” (whatever that is) who’s tasked to save the planet before it’s too late. Also antlers. Bees. Selkies. Houston. San Diego. Oregon. Climate change. Portals and veils and eeeevil corporate oil barons happily decimating the planet to make a buck. Even Bigfoot (Sasquatch) has a cameo. Oh, and the pandemic is a product of Fae revenge for human exploitation of Mother Earth.

And that’s part of the problem. This book can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. It meanders all over the place. Think Tibetan yak trail. Without the trail. Or the yak. Or Tib… Well. You know.

It also comes off as a Pecksniffian PC lecture far too often. Wooden characters and a paper-thin plot that’s as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise don’t help. Finally, we’re not interested in promoting Druidism or the worldview represented in this book. Our blog. Our rules.

And for the nine millionth time, a sure-fire way to get on our Losers List is to “Use fiction to deliver Pecksniffian political polemics or champion your pet social issue. No thank you.”

So there you have it, Cupcake. We bailed after 165 pages.

What’s on your DNF List?

2 thoughts on “DNF-ing: How, Who, and Why

  1. The most recent book I could not finish was “One to Watch.” Horrible, horrible book. I couldn’t find one likable or relatable character. BookBub said it was a must read. Which taught me to never trust BookBub recommendations again — especially since it wasn’t even in my category preferences. Seemed to be heading into x-rated territory, and I’m a G-rated girl. Bailed and took a bath.

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