The Ones that Got Away: DNFs, Most Anticipated Reads & More

Following on from my late June list of DNFs, here are the rest of the books I abandoned this year (asterisks next to the ones I intend to try again someday):


Summer before the Dark: Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936 by Volker Weidermann – Too niche.

The Motion of the Body through Space by Lionel Shriver – Too non-PC.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors – Too been-there.

*The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes – Too much economics.

Birdsong on Mars by Jon Glover & Two Tongues by Claudine Toutoungi – Carcanet poetry releases. Style/reader mismatch issue for both.

That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu – Too dull.

3 Summers by Lisa Robertson (poetry) – Too weird.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann – Too long.

*We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Too much of quirky folks.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – Too much telling.

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin – Too brutal.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Too much Greek myth.

*Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – Too misery-memoir.

Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates – Maddening punctuation.

The Corset by Laura Purcell – Too lifeless.

True Story by Kate Reed Petty – Too consciously relevant.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney – Too much of mental hospitals.

*House of Glass by Hadley Freeman – Too detailed.

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent – Too much snowflake woe.

Le Bal by Irène Némirovsky – Too gloomy.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks – Too disturbing.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré – Too precocious.

Restless by William Boyd – Too ordinary.


No getting around it: I have lots of DNFs. I’ve not done a great job recording them this year, but I think it was 46, which works out to about 12% of the books I’ve started. Most years it’s around 15%, so for me that’s not too bad, but I know some of you never have DNFs, or could count them on one hand. How do you do it? Do you sample books beforehand? Do you make yourself finish everything you start even if you’re not enjoying it? Or are you just that good at picking what will suit your tastes? Sometimes I overestimate my interest in a subject or my tolerance for subpar writing. In recent years my patience for mediocre books has waned, and I’m allergic to some writers’ style for reasons that are often difficult to pinpoint.


In early July, I highlighted the 15 releases from the second half of the year that I was most looking forward to reading. Here’s how I did:

Read: 10 [Slight disappointments (i.e., rated 3 stars): 4]

Languishing on my Kindle, but I still intend to read: 2

Haven’t managed to find yet: 3

Getting to two-thirds of my most anticipated books is really good for me!



I regret not having enough time left in 2020 to finish Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, especially because Cathy and Susan both named it as one of their favorite books of the year.

The additional 2020 releases I most wished I’d found time for before the end of this year (from my late November list of year-end reading plans) include Marram by Leonie Charlton, D by Michel Faber, and Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. This last one was offered to me by the editor on Goodreads and I feel bad for not following through with a review, but somehow the subject feels too close to the bone. Maybe next year?

I’ll be back to start the countdown of my favorite books of the year on the 26th, starting with fiction and poetry. On the 27th it’s all about nonfiction. A break for Library Checkout on the 28th, followed by 2020 runners-up on the 29th, best backlist reads on the 30th, and some superlatives and statistics on the 31st.


Merry Christmas!

26 responses

  1. OK. I have enjoyed five of your DNFs. As to DNF-ing myself. I do try to get to page 100, because I have sufficiently often been drawn in by this time to realise the book was a slow-burn, or I wasn’t previously in the mood, or … something. But after page 100, if I’m not engaged – nope, abandon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really varies how much I’ll read before DNFing — for some of these it was as little as 20 pages; for others, as much as 150. I haven’t kept good records this year. But in general I’d say try to waste as little time with a book as possible. For many people, that generous 100 pages would equate to five days or more of reading, which is a lot of time to lose on a book you’re not enjoying.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speed-reading rules!


    2. I never know what people mean by that. I have two speeds: normal (~50 pp./hr.) or skimming to pick out nuggets of information.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose I simply mean I’m a naturally fast reader- but I’ve never calculated the speed. You have a scientific brain I can tell!


      2. I have another online friend who talks about it like it’s a specific skill or programme. I’ve always been curious!


  2. I wouldn’t worry about Marram – dull and disappointing! Looking forward to hearing about your favourites.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah? Well, that’s reassuring! I saw her at Wigtown Book Festival as part of one of the Bookshop Band chat shows and her memoir sounded really interesting from the blurb. I’m relieved to hear it’s not an essential 2020 release.


  3. Thanks for the link, Rebecca. I hope you get to finish Tyll and have more luck with Shuggie Bain next time around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t find so much time for e-reading these days, but I’ll endeavour to get back into Tyll early in the new year. It was a Kindle deal, 99p.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I did wonder what you’d think of the Girl with the Louding Voice – a perfect comment! I enjoyed it, though actually I do agree with you. As for Iain Banks – I can understand that, but I love that book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I got 60 pages in, though I may have skimmed a bit towards the end of that. I was enjoying it well enough, but I thought the plot was fairly melodramatic, similar to in Stay with Me. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who loved it.

      I do admire how Banks puts you in the head of this character and normalizes his extreme attitudes and behaviours. I’ll pass the book on to my husband and see what he thinks.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your DNF lists! Although ‘too much economics’ actually makes me more intrigued to read The Wild Laughter! I have DNF quite a few books this year, but I only count them towards my reading total if I got a fair way through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved Hughes’s first novel, so I’ll try again with this one next year sometime. If I fail again, my proof copy is yours!

      I know some people have a policy of counting a book if they’ve read over half. My DNFs are on a separate shelf so never count toward the year total, but if I read half a book and then skim to the end I might count it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I try to choose books I think I’ll like – and mostly I think I’ll succeed. But I don’t struggle on if I don’t enjoy them – life is too short!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. It’s worth abandoning a book at any point when you’re not enjoying.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So refreshing! Sometimes releases are over-hyped, or the blurbs are misleading, and sometimes writers produce a real stinker that the publisher is prepared to gambler on. Well done for being so honest. I bravely DNF. Life’s too short for dull/boring/awful/harrowing/dreary books when there are so many wonderful books waiting to be read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree! I am all in favour of the DNF, at any point and for whatever reason.


  8. MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, and thank you for all your entertaining reviews this trying year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a cute comment from my mom 😉


  9. Too funny! Loved your terse dismissal of many of these 😁

    I acquire quite a few charity shop books which don’t fulfil their initial promise and get put in a box for someone else to consider, and I don’t even make a note of them (except for a mental reminder to avoid in future). It’s rarer with books I buy new — I’m too tightfisted to hand over large denomination paper money for a title I haven’t previously frisked — but I admit there’ve been three or four that didn’t live up to expectations this year. Don’t ask, I’d rather put them out of my mind…

    Oh, nearly forgot — Nadolig Llawen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a format I used for my first-half of 2020 DNFs. I know it’s completely mean and unfair! I used to write complete paragraphs for each DNF but have stopped devoting that time. It’s mostly just a note to self as to why a book didn’t work for me.

      I generally don’t buy new books (I get them from publishers or libraries, and buy loads secondhand), but this year to support indie bookshops and publishers I bought 10 or so. I would only pay full price for a book I fully expect to love. So I was especially smug that my first order of 3 books from my local independent bookshop ended up being all 5* reads!

      Hope you had a lovely Christmas — in Wales, I’m going to guess 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve got five DNFs out of about 150 this year but had another DNS this month. I pick very carefully and then I don’t count reading a few pages as a DNF. I am more likely to pick up a book and decide I don’t fancy it at all then get some way through it before I decide, somehow.

    I think the Covid one looks too close; I felt that about the novel I read recently. I am making an exception and looking to buy one about good community spirit during These Times … I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I am still too taken in by blurbs. About 18 pages was the least I devoted to any of these. So much time wasted in total, alas!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ll take another look for DNFs when I revisit my 2020 log in the early days of 2021 but I doubt there are m/any to speak of. Even though I do read a lot, I’m aware of being perhaps unreasonably picky of what I agree to read/to request (whether from the library or from a publisher). Mostly I decline pitches after doing some investigating. And I can’t think of an instance when it’s happened in the past decade, but if I ever asked for a book to review I would force myself to be responsible and finish that book even if I ended up loathing it, but generally speaking, I wouldn’t force myself to finish something for no reason because there are too many other books that interest me…it would feel like squandering reading time, yknow?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Basically, I need to be a lot pickier! Too much grabs my interest but then doesn’t live up to the blurbs or the hype. It was one of my goals this year to cut down on review copies and wait until lots of reviews came in from trusted blogger friends so that I would know which books were really worthwhile. My impression is that I’ve stuck to that maybe 60% of the time, but I’ll see how my final stats pan out (review copies vs. other sources) today or tomorrow.

      I still have plenty of review books that don’t meet my expectations, but I read and review almost all of them anyway. There’s only two in the DNF list above that were review books I requested (and they’re ones I intend to go back to). I’m sure publicists accept that there’s some natural attrition between what they send out and what gets reviewed.

      The only negative review I remember on your site, in all the time I’ve been following you, is of The Age of Light.


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