One recurring question in the reading world is whether it’s fair to give a rating to a book you didn’t finish. (Usually the discussion is around consumer sites like Amazon or Goodreads that compile ratings and reviews and may be seen by a large audience; I think fewer people care about rating DNF reads on personal blogs.) While I personally don’t rate books I haven’t finished (generally; there might be a couple exceptions on my Goodreads account), I think it’s fair to do so. Here’s why.
“I Couldn’t Finish the Book” Is a Review
The most common argument against rating a book you have only partially read is that, of course, you don’t know the whole story; maybe the end of the book is much better than the beginning. Personally, however, I think saying, “This book is so bad for reasons x, y, and z that it was too tortuous to keep reading,” is a fair and informative review. And if “so bad I couldn’t make it past chapter five” isn’t a good reason for giving a book one or two stars, I hardly know what is. Say what you want about other books you’ve given low ratings to; at least you managed to get through them!
In Most Cases, the Rating Won’t Get Much Higher Anyway
It is possible, of course, that one will find a book here and there that has a much better second half than a first half. I’ve read some myself. The problem here is that if 50% of the book is terrible and I found myself wanting to tear my eyes out, but 50% of the book is fine, I’m not going to give the book a high rating whether I finish it or not. If the ending of the book is absolutely stellar, I might average things out and give the book a final three stars. But generally if I want to DNF the book through a large chunk of it, it’s getting two stars even if it improves as it goes along. That means my rating isn’t going to be very different whether I read all of the book or just the first third.
No One Rating DNF’ed Books Could Possibly Skew the Average Rating “Too High”
As mentioned above, many people think that rating a book you haven’t finished is unfair because you might have rated it higher if you finished; therefore, you are skewing the average rating on sites like Goodreads too low if you rate a DNF’ed book. However, I can imagine a possible scenario (if perhaps a rare one) where a bunch of people DNF the book because they didn’t like it, but the people who did finish give it four or five stars. This means that the average rating on Goodreads might be something like 4.3, making the book look well-liked—but obscuring the fact that a large number of readers couldn’t even make themselves read the whole thing. In a case like this, rating a DNF’ed book can give a book accurate picture of how readers are reacting to the book.
My personal rule of thumb would be that I should have read a significant portion of the book if I want to rate it. Giving a book one star after five pages is, of course, ridiculous. But I believe that giving a quick impression of how much you didn’t like the book and couldn’t bring yourself to keep going with a star rating is fair. After all, people who use sites like Goodreads for reading suggestions should do their own due diligence of actually reading some of the reviews and seeing why people rated low or high, and they can take into account whether multiple people are rating the book who haven’t actually finished it and whether that matters to them. (I think this is very different from rating a book you have not read at all, to be clear.)
What do you think? Do you rate DNF’ed books? Do you like it when others do?