Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dirty Little Secrets

I have a confession to make: I love skipping ahead to the ending.

When I voice this aloud to a group of readers and writers, they gasp! They sigh! They roll their eyes in despair. I’m not a reader, I’m a cheater. An “end-of-book-looker-atter,” as one of my best friends tells me. I am a pariah, to be scorned and shunned from the reading community.

Still, I can’t help myself. Sometimes I peek at the ending because I’m just not invested in the story, and I want to know how everything wraps up so I can decide if I want to keep reading or just shuck it and move on to the next book. Other times, I read ahead because the book is so good that I’m in a hurry to find out what happens. And when reading the epic fantasy tomes I so adore, I will not only read the end before its time, I will actually read the book out of order, following the storyline of one point of view character all the way through to the end before going back to pick up another point of view character and do the same. I read The Two Towers this way the first time. The party separated; I followed Sam and Frodo through to Gondor, then went back and picked up again at Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli’s cross-country marathon. I read the whole book, just not in the order Tolkien intended.

I think the differences of opinion about peeking at the ending of books are purely philosophical, and have a lot to do with the values and interests of the reader. For some, the end justifies the means. The reader pushes through to get to the end because finding out how everything wraps up and ties together (or not) is the reward. I am the opposite. The journey—getting to know what makes the characters tick, what drives them, the pitfalls and successes they find along the way—that’s the best part. The ending should come as a necessary and appropriate conclusion to that journey, a fitting and expected outcome based on all that came before. Thus, knowing the ending in advance sometimes makes that journey even more satisfying to read, as I can see the groundwork being laid, the plans in motion, and know that everything will come together in the end.

Yes, I am justifying my naughty reading behavior. However, in my defense, I actually do go back and reread the book after peeking at the ending, and sometimes I am even pleasantly surprised to discover that the end still manages to defy my expectations. The best example of this I can recall is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s wonderful novel 100 Years of Solitude. My AP English teacher during my senior year in high school told us all that this book had the best ending of any novel he’d ever read. Naturally, I flipped to the end and read the last few pages immediately—and was completely confused and uninspired. So it was with tremendous shock and surprise that I discovered, when I came to the ending in due course, that not only did everything make sense, the conclusion was masterfully written, with depth and emotion that sounded to my core. I will never forget that feeling, that realization that reading the words out of turn doesn’t necessarily give away all of the answers, that context is more important and more powerful than any string of words on a page.

I’ve never again been able to replicate that awe-inspiring response to the conclusion of a novel. Perhaps one of the reasons I still cheat and flip to the end is because I want to have that experience again. Regardless, one thing is for certain: I will never change my evil ways. I will peek, and peek, and peek again, because I just can’t help myself.

Your turn now: what’s your dirty little reading secret? Do you skim? Corner the pages? Skip the boring parts? Do you HAVE to finish a book, no matter how much you hate it, or do you throw the book against the wall out of frustration and move on? Tell all!

Kim Vandervort


Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Hi Kim! Great post, once again. :)

Don't know if this counts as a dirty little secret, but it is true that I don't bother finishing a book if it doesn't capture my imagination in the first 3 chapters.

That's why I never give out a one- or two-star review. I only read the books I truly enjoy.

Terri-Lynne said...

All of the above at one time or another.
I have read the ending for the same reasons you have--either to decide if it's worth finishing, or I just can't stand the suspense--the former more often than the latter. In fact, if I'm not enjoying a book, I will ALWAYS skip to the end. I try to restrain myself if I love it.

Dogeared corners? Yup! When I was a kid. I've since learned the error of my ways.
Skim? All. The. Time. Especially if it's a book club book I'm not enjoying but have to read anyway.
Toss a book in frustration? Yes I have. The only time I will force myself to read anyway is if it's a book club book. I don't see the point of discussing a book I've not read.

And--one last secret--if I really love a book, I'll get a study guide to go with it (if available) because I am just that dorky.

Terri-Lynne said...

(Terri posting this up for Mark, because his computer won't let him.)

I have done the sneak a peek move at times in my reading life. Most of
the time I can't restrain myself because I like one or more of the
characters. When a writer gets me invested in the story...that's
special. It is what we all aspire to.

But when the opposite of that happens, I get a little testy. I'm
skimming some of the books I scammed from Norwescon, and I feel bad
because I met the authors and REALLY wanted to be taken in by their
work, but I find myself flipping ahead, scanning chapter headings,
filtering out the over done plot stuff, bad names, and looking for the
art. When I don't find it, I feel a little empty and betrayed. If I
invest my time and money, I want the story-teller to deliver. To me,
the dynamic between the artist and audience is one of the most
troubling yet fulfilling aspects of what we do. I hardly ever NOT
finish a book; even negative lessons can be instructive. All too often
lately, in these over wrought tomes, I find myself skipping chunks in
search of the REAL story buried under all those paragraphs and pages
of well-marketed dross.


batgirl said...

I've always skipped ahead to find out what happens to a character I like or to resolve a cliffhanger. I hate cliffhangers, because they completely distract me from the 'meanwhile, in another part of the forest' scenes that come in between.
I still find it difficult to give up entirely on a book, so usually I leapfrog ahead, hoping it will catch my interest again at some point, until I read the ending.

Terri-Lynne said...

Hello, Barbara! So do you have to read the end whether you like the book or not? Before you can settle in? Or is that only if you're so-so on the book?

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

It's kind of funny as a writer to learn how many people sneak a peak at the end. So much for the surprise ending!

I rarely read the ending before finishing the book. But one thing I really like to do -- for the good novels -- is read a second time, so I can see all the little clues, hints, and threads that lead to that ending coming together.