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!