Closing the book on spoiler-free September

My verdict: Never again.

There is this one episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor is standing around waiting for a monster to show up, and he says “Is this how time normally passes? Reeeeally slowly, in the right order?” and if you substitute “books” for “time” (and “pass” for “passes”, to retain proper grammar), that is exactly how I felt throughout the month of September. Except more depressed. I think part of the reason I have been lax about writing up reviews is that my reading was so dreary and depressing compared to normally, I couldn’t face writing reviews.

I want y’all to know, you readers of books in the proper order, that I gave this the old college try. I gave it, like, the old grad school try. I put effort into enjoying reading books this way. When I was reading a book, and I started wanting to flip to the end, I assured myself that it was exciting not to know what was coming. Exciting! Not terrible! Exciting! But set against that is the fact that I have been reading the ends of books since I was eight years old, and old habits die hard even in flexible, adaptable, calm people, let alone in neurotic routine-obsessed personalities like me. In this case, my old habits – and, if I may say so, the obvious superiority of my usual reading method – won out over my attempts to brainwash myself into enjoying books as they usually pass: very slowly and in the right order.

Here is an analogy: Reading the end before you read the middle is a little like doing the edge pieces of a puzzle first. It organizes the book into a general shape, and you spend the rest of your reading time filling in the picture in the middle. And when a middle piece connects to an edge piece, you have this extra little thrill of seeing everything come together: Aha, so this is why Character A won’t speak to Character B in the final chapter; or, ho, ho, I see what the author is doing here with this foreshadowing. It focuses your attention because you know what you’re looking for: If Character C ends up betraying everyone, you get to have the fun of reading wickedness into all the things s/he says throughout the book. You can decide if the author’s being too heavy-handed with it, or using too light a touch, or striking the perfect balance. It is fun!

Why I will never try a project like this ever again. During the month of September, I found that reading books in the correct order is exactly like reading them in the wrong order, except that it makes reading slightly less fun and awesome. I wasn’t unable to enjoy books (the month of September was a pretty good reading month for me, actually), but the experience of reading wasn’t as joyful. I am now back to my old ways and I shall never deviate from them again because they are better. I strongly suspect that society has been brainwashed out of reading the fun way.

Waking up on October 1st was amazing. I grabbed Tooth and Claw and The Little Friend, which were the two fiction books lying on my bed, and I read the hell out of the ends of them both. It was like I had been locked out of my house in a rain storm for hours and hours, and someone had finally come home and let me in.

71 thoughts on “Closing the book on spoiler-free September

  1. Even though I don’t read the end before the middle in general, I do it at times and I understand exactly what you mean about doing the side pieces of a puzzle first. Your blog actually made me more comfortable with myself and the fact that I do skip to the end on various occasions, so as to be satisfied and read the rest of the book. Because I know a lot of people would not call this proper reading, but a lot of times, it is the only way to read for me. I admire you for going a month without reading the ending before hand and I fully understand not wanting to experience another month like it.

    At least you got to write a really good post about it. It made me smile and laugh and think 🙂

    • Yay! I’m excited that I’m legitimizing my method of reading. It’s a bit weird for me to remember that most people consider my way cheating, because I’ve been reading like this since I was a little kid. :p

    • Me too! It’s lovely to be normal again! I keep catching myself avoiding spoilers and then reminding myself I don’t need to do that anymore. Spoilers! Wooooo!

  2. Good for you for owning how you read. I rarely skip to the end, but I have been known to do it, especially if I’m having trouble figuring out the “shape” of the book. On those rare occasions, knowing where the book is headed helps me to settle into the story more.

    Also, my absolute favorite books are often the ones where the end happens at the beginning, and the book is about how the characters got there. I *love* that–so I can definitely see the appeal of reading the ending first, even if it’s hardly ever my usual method.

    • Yes, exactly, it’s the shape of the book that I like to know ahead of time. With a lot of books, knowing the end gives me momentum to continue reading. I nearly abandoned Revolutionary Road, but then I read the end, and it gave the rest of the book a sense of urgency. I ended up loving it.

      And HUGE YES to the end happening at the beginning. It saves me the trouble of skipping to the linear end of the book. 😀

  3. Huzzah! For giving it a try and writing up such an amusing post about the why’s of your reading method.
    you’ve actually ALMOST made me consider reading the end in my current book. truly, I fear that I if I do that, then I would fail to go back and read the middle. hmmmmm.

    • In all honesty, I do occasionally end up failing to go back and read the middle, and it’s possible I miss out on some good books that way. I decided about two-thirds of the way through Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend that the end of the book wasn’t worth the slog to get there, so I gave it up. BUT I abandon books for all sorts of reasons, not just for disappointing endings, and I never rule out the possibility of giving them another shot later.

  4. Can I just say you’re completely awesome for doing this the way you want? and for the fact that reading the end doesn’t spoil the novel or make it less enjoyable? My husband doesn’t necessarily read the middle/end before the beginning, but he also doesn’t care if he knows what’s going to happen in advance. Knowing helps him to frame the book and see it without having to worry as much about plot. Whereas I like to read a book first for plot and then for meaning/etc, he likes to just know up front what he’s in for and then read for the rest of it. He says if a book is all plot and nothing else, he gets bored. So it’s sort of the same concept. I don’t really know anyone else other than you two who feel that way.

    • Thanks! I love all this validation! 😀 I understand exactly what your husband means, although I am not necessarily bored of a book that’s all plot. It depends on my mood. The crucial thing to me is knowing what I’m heading toward. Knowing WHAT happens at the end of a book doesn’t take away from the fun of reading to discover HOW it all happens.

  5. Good for you for trying. I LOVE reading the end first and I applaud you for the effort; I could never do it. I like knowing what happens, looking for little details along the way, and connecting the middle with the end. For me, there is no other way to read. Glad you’re back to your preferred reading style. 🙂

    • Yup, exactly. I’m glad I’m back to my preferred reading style too, and glad to see the other end-readers emerging to tout the benefits of our way of reading. 😀

  6. Which just goes to show you should always do your own thing! I can’t do with reading the end but my husband does it all the time and we’ve managed to put up with each others foibles for 20 years…..

    • I certainly don’t have a problem with people who read books in order. The one thing that has caused some trouble is that I, as an inveterate spoiler-lover, am not always clear on what constitutes spoilers and what doesn’t, so I’m liable to either give way too much away to spoiler-haters, or clam up completely and make the book or film sound totally boring.

  7. Have you read The White Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey? Sounds like it’s right up your street: it’s done in time-defined segments. The chronological end comes first!

    I’m very much devoted to reading in the proper order, so it took me a while to ‘get’ reading it like that, and thought it would never come together for me, but it really did in the end.

    • I haven’t read it, but it totally does sound right up my street. I loved the film Memento, which used a similar structural conceit.

      So what do you do now? Proper order, or read the end early? I would think it would be really hard to stray from what you grew up doing – I ALWAYS read the end first.

  8. So, it’s like rereading a book that you’ve liked? I read The Blue Castle last week, and knowing the ending *did* make it fun to see the clues. And I did used to open presents before Christmas in my mother’s closet. Same sort of idea.

    Just keep doing what makes you happy, and now you know not to change again.

    If you read The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, it’s written in reverse chronological order. You should compile a list of backwards books, like that Seinfeld episode. That’s a great episode!

    • It is much like rereading a book I’ve liked, except with all the extra thrills of reading a new book. It’s the best of both worlds! And yes, I loooooved The Night Watch, and I kind of love the idea of compiling a list of backwards books, or at least books that tell the ending first. Hmmm.

      Now Christmas presents I cannot understand. My family is rabid about keeping Christmas secrets, and I don’t think any of us would consider inspecting presents ahead of time. We like the surprise on Christmas Day. 🙂

  9. I too am an inveterate end-reader..genetics? But sometimes, after I read the end, I can’t be bothered reading the middle. However, I suspect that I would never have made it to the end of these books anyway, no matter which order I read them in.

    • It’s not always good though: just think, you enjoyed parts of My Sister’s Keeper. I read the end, and thought, “screw this!” and promptly tossed the book aside without ever touching the beginning or the middle.

    • I think it’s nurture, not genetics. It is definitely because of you that I read the end of Jane Eyre first, and that’s what got me started doing this all the time.

      Anna, I hear you, but I don’t feel like my life would have been empty without My Sister’s Keeper. I liked it okay but I doubt I’ll ever need to read it again. Plus, in my case, I went into it expecting the ending to be dumb, and I still enjoyed parts of it.

  10. I never read the end before the beginning! I love having the story unfold to something unknown. I am glad you’ve gotten back to your old ways though– I’m sure it was exciting and awesome to read those last chapters! 😀

    • It was so great! Especially with Tooth and Claw, and then I read more of the beginning of Tooth and Claw, and I was like, omg, here’s the character that the other character marries later! Hurrah! :p

    • Thanks! And you are quite right – I love seeing the big picture. Then I get to feel all superior to the silly characters who don’t know what’s coming.

  11. Ok, I am totally going to have to try reading a book your way. You make it sound so exciting and interesting that way, and I can’t imagine why I haven’t been doing it that way all along! I will have to get back to you on this, but I am pretty excited about trying it!

  12. I do read the end before the middle occasionally, but not often – I really like the way you’ve framed your argument in favor of it, though.

    But I do one thing that’s somewhat similar – I read online recaps of most TV shows before I watch them (we record everything on the DVR), and only rarely am I sorry I did it. I still enjoy watching HOW things happen even if I know WHAT happened. My husband totally doesn’t get it, though :-).

    • Oh, I do that a lot with TV shows. I started watching Veronica Mars in the month of September, and it was killing me not to be able to look up what was going to happen. :p

  13. No one could ask more of you! At the end of the day, it’s just you and the book, face to face, and you should do whatever you want with it to enjoy it best. Repression hurts.

    • And I shall read however I want! Which, mysteriously, I have noticed never, ever means reading books in a series out of the order in which they were intended to be read. I don’t know what that’s about.

  14. You should be commended on your ability to stick with a form of reading you hate for an entire month, Jenny! And then again for reading how you prefer and sticking with it! ^-^

    I’m a chronological order reader myself, but I’m not too bothered about spoilers. They change my reading experience, but that’s it. Not the same thing, but veering in the same direction. ^-^

    Have you ever come across a book where you wished you’d read it in the ‘correct order’ first? I’ve read books where I’ve regretted knowing the ending/what happened before following the story to get there in the past, but they’re few and far between. Usually they’re also books where you’d have a very different experience reading in ‘blind’. (Like “Speak”. It was so easy to see how my experience would’ve differed had I known nothing about the book…)

    I don’t have a lot of experience with reading books out of the order the author presents me with, though. It’d be like reciting the alphabet in a jumble. Or some otherwise intelligent parallel… But I’m glad the method you’re using works well for you and that it makes you happy! Never deviate from it again! ^-^

    • Thanks!

      I can’t think of many books that I’ve wished I hadn’t read the end of. There are occasions on which I won’t read the end – like, I didn’t skip to the end of the Harry Potter books. When I was reading the sixth one, I glanced at the end to check that Ginny was going to survive, and I found out who died accidentally, but that was a mistake. The one I might have enjoyed more if I hadn’t read the end is Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet, but I’m not even sure about that one.

      On the other hand, I’ve read several books where I didn’t read the end, and regretted not doing it – Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith are the two that leap to mind. There are exceptions, but mostly I like knowing the end.

  15. I like not knowing what happens the first time, so I never skip to the end unless I’m bored with the book and want to find out if it gets better / what the ending is before I throw it out.

    That said, I do like your jigsaw analogy. I always do the edge pieces first, for the reasons you state. Maybe I should try your reading method with select books.

    I’m curious to know what you thought of The Little Friend’s ending. Does it induce you to read the rest?

    • I liked the end of The Little Friend, although I felt when I read it early and when I read it in order that I might be missing something. I go into most books planning to read them in their entirety, so I don’t need to be “induced” to read the middle once I’ve read the end. It’s rare that I’ll read the end and then decide to give up the book – much more commonly, I’ll decide to give up the book and then read the end so I’ll know what happens.

  16. Hey, everybody should just read the way they want to! Personally I never skip to the end unless it’s a book I’m going to toss aside and just want to know how it ends without slogging through.

    • Well, I do that too. But only in recent years, really – that was one reason for reading the end that didn’t occur to me until I got a bit older.

  17. I never skip to the end — and I hate spoilers. But I will admit that sometimes, in my rush to find out what happens, I tend to skim over parts, and sometimes I’m reading so fast I miss stuff. I can see that knowing the ending would let me relax and slow down and enjoy the book. I like surprises though.

    • Well, I love preaching the merits of reading the ending, but I don’t necessarily think reading the end makes me read slower for the rest of the book. I have the same tendency to zip through sometimes, I’m afraid, especially when they are describing action. I always assume someone will explain the action in the dialogue. #badreader

  18. I’m glad you gave it the grad school try, even if it didn’t work. I really like this post because I sometimes want to read the end, but then feel really guilty about it. But your analogy about how you do a puzzle is a cool way to think about it (and less guilt-ridden).

    • Yes, do not feel guilty! It helps in not feeling guilty if your mother legitimized this end-reading method for you all your life, but failing that, at least be aware you are not the only one who wants to read the end. 😀

  19. You read the end of books BEFORE THE BEGINNING AND THE MIDDLE?! The horror!

    –(with respect, of course…by all means read the way that you enjoy best! I just…the thought genuinely gives me shivers!)


  20. I save reading the end first for special occasions. I enjoy trying to unravel the puzzle (and I do tend to read rather predictable books, so it’s not hard).

    There have been times though, when I’ve had to skip to the end, because there is too much angst, or too high of a possibility that everyone ends up unhappy. Ugh.

    • See, that’s another reason for reading the end. I don’t mind if everyone ends up unhappy (necessarily), but I like to know that’s how it’s going to happen, so I can be prepared. Or if it’s the other way, an unwarrantedly happy ending, I like to be prepared for that too. In addition to being a more fun way to read, it shields me from disappointment. 🙂

  21. I love your puzzle analogy. That’s pretty well how I feel about rereading. I like to be surprised the first time through, but I get a huge kick out of rereading because I’ve got the frame in place and I can see how the author laid everything out.

    • I love seeing how the author set things up. I don’t know if it’s because I write myself, or just that I’m nosy and like to see the insides of things, but yeah, that’s fun for me.

  22. I just read an entire book wondering what the last page was going to look like. I was convinced I knew the last sentence (I was right by the way) but I refused to cheat and sneak a peek. Sometimes I even get mad at myself for reading a few paragraphs ahead so I cover it up with my hand but you have now convinced me that I need to just let go and jump ahead. So next time I read a book and I REALLY want to know how it ends just so I can appease my anxious mind I am just going to flip back there and find out.

    We will see how that goes.

    • You knew the last sentence? How did you know? You are psychic!

      Oh, I skip ahead a few paragraphs all the time. Like if a tense confrontation has just started, I’ll skip a few pages on to make sure nobody’s dead yet. :p

  23. Woo hoo! I love it. I am also a person who loves to know the end first. I don’t always read the end first and sometimes it is fun to wait it out, but much more often I look up what happens to the people before I get engaged in their story. I completely relate. I don’t believe in Spoilers at all. It makes it better most of the time to know what happens.

    • >>>I look up what happens to the people before I get engaged in their story.

      THIS. Yeah, because then I know who not to get invested in, or at least what relationships not to get invested in.

  24. Yay! I think your reviews have more of your charming usual style when you’re reading in your usual way. Also, about what Anna said–if you’re reading a book with an ending that’s going to make you slam it down, isn’t it better to know that sooner?

    • Yup, it’s got to be better to know it sooner. But it’s not often that reading the end makes me toss away a book in disgust – even if it seems like a crappy ending, I’m usually curious to see if the author can make it pay by what she writes in the rest of the book.

  25. I usually don’t read the end of books but I did read the beginning and end of Mockingjay. I don’t need (or want) to read the middle now! 😀

    I think that’s so funny how you need to read the end of a book first. What made you decide to try it in the first place?

    • When I was eight or nine, and reading Jane Eyre for the first time, my mother kept saying “Wait until you get to the end. The end is so wonderful. You’re going to love the end,” and I just couldn’t take waiting for it, so I skipped ahead and read the end. And I have done so in most of my reading since then. My mother does it too, so I got validation at home about it. :p

  26. “the obvious superiority of my usual reading method”! 😀 I don’t think I’ve ever read the end early, I might have to try it now though. Maybe with a long classic where it just takes to long to come to the end in the usual way.

    Remembering Little Friend I think reading the end first might be completely awesome. I had to start rereading that one as soon as I found out about the end 🙂

  27. Isn’t that the Van Gogh episode? I loved that episode.

    I personally can’t read the ending first, but if it’s what you enjoy then I see no reason for you to change your ways. It’s cool that you were willing to try to change your habits in order to see what it was like though.

    I was just thinking of putting a post together about how I can’t stand books that give everything away in the first chapter (telling the end first and then flashing back). Do you like that also, or is your preference just for reading the actual end of the book?

  28. This is too funny! I admit that I sometimes as well skip to the end! Not often but if a book is really bad then I skip to the end just to finish it up. Or conversly, if it is really good and I want to know how it’s all going to wrap up for the people I am rooting for!

  29. You did a great job of getting through the month even if you didn’t enjoy it! You’ve almost convinced me to try reading the ending of a book first. How much do you read of the end first?

  30. I’m tempted to try this now. You’re very persuasive.

    I can’t tell you how many times have I pleaded with someone who didn’t want to Spoil the Ending! “No, you can tell me. Really. I’m an English major; I can handle it. You can’t spoil it for me.” Alas, they hardly ever buy it (the non-lit types are far too plot-focused).

  31. Yay for reading the end before the middle! I have done this for most of my life, including reading later books in a series before the beginning.

    Read Dorothy Dunnet’s Checkmate long before I managed to get my hands on anything else, and it helped make sense of a lot.

    • Oh, well, I don’t read series out of order though, unless I am absolutely unable to acquire the books in the right order. Series books out of order are too confusing, and often assume that I will already have fallen in love with the characters when I have not. :p

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