Welcome to Something Else, our irregularly recurring column where we and our guests discuss a variety of items of interest to the geeky. From gaming mommies to costuming woes and more, we have your interests at heart.
Imagine this: An acquaintance with whom you are hoping to become friends says to you, “Hey! Do you want to go somewhere on Saturday and do something? I’m not telling you where we’re going or what we’ll do there, but it’s a place and activity that was much enjoyed by some of your friends and mightily disliked by others!” Would you be psyched for that activity, or would you gently try to find out more?
(Spoiler alert: This is an analogy for the way I read books.)
I do not care for surprises. I like to know what it is that I’m looking forward to, so I can wear the right shoes or, in the case of books, suspend the right disbeliefs. Take the 2014 book The Quick, whose marketing campaign was “FIND OUT NOTHING JUST READ IT”. This might work out okay if your book has something genuinely unusual going on (like Gone Girl), but when the twist turns out to be—spoilers, my timorous spoiler-fearers! avert your eyes!—vampires, your readers are likely to feel that the book’s press release was writing checks its contents couldn’t cash.
When you read the end, you know what you’re expecting. I like this because I hate spontaneity (and, some sisters of mine have argued but I think it is an unjust claim, fun), but I also like it because it gives me insight into how the books were put together. The marvelous Emily Asher-Perrin, who is conducting a Harry Potter Reread over at Tor, noticed on her reread of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that Peeves breaks the Vanishing Cabinet while Harry’s discovering that Squibs exist and Filch is one. And admit it: You liked hearing that. You liked knowing that JK Rowling was so gifted a pilot of her own ship that she dropped a clue in Book 2 that wouldn’t turn up again until it became a major plot point in Book 6.
I like the architecture of books. Once I’ve read the end, I have a far better view of the craft that went into making a book. How the author built suspense. How she constructed the relationships between her characters and lay the groundwork of foreshadowing. The throwaway line that turned out to be the key to someone’s character.
I’m not arguing that my way of reading is better. I place very little stock in the study that came out a while back claiming to prove that being spoiled for a story made you enjoy it better (although I did get a kick out of it because, HAH! SCIENCE!). But I’d love for the spoiler-haters among us to acknowledge that they do not like the correct thing; they like a thing, and it is conceivable and valid for other people to like a different thing. I’d love, when I ask people whether the hostages in the elevator at the beginning of Speed are going to die or not, for them to accept that this is how I roll, and just tell me.
Better yet: Do an experiment. Pick a book from your shelf — doesn’t have to be a mystery or anything that depends on a twist; just pick something whose plot is on the meaty side — and as you’re reading it, when you get curious about something (does poor dopey Dorothea find a way around Causaubon’s mean will?), flip to the end and find out the answer. Then come report back to us how you felt about it.
You might even find that you love it.