Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sneaking a peek at the last page

Many authors hate readers flicking forward to the end of the book to see how it ends before they have finished reading. It could be fair to say that most authors hate it. After all, we spend so much time building the story, layer upon layer, seeding hints of ideas, fanning tensions. We try to play with the reader's emotions, capture their imagination and entice them on a journey, tease them mercilessly with cliffhangers and unresolved conflicts.

It's a little bit cruel, what authors do to readers. Sure, we take them on a journey, but it's one they have absolutely no control over. In fact, about the only alternative choices they have are to put the book down (which is not the aim of the exercise!) or try to relieve their tension by cheating -- flicking forward to see what happens.

As a reader, I will almost inevitably read the end before I finish any book. I don't usually succumb right from the start; it's not until I have a sense of the characters and have become invested in their journey that I care enough. But there will invariably come a point when I want to know what is going to happen. I demand to know! Sometimes I will only glance at the final pages to get a sense of events, but not specifics. Othertimes I will read the final chapter in entirety.

I cannot think of a time when this practice has been a decider in my not finishing a book. If I don't finish a book, it's because the story doesn't engage me enough to keep reading . . . and often in such books I don't even bother to read the end. It's never because I know the end.

Moreover, the habit of reading about what is going to happen sometimes re-ignites my interest and causes me to keep reading, when otherwise I might have the book down. This happened to me today.

We are currently reading Life of Pi for Page Turners. I started listening to the audio book this morning, and I have to say the beginning didn't grab me much. Too much narrative and waffle -- or so it seemed. Towards the end of the first CD it was starting to get more interesting though.

However, I might have found excuses not to listen to it the next time I went out walking, had I not investigated some more about the book online. Upon the recommendation of friends, I had avoided any talk about it, wanting to experience it with no prior knowledge . . . but it got to the point where I needed to know more about the novel, searching as it were for a reason to keep reading. So, although I haven't read the end, I did read a rough plot outline on Wikipedia.

And you know what? Now I know where this novel is heading, I feel much more compelled to keep reading.

As a writer, I'm not sure I'd mind too much if someone read the end prematurely. Obviously, I would rather it not be driven by the need for an incentive to keep reading . . . Far better it be someone who cares enough to look. In fact, I could almost take that as a compliment.


  1. I sometimes read the end, but usually only the last page or two. However, I am also finding that I am skipping forward a few chapters and reading a snippet there as well. And the reason I do this is not to spoil the story (although I guess it does) but to pique my curiosity as to how the story unfolds. I then seem to get more delight reading the section leading up to the bit I read ahead. Only makes me want to read more, and more quickly!

    On another note, I very rarely put a book down unless I am really struggling to follow the story. I am not normally put off by slow starts and in some cases, find that it is well worth wading through to get the middle. However, after recently reading some books with very slow starts (Under the Dome by Stephen King, for one), I noticed that I am starting to read bits ahead more - I guess to get some reassurance the indeed the story does go somewhere!

  2. Although I ultimately all too frequently put a book down (the number of Page Turners books I've failed to finish!), I concur with all your reasoning!

  3. as a writer - i don't care, as long as they buy the book (and it's sequels...) as a reader i can not recall one instance where i have read the end early. ever. can't say that it's ever seemed a reasonable thing to do. i just don't read that way.