I recently learned that some readers start a new book by first reading the end.
To clarify, I’d always heard that some people do this.
However, it wasn’t until I read the comments on a recent Twitter post about content/trigger warnings vs. spoilers in books and whether they represent the same thing that I came to realize just how many people do this, and also some of the reasons why.
Reasons I observed included the following:
- General curiosity and/or impatience to know the ending
- To ensure the ending is a happy one before proceeding to read the story
- Finding it stressful to not know upfront if the ending is happy
- To judge whether the ending is satisfying and skillful enough to make committing to read the whole book worthwhile
- Enjoying the experience of seeing how the story arrives at an ending that is already known
To every one of these all I can say is that I would never and I’m horrified! The stress, the uncertainty, the curiosity and impatience—that’s what I’m after as a reader.
But at the same time, I get it. There are many different ways of reading a book, and I realize my own habits might be equally horrifying to some.
I’m at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
I like to go into a story knowing largely nothing about it.
Even in the age of social media, where everything is talked about constantly, this is entirely possible. I spend inordinate amounts of time on Twitter, which, of all the social media platforms, only allows 280 characters per post.
This is room only for the story’s premise, while the attached cover image (I totally judge books by their cover. Everybody does; that’s why it exists) gives hints on the story’s genre and tone.
That’s literally all I go on in deciding to read a book. If it’s a new book by an author I’d read and enjoyed before, I might not even look at the premise, instead going by just the genre and the author’s name.
I never read the blurb on the back of the book (or on its product description page for ebooks). In books that have character lists and/or maps in the opening pages, I skip that part too.
(Correction: I never read the blurb unless I’m already a decent way through the book yet still can’t figure out what the story is supposed to be about. I’ll check the blurb to find out what the author and publisher think it’s about. If I’m actually reading the blurb it means things are NOT going well with the story.)
More than anything when reading, I want to experience the story like the main character does—as it happens, knowing no more about what’s going on and what’s to come at any moment than they do.
For this reason, I almost never reread books. Of course one can gain all sorts of additional insight about a story upon subsequent readings. But the revelation of a story’s unknown ending only happens once.
Once I’ve had that experience, more than anything my perspective on rereading is, “What’s the point?”
Forbearance of forewarning
Needless to say I despise spoilers of any of the key plot points and turning points of a story. And yet I find them surprisingly easy to avoid, despite my inordinate amount of time on Twitter.
When you’re barely looking to know anything about a story I guess it’s that much easier to avoid accidentally seeing the wrong thing (I never finished reading the Harry Potter series and I still don’t know how that ends).
Thus my own thoughts on content warnings and whether they constitute spoilers is…they might. I’ve seen some content warning lists that are quite specific; much more so than the vague “contains scenes of violence, nudity, and sexuality” warnings we get for shows on Netflix. For example, warning of a major character’s death.
(Even in not indicating which character, knowing this in advance would change my reading of the story, leaving me braced for this event every time a main character did something dangerous—the purpose of a content warning in the first place.)
But no one would be forced to read content warnings. Avoiding them would be as easy as literally turning a page.
That so many people are asking for content warnings clearly speaks of a need. I barely want to know a book’s title before reading it, yet not everything needs to serve everyone for that thing to still have inherent value.
I support the movement within the bookish community to include content warnings in all books. And if someone with reading habits as unusual and restrictive as mine can do so, all other readers should be able to as well.