For many years it was a guilty secret: sometimes I peeked at the ending of a book first.
And I like spoilers.
The only “talent” I have is super-powered, fuel-injecting, fifty-megaton anxiety. As soon as story tension begins shading over into anxiety, my reading pleasure drops proportionately. I have to work extremely hard to gain that midpoint between being aware of myself sitting in a chair reading a story that never happened, and being inside the story experiencing it, to keep the anxiety at bearable levels. I don’t want to have to work hard to withdraw, I like sinking into the story world. That’s what made me a reader in the first place. But for many, this is unforgivable, unregenerate weenie-reading.
The first time I peeked at an ending was when I turned seven and was given Black Beauty. I couldn’t bear the thought that Beauty would die (I’d already been burned by how many Dead Dog movies?) and so I made sure I was alone and peeked at the ending, half-expecting some adult to come roaring down like Zeus from the ceiling, tossing thunderbolts at me for my evil act. When I saw that Beauty was still alive, I relaxed and settled back to enjoy the remainder of the book. (Thought I hit a major rift during the Ginger episode.)
In junior high school I unwarily admitted to a teacher that I had read the ending first, and of course unloosed the long lecture on why I shouldn’t, which I tuned out. I already knew that the way I read and the way they wanted me to read in school was incompatible. But I also caught earnest finger-shaking from friends. “You’re ruining the story!” Um, no, not for me.
“You’ve destroyed the piece of art, because if the author wanted you to know the end, they would have put it up front.” That one did cause a pang of guilt, but not enough to cause me to refrain, because another reason I read endings is to see the structure unfold. I can take great pleasure in seeing how the story reaches an ending I am anticipating.
I haven’t been consistent about peeking ahead. If I began losing interest in a story early on, I didn’t care how it ended, though sometimes I would peek to see if I’d predicted it right. I rarely looked ahead in Wodehouse’s books because they re safe books; while there might be a few surprises, there are never shocks. I hate shock. There’s enough of it in real life.
Now I think there are as many ways to read a book as there are perceptions: some read a chapter a night, some gulp a book down in a sitting. Some skim and skip over description, or over content they don’t like, others read every word. Some don’t consider a book properly read until it’s been gone through at least twice or more. Then there are those like me who might read the beginning, the ending, and then go back to the middle.
I do think that the etiquette of spoiler warnings is a great idea. Some people find the story ruined if they know what happens ahead of time. But those who liked spoilers can either anticipate with pleasure, or if something bad is coming but they are enjoying the book anyway, brace against the impact of the event they know is coming. (I remember a rather sharp exchange on this subject on a panel at a science fiction con: a panelist scolded a reader for just that, saying Then you’ve ruined the effect the author worked so hard to achieve. Haven’t you considered that the shock of [Character’s] death is an important statement that the author wished to make? To which the person in the audience replied, Hah! The author knew that death was coming, too.) I have never yet felt that a book was spoiled for me by my knowing the ending: hearing about other aspects can make me think “This isn’t for me.” But I am also a dedicated rereader, making me wonder if the No Spoilers! is mostly for one-time readers?
My daughter grew up to be pretty much like me in that regard: when she was as young as three or four, she would say “Are there jumps in it? I don’t want any jumps.” ‘Jumps’ being her word for the way that I recoiled at sudden, sharp noises, which in turn unpleasantly startled her, when she was very small. She equated that recoil with unpleasant shocks or surprises in films or books. My spouse gave up in disgust as she got older and we developed a shorthand, “Jumps?” “One, near the end, when . . .” And finally, “Will I like it?” “No.” or “Yes, if you know about the . . .” My favorite answer of all, I have to admit, is “Oh, yes. I’m not going to tell you the surprise at the end, but I know you’ll like it.” That is the mildest form of spoiler, and the most fun, for us weenies.