As I’ve mentioned before, Sir I. is my sensitive (highstrung, anxious…) kid. That’s fine. I was that kid, too, and I managed–barely–to become a functioning adult. Part of my job as parent is to help him cope with anxiety. And boy, do suspenseful, dangerous moments in books and stories bring out that anxiety in a big way.
We were talking about books on an autumnal drive (cars are great places for serious conversations, btw—it helps that everyone is trapped in a moving vehicle with no place to run). We talked about the types of books we liked, and the kind we didn’t, and why we didn’t finish books. I stressed that it was okay to books down that didn’t interest him (except ones that his teacher–me–assigns for school, of course). Sometimes, Sir I. abandons books because they get too scary—the kids are trapped in a burning boat that’s about to sink and take them with it! What if they die?
“You know,” I told him, “you are allowed to peek at the ending to see if everything turns out okay. I do that, too, sometimes.”
Now I know that to some of you (like, ahem, my husband) that’s akin to sacrilege. Peek ahead to the ending? Won’t that spoil the surprise, ruin the story? Why bother to read if you already know what’s going to happen?
Um, no. For some of us ( the highstrung, anxious, emotionally over-involved types), it’s agony not knowing if X is going to happen or if Y is going to die or if A and B get together. This anxiety acts like a spreading stain, making the experience of reading that story a miserable experience. Since we read for pleasure (mostly–some of us have teachers who assign us books, like Sir I. *grin*), we’d rather give up on the book than continue in this wretched way.
Or we could just peek ahead and find out what happens.
If the outcome is satisfactory, then we can go on happily, secure in the knowledge Everything Works Out and eager to see how the author gets us to that ending. And if the resolution is not satisfactory… well, we can still abandon the book. Or we can begin to emotionally distance ourselves from the character who’s going to die and come to terms with the way the story ends before we get there and it slaps us in the face like a, um, big wet fish. It’s the difference between descending by going down the steps, or descending by jumping out of a window.
I’d rather take the steps.
What about you? Do you peek ahead or read a book out of order?
I don’t advocate peeking at the end, but I have been known to tell my children (probably more during a movie than a book) that things will turn out all right, that X won’t die, to remember that there is another book in the series, so surely the author could not have been so hard-hearted as to send the kids to the bottom of the ocean in the burning boat.
For myself, sometimes I just *have* to know what’s going to happen, so I read the book really really quickly the first time, and then have to go back and reread it so that I can savor it. That might not be any better than peeking at the end…
I’m with Robin. I don’t peek. If anything I read faster. With new books that I’m eager to find out what happens I find myself unable to put them down until they’re finished. I tend to skim for the events and breeze through the details. Then after I know what happens, I may go back and read it again at a later time to enjoy the authors craft more, the language, the images etc.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Agatha Christie mysteries. Peaking would spoil it since so much of the point of the story is the suspense and trying to figure out who did it. Most of the time you’re kept in the dark until the end. And it’s fun that way.
But sounds like a look ahead is a good strategy for you and Sir. I 🙂
I only usually read a book in order once. I’m one of those odd people though that reads a book over and over and over and over again if I like it, so spoiling a story is hardly an issue. If it’s not worth rereading, it’s not worth reading. And I will peek ahead or read spoilery reviews to make sure I don’t find anything objectionable to take me off guard. I’ve had too many surprise cussing, graphic violence, or sex scenes to not.
Yes, I will often check reviews. Sometimes the premise is interesting, but the book ends up going in completely different direction from what I expected. A quick glance at reviews will help me figure out if it’s my sort of book or not.
I have only peeked at the end of a book once, and that was because I was bored silly and wanted to see if anything was going to happen to make it worthwhile to read all the way to the ending. But in the anxious story realm, I have been known to pause movies, or set books down when things get too stressful, and pace around the house or go garden for a bit before I come back and keep watching/reading. But I have never peeked ahead under those circumstances. I just need a brief breather before I continue. I can’t say it would ruin the experience to know the ending, but it would make me sad and take some of the excitement out of reading a new book if I knew how it ended.
I try not to do it. And anyway it can kill some books although with others, which have beautiful writing, I don’t think it matters so much.
It depends; being somewhat anxious occasionally, I might peek if I was really wound up by the story but I do try not to. These days I might just put the book down, pick up another (I often have 2, 3 or even 4 books on the go at once) and take the pressure off that way. The book I’m reading right now – which I looked at the end – was meaningless. There’s obvioulsy a lot happening along the way 😀
In a way, peeking at the end doesn’t help anyone deal with troublesome levels of anxiety. One can’t take a peek further along in one’s own life to take the pressure off when things get bad. Anxiety can be coped-with – the killer is if one is frightened of the feelings of anxiety and then it becomes a double whammy.
I find that sitting and focusing on those rather unpleasant feelings and ‘looking’ at how bad they really are makes me aware that I can ride it out, that it isn’t as bad as I thought it was.
Difficult for little kids though. I remember feeling like a cork on a storm-tossed sea for much of my early life and very on my own.
Heh. I expected to be in the minority on this one. Anxiety over a story is very different from anxiety in life. I have different mechanisms for coping with life anxiety versus book anxiety.
Sometimes, peeking ahead is a way of making sure the payoff is worth my time. If I hate where the story goes, that’s an hour or more of my life I will never get back. Checking ahead is insurance that I won’t have wasted my time.
Of course, there are books I would not look ahead in. Mysteries are the prime example.
Yes, I really get that ‘payoff’ thing. If I’m getting bad feelings about where a book is going, I don’t look at the end but I do flick through – slowly flicking the pages over and scanning to get some idea of where the story is going. If it looks as dodgy as it feels, I ditch the book.
As you say, time spent reading can’t be regained once it’s gone.
Oh, also wanted to say thanks for those alternatives strategies, like taking a walk or moving on to another book. I will mention them to my son next time we have this discussion. 🙂
Matt Megill says
Fun post, Rabia. It reminded me of a family ‘Wives and Daughters’ story.
SPOILER: David and those who don’t like to know the ending do not read further ….
Anyway, the TV miniseries based on the book is really good, and we enjoyed one of the final scenes particularly. After seeing the movie, my sis read the Gaskell book on which the miniseries was based. She enjoyed it, but it dragged at times, and she found herself really looking forward to seeing how the climatic ‘final scene’ played out. Much to her dismay… Gaskell died while writing the book… so its unfinished… and so the final scene was made up by the miniseries producers. It was a major let-down for my sis to slog through and then get to the … last page!
OHHH! Well THAT explains why the ending of “Wives and Daughters” (the book) was so unsatisfactory!
I enjoyed the BBC version, but my favorite Gaskell adaptation is the one of “North and South.” Funny you should mention Gaskell, because I’m planning on blogging about “North and South” next week. 🙂
Oh yes, I occasionally read the end of a book to see if everything will turn out ok.
And if it doesn’t turn out in a way I consider satisfying, then I don’t read it. It doesn’t have to be a HEA, but it does have to be an ending I can understand and accept.
Only once did I not peak ahead to an ending (of the final book in a trilogy) and that was the one and only time I have EVER felt like hurling a book at a wall. I didn’t throw it – it was a library book – but if it had been something I’d bought, against the wall with great force it would have gone! I’d wasted so much time reading those three books!!
Having written all this, I wouldn’t consider myself an anxious person, it’s more that I feel things deeply. 🙂
P.S. Have you read “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine N. Aron? It might be an interesting read…
No, I haven’t read that book, but thanks for the recommendation.
I think Sir I. and I are anxious and feel things too much. Though for him, it might be the nature of childhood, too. It’s a lovely time of life, but frustrating and difficult, too.
Rabia, What a fun discussion. I never, ever peek ahead in a book. In fact, I don’t even like it if I accidentally see something later in the book when the pages flip open. I guess I feel like it would “ruin” the story? Anyhow, I am not reading super duper action thrillers so maybe there’s not all that much to fear!
I only like the peeking ahead if I’m doing it intentionally. If I accidentally find a spoiler–whether from inadvertently catching a look at later pages or in some review–I can get a little cross about it. 😀