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Book-Talk Monday: Reading with No Expectations, or, the Risky Business of Reading without Spoilers

Monday, July 15, 2013
Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

I’ve been moaning recently about how I’ve been in a reading slump—that I just can’t seem to find anything to read that drew me in or that sounded in the least interesting.

And then I decided to listen to the audiobook of Under the Dome by Stephen King. It was my first experience with one of his books, and it won’t be my last.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on it in a couple of weeks in the reading report on the first Monday of August, but as I listened to the end of it this morning (and I completed a 35-hour audiobook in just three weeks—of course, I did have a 12-hour road trip in there), I realized that one of the things that sucked me into the story and didn’t let me go was the fact that I had no idea how it was going to end.

You see, I’ve been reading romance novels almost exclusively for thirty years, starting at twelve years old with both YA and adult-level books. And in all of those years, one of the things that I enjoyed about romance was knowing how it was going to end: with the two main characters getting together for a happily ever after (HEA). I liked the fact that the “risk” was taken out of reading by knowing that if it was labeled romance, I was going to get my HEA ending. I didn’t know how it would happen, just that it would.

And I think that may be one of the reasons why I’ve been in a reading slump recently. I’ve been reading too many (if that’s possible) romance novels—and most of them are series novels, so it’s the same authors over and over. Which means I’m not only getting the HEA ending, but I’m getting a lot of the same story structures and setups, even with authors who do a good job of varying their character types and conflicts/plots.

However, while I’ve been listening to UtD, I’ve been reading Angelfall, a dystopian/paranormal YA novel featuring a first-person main character ala Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games—which, in itself, removes almost all of the risk of reading the book. You see, with the first person narrator, it makes the possibility of mortal danger to the character extremely unlikely. Especially when it’s the first book in a series. And, thus, the leisurely pace at which I find myself reading it, and the days I’ll go without picking it up.

There have been a lot of articles recently reporting on studies that state readers and movie-goers are okay with knowing the ending and in fact actually seek out spoilers (or read the last pages first).

I’ll admit, there have been times when I’ve done this. Especially with long costume-drama miniseries adapted from certain 19th Century authors’ books. A prime example of this is when Little Dorrit was on PBS several years ago. I was unfamiliar with the story, and I got sucked into the series. But knowing Dickens’s penchant for sometimes killing off main characters before they could have a happy ending, I decided I needed to “spoil” it for myself—i.e., find out how it ended—before investing any more time or emotion into it. I did end up watching the remainder of the series based on what I read in the synopsis of the story on Wikipedia. Conversely, when faced with the decision of whether or not to invest more time in the Game of Thrones books/TV series, I ended up walking away from both once I read the synopses of the books which have already been published—because those “spoilers” turned me off from the story and made me very happy I hadn’t invested more time/emotion in the world of Westeros.

With UtD, I was emotionally drawn in and completely vulnerable to whatever Stephen King wanted to do to me—just like his characters. And just like his characters, I didn’t know how things would end. And once I got to the ending, I was glad I purposely avoided spoilers, even though I was worried about being disappointed or devastated (I wasn’t).

So, now I need to find another audiobook of a novel in which I will put myself into “reading jeopardy”—I’m thinking that this foray outside of romance needs to go on a little while longer, until I get as tired of not knowing the ending as I currently am of always knowing the ending.

Do you prefer to know how a book will end (i.e., that it will have a happy ending or that the case will be solved or the characters rescued) or do you prefer reading stories in which you, along with the characters, have no idea what is going to happen at the end, be it happy or tragic, mellow or melodramatic? Do you ever seek out spoilers?

  1. Monday, July 15, 2013 4:54 pm

    I like the assurance of knowing how a romance will end. And although I hadn’t thought of it quite like this, I guess that’s also why I like first-person – again, we know the character we care most about isn’t going to be killed off.

    Husband has only managed 1/4 of one of the Game of Thrones books, but somehow thinks I’ll enjoy it. I won’t. It’s too morally ambiguous for my taste – Joffrey is alive, but Ned Stark is dead (and the jokes about GRRM killing off more Starks). I understand that provides conflict, but I’m not interested. I want the good guys to win, and I don’t trust GRRM to provide that. He may yet prove me wrong!

    If you are looking for something a little different, here’s my latest picks:

    Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden (historical romance, releases 5 August)
    Anomaly by Krista McGee (first person dystopian YA)
    Dreamlander by KM Weiland (contemporary fantasy)
    Mistaken by Karen Barnett (1930’s historical)

    I don’t know which (if any) are available as audiobooks. Personally, I can’t stand audiobooks. They take too long, and I find they really slow down the pace – to the point where I don’t finish them more often than I do. Even when they are from favourite authors.


    • Monday, July 15, 2013 5:01 pm

      Believe me, GRRM won’t prove you wrong. Based on the synopses I read, pretty much everyone who’s ever done anything good dies a gruesome death.


  2. Monday, July 15, 2013 9:14 pm

    Kaye, It is evident you haven’t read many Nicholas Sparks’ books. His books are romance but not always the HEA ending. I start out reading his books thinking the man and woman will eventually get together at the end and sometimes it happens, but not always. When I don’t get the HEA ending, I am upset but in a good way. I feel exhilarated when they do get together and I feel indignant when they don’t get together. With Nicholas Sparks, you never know how the book will end.

    There was that last book in a series by Karen Kingsbury, when the female protagonist ended up with an entirely different man than her previous books were leading me to believe the young woman would choose. I was devastated! These two people were in about 15 books starting out as children growing up together and eventually started dating on and off in high school. Then they started getting serious in college and suddenly she introduced two new characters, male and female. So five books later, surprise!

    My point is not all romance novels end up HEA.

    Oh, by the way; where did the dome come from and why?


    • Monday, July 15, 2013 10:36 pm

      I have tried to read Nicholas Sparks, but his writing style and the stories he writes just aren’t to my taste.


  3. Patty permalink
    Tuesday, July 16, 2013 7:40 am

    What about Charles Martin, have you ever read him? The ending of his book ‘The Mountain Between Us’ totally got me… didn’t really see it coming. While not his best book in my opinion, I do remember that ending was unexpected!

    Check out his recent release Unwritten if you have a chance. I don’t think he is technically considered Christina/inspirational fiction but he is a Christian and a writer=)


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