Do you ever read the ending of a book before you read the beginning? I have a good friend who always checks out the ending first. She hates sad books, so if she can see that the ending is an unhappy one, she leaves it on the shelf.
For some readers, peeking at the last pages is just cheating. You have not had a chance to develop any sort of emotional connection with the characters before you find out whether they live / die/ marry / inherit, or any of the other resolutions authors offer. J.K. Rowling hates the idea of ‘closet peeking’ into a book: “It’s like someone coming to dinner, just opening the fridge and eating pudding, while you’re standing there still working on the starter. It’s not on.”
For others, knowing what comes at the conclusion of the story, enhances their enjoyment of the book. It can assuage feelings of anxiety that the characters might be in for some suffering or have horrible fates ahead of them. A reader who knows the ending can slow down and appreciate all the details along the way, without feeling the need to race through pages to find out what happens. Researchers at the psychology department of the University of California have found that knowing the ending does actually improve the reading experience. They used many different types of stories and found that in the end, plot wasn’t vitally important – it was more crucial to have good character development and insights into human nature, and those things were not spoiled at all by knowing the ending. Is the ‘peeking’ reader a risk-averse person, or someone who needs to exert control in their reading life? Or perhaps peeking is a form of insurance? If you die before you have finished the book, at least you know how it ends!
Perhaps it all comes down to whether you most value the journey or the destination? And there are no rules that say we have to read in a way set down by someone else – we can skim, look at the ending, begin in the middle, or in any order we please. Some may feel you are ruining an author’s carefully plotted work by skipping straight to the conclusion, but if so, you are not spoiling it for anyone else, so your habit should not really matter to others. This is not a moral issue, merely a matter of taste. I have peeked very occasionally, when anxiety about a character got the better of me, but I don’t make a habit of it. However, I adore re-reading books and of course I always know what happens and get a totally different sort of pleasure from the book as a result, so I can understand both points of view.