1 July 2021 Susannah

To peek or not to peek

To peek or not to peek

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.

Are you a serial peeker? If so, why and how often? Let me know what you think about this and your other thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Comments (16)

  1. Jane Todd

    No, no, no. I can’t imagine knowing what happens! Do these people fast forward to the end of movies too? ARGH!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Like you, I find it hard to understand, but one of my dearest friends always looks at the end, and she is a fabulous reader. She swears it brings added enjoyment to her reading.

      • Alison

        If I’m struggling with a book, I peek. And discard if it still doesn’t pique my interest
        . Life is too short and there are too many books to choose to enslave yourself to a book which is not satisfying. I’ve left most of the classics for retirement so I’m choosy . I don’t subscribe to the view that one must struggle, reading is for enjoyment and uplifting, somber thought and escape.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Like you, I have no trouble giving up on a book I’m not enjoyeding. Life is too short and reading time is running out for all I want to read. Yes, if I knew I was giving up on a book, I would probably peek at the end too.

  2. Peter Windeyer

    I will never peek! I enjoy the pleasure of a happy ending or the horror of an unexpected ending. Both gives me cause for thought – for days sometimes. It is an added advantage and part of the adventure of reading.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Like you, I prefer the suspense of not knowing. I loved your description of reading as an ‘adventure’ – it is indeed, and don’t you feel sorry for anyone who lives without that adventure.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Very sensible. You need to sleep well so as to have more reading time during the day.

  3. Miland

    I haven’t thought about it before, but I don’t do it myself. The findings of psychology are interesting, though. I generally wouldn’t want to read spoilers of films before seeing them either, for the same reason, but I must admit that impatience for the appearence in DVD of Season 8 of Homeland has me wavering about whether to read spoiler summaries and take the edge off my curiosity! I might be more patient with Season 7 because I’ve ordered it on DVD and should get it eventually.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I haven’t watched Homeland, so clearly that’s something I should start.
      Yes, sometimes knowing the ending relieves anxiety.

  4. MIland Joshi

    Just had the thought the Columbo films all began with a spoiler or peak at whodunit, and the point of the films were about how the villain was detected. So the psychologists may have something – what we think is the ending may not always be the point of the ‘work of art’ being presented.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’d forgotten that about the Colombo films – it must be over 40 eyars since I watched one. Yes, the ending may not necessarily be the point of a book.

  5. Miland Joshi

    Regrettable typos: “appearence” in the first of my messages today should be “appearance” while “peak” in the second should be “peek”. Strange that I made the same error in opposite directions. I’ll leave interpretation to the psychologists. 🙂

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Those typos do have a habit of creeping in. I make far too many!

  6. I never check to see the ending of a book.

    It is the journey that is of interest; how all facets of the book are combined to tell the story, or indeed pose questions.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I suspect that in most cases, the ending doesn’t tell you much anyway, if you haven’t read all the way through. The characters mentioned on the last page would mean little if you have not yet made your way through their story.

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