I will never forget the time one of my best bookworm buddies told me that she always skipped to the end of the book she was reading. She didn’t even tell me in a whisper. It was a flat-out, confident declaration, not a confession. Needless to say, I was appalled.
I mean, who does that? How can you, as a bonafide book nerd, skip the actual act of reading in order to see how the story ends? I would never! Talk about a spoiler alert. That’s like fast-forwarding to the end of the movie thriller you are watching so you know who the murderer is.
After I scraped my mouth off of the floor, I pulled myself together enough to calmly inquire, rather than scream, “Why on earth would you do that?” I could think of no excuse. It was criminal. Guilty until proven innocent. Go to jail and do not pass GO!
To which she explained as if I was still a two-year-old, this method of “reading” calmed her and allowed her to enjoy the story more thoroughly. She didn’t stress through the tense plot points. She knew the heroine would conquer. The beauty would marry the prince. The town would be saved. The lost brother found. You get it. You’ve read a lot of books.
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Still, I couldn’t help but thinking (days and days later) that this wasn’t okay. She was breaking a cardinal rule of reading, wasn’t she? Where is the fun in knowing the end? Where is the honor that you even deserved to know? Like, would Tolstoy really condone skipping to the end to find out what Anna Karenina did to herself. Oops. See? I said too much.
Not a thing, right?
I had to find out more about this skipping-to-the-end phenomenon. My friend must be in the minority, right? I polled a few more friends and am sad to report that they too admitted to peeking at the last pages of a book. Sometimes, even while they were still at the bookstore! The horror!
Was I living in a parallel universe? Why were people reading books backwards? I’m always careful to never look ahead in a book. Goodness knows, I’ve dropped a bookmark and accidentally skimmed pages way ahead of my lost spot only to see the name of a character with dialogue quotes indicating that yes, apparently, they did survive their coma. Sheesh.
The only thing I could do to combat this feeling of confusion was to research. There is actually literature about humans and stories. Now, something could corroborate my innate reading moral code that was screaming out at the injustice of it all.
Humans, the only creatures that tell stories
Fun fact. According to Jonathan Gottschall in his book The Storytelling Animal, humans are the only creatures in the animal kingdom that tell stories. You remember the pictures of cave drawings from social studies, right? Ever since we’ve been here, humans have had an innate need to share through storytelling. Whether in the form of hieroglyphics or oral retelling, stories have been passed down through the generations.
Our brains like to make connections and stories can give us a big framework to do so. Not to mention that we tend to remember things better when we use associations. I, for one, can remember cardinal directions really well because of the very short story known as a pneumonic. Never Eat Soggy Waffles. Who wants soggy waffles? It is a cautionary tale for breakfast and a way to know how the directions align on a compass going clockwise.
Paradox of Spoiling
There has also been research on the way that humans approach stories. Take this study in Psychological Science, for instance.
Study participants were given short stories to read. These short stories were not straightforward, sweet tales of going on picnics on nice, sunny days. No, these stories were thrillers with tension build up.
The participants were split into groups and some read stories that had been re-worked to have spoilers weaved into the text or as a preface, and some read the stories as they were.
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Here’s the thing that blew my mind! The study participants with the highest enjoyment of stories preferred the ones that had spoilers, and in fact, they preferred the stories that had the spoilers as an introduction! The least fulfilling stories were the ones that unfolded on their own.
How could this be? The participants reported that they were able to concentrate on the story details without the concern of worrying about what would happen in the overall text. They could “relax,” as it were, and just go along for a leisurely Sunday drive instead of a harrowing roller coaster ride experience.
That Family Yarn
Do you have a story about the exploding, deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey that has to retold every time your family gets together? Or one that you share with your girlfriends about that epic what-happens-in-Cancun-stays-in-Cancun spring break trip?
You’ve heard it (or told it) a million times. You should be over it by now. It’s sooo old. It’s been told so many times it may not even have any of the real details in it anymore. And yet. Stories serve as a way to connect and stay connected. There is a comfort in the sharing of our stories that cannot be denied.
Related: 10 Fun Facts About Books Every Bibliophile Should Know
What does skipping to the end of the book say about you?
Maybe peeking at the ending of a book isn’t so bad, after all. After all, finding comfort during a year like 2020 by escaping into a story without surprises kind of makes sense.
Maybe this is the reading equivalent of throwing on a favorite sweater and snuggling into it. The sweater isn’t shiny and new but worn and cozy, and that much more appreciated. Knowing how the story ends means that you are in the moment along the way and savoring all the details as they come.
Perhaps what skipping to the end says about you can be summed up with one of the biggest cliches in history: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”
Featured photo: Lucrezia Carnelos / Unsplash