Friday, 19 August 2011

Spoil yourself

It's generally asssumed that book-readers don't like spoilers - too much information about the plot and what happens at the end. The big pleasure of reading is supposedly the "wait and see" element.

But an experiment by Californian psychologists suggests that actually this isn't true. They found that people who read stories containing spoilers actually enjoyed them more than the untouched version.

This took them by surprise, so much so that they're struggling to come up with any convincing explanation of why this might be. They wonder for instance if people reach a deeper understanding of a story when they aren't preoccupied with the plot and its complexities.

Journalist Alison Flood says that when reading a horror story she likes to check that the hero/heroine is still alive at the end. With romantic stories, she likes to find out straightaway who gets off with whom. She insists this unorthodox peeking doesn't affect her enjoyment at all.

Personally I don't like to be told the entire plot of a novel before I start reading it, though in some cases the plot is so fiendish that a summary I could refer to when totally confused would be handy (Nicole Krauss's The History of Love comes to mind).

And I do admit to thumbing through the pages to find out if my favourite character ends up alive or dead, or if the odious wife-beater eventually gets his come-uppance. Sometimes my curiosity is so great I just can't wait for another 200 pages to satisfy it.

But if the "wait and see" element is so crucial, how come we like rereading books, when we already know exactly what happens? Shouldn't we be throwing them in the dustbin?

23 comments:

Scarlet Blue said...

That's a very good question. I often sneak to the end of the book and with posts and newspaper articles I often read them backwards i.e I try to see what the point of the article is to determine if the article is worth reading!
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - What, you cheat when you're reading my posts? Shame on you. *stalks off in huff*

Scarlet Blue said...

Tsk! You see! This is where the honesty from the last post gets me!!!!
Sx

nursemyra said...

I never peek. Bring on the surprise.

Nick said...

Scarlet - You're forgiven. I never sulk for long. I'm a bit of a blog-skimmer sometimes too.

Myra - Wot, never? Never ever? Such self-discipline.

Wisewebwoman said...

Though I do re-read fave books I never ever peek, a habit from all that Agatha Christie ingestion from when I was 11.
Then again I don't even shake my Xmas gifts until the day, not to mention peeking inside like some.
I love surprises, the stories I write have surprises.
XO
WWW

Roses said...

I don't read the end first, I like the surprise. But then I'll read my favourite books again and again and again. Just for the pleasure of the experience. And no, knowing the end doesn't mar my enjoyment.

Nick said...

www - Oh, I read Agatha Christie too, but that didn't stop me succumbing to peeking! I must say I find the characters in crime fiction much more interesting than the plots, which can be quite implausible at times.

Roses - I suspect that if you enjoy rereading, like me you find the characters more intriguing than the storyline.

Macy said...

I often read the end of a book first - especially thrillers. That way I can enjoy the reading of it without rushing to get to the end.

I'm weird that way.

Nick said...

Macy - That's an interesting idea, that if you already know the plot you can have a more leisurely read without any nail-biting suspense. That makes a lot of sense.

secret agent woman said...

I rarely look at the end of the book first - I like it to unfold as it will. But when I used to read aloud to the kids, I'd find myself scanning the opposite page. This was particularly a problem with the Harry Potter books, I'd be reading one page aloud and scanning the next one silently and suddenly say, "Oh, no!" My sons would always yell, "Mom! Don't DO that!"

Baino said...

Nick Nick Nick . . never throw books away! I prefer to find out the ending by reading through the volume but I notice more and more books have spoilers. I'm reading Lonesome Dove and there's a whole synopsis in the front that gives away one of the most important subtexts in the book, very disappointing. If it's a good book, it has my attention all the way through.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - I can imagine that must have driven your sons nuts! Actually reading one page and simultaneously scanning the next is quite a skill....

Baino - No no, I misled you there, I never throw books away unless they're literally falling to bits. I give them to the charity shop or Jenny's occasional charity booksales. Haven't noticed an increase in spoilers myself, though some jacket blurbs do give quite a lot away.

Rummuser said...

I mostly read non fiction and spoilers are my staple diet. I would not be willing to spend so much on the books I buy unless I research quite a bit before I decide, and reviews and spoilers are the material that I rely on. For fiction of course, teasers rather than spoilers should do the trick.

Ursula said...

Nick, am livid. Not with you. Just generally. Deep breath and I'll try and start at the END:

We RE-read books because they were bloody damn good reads the first time round, and because a second reading often throws up nuances we missed on the maiden voyage.

A book should keep you spell bound. And I have no time whatsoever for people who look at the end first. Do have some respect for the person who penned the story in the first place. Also do test you EQ (that's emotional intelligence): If you can't delay gratification you most certainly will belong to the lower echelons of the score (you know, along the lines of: Have ONE candy now if you can't wait or THREE later if you can exercise some self restraint).

INSTANT gratification deprives us of a lot of anticipation, one the greatest pleasure in life.

To illustrate my point, and then I'll go away, years ago I bought a copy of a book which is a bloody thrilling read, tailored to the needs of a friend of mine. So, guess what: Since that person is not to be trusted to NOT read the end first I have not given it to him. The whole narrative thrives on not knowing the end; leaving the reader gobsmacked. Make of that what you will. By sitting on that extra copy I am protecting the author's intention; at the cost of depriving my friend of intense pleasure - by his own design.

Yours,
U

Nick said...

Ramana - Well, with non-fiction naturally the whole concept of spoilers is invalid because there's no plot, only information! As for fiction, certainly nothing wrong with teasers that make the book intriguing but don't spell it all out.

Nick said...

Ursula - Yes, rereading for nuances you missed first time round makes perfect sense.

I can't agree with you about the point of reading a book though. It's not necessarily to keep you spellbound wondering what will happen next. People read books just as much for the characters, situations, period details and general atmosphere. There are books that have virtually no plot at all but are revered for other reasons.

I also don't agree that delayed pleasure is necessarily better than instant pleasure. Should I not admire Sydney Harbour Bridge until I've been in Sydney for a week? Should I wait a fortnight for an ice cream? I think not. It all depends. Sometimes the drawn-out anticipation of pleasure is enjoyable, at other times it's just absurd.

speccy said...

I think it depends on the book. Many plot driven novels would lose their hold if we knew what happened at the end.
I re-read lots of books for enjoyment, language and emotion

Nick said...

Speccy - Possibly. But then again, even if you know the ending, the twists and turns in between can still be riveting. Enjoyment, language and emotion - that's a good set of reasons.

Jenny Woolf said...

I like unexpected twists and get fed up if these are revealed. But knowing what the plot is about isn't necessarily going to put me off. A lot of the interest is surely in the details of how the plot unfolds, and exactly how the final result is achieved. I'm another one who peeps at the end sometimes!

Nick said...

Jenny - That's right, how the plot unfolds can be just as intriguing as how it ends. And there are times when you just HAVE to know what happens to that wonderful character who looks like she's in for a sticky end....

blackwatertown said...

@ Wisewebwoman - the husband did it. Occasionally the doctor.

Otherwise - no never - you're depriving yourself of the twist - or twists.
You wrecking the relief in hand when things do not turn out as expected.
Two books come to mind - Ripley Bogle by Robert McLiam Wilson - grr - that was annoying in a good way. Can't say more in caswe I ruin it.
And Reginald Hill's Pictures of Perfection (A Dalziel & Pascoe novel) - my copy of which is poised to be competition prize (hint hint - http://blackwatertown.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/celebrity-competition-time-ta-dah/ - if you want it)

Nick said...

Blackwater - The comments seem to be fairly evenly divided on spoiling/ not spoiling. Hadn't thought about the relief/ shock aspect of finding out the ending. Haven't read either of those two books, must put them on my to-get list.