Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reading the last page first

Ordinarily, I don’t read the end of a book until I have read the rest. It is cheating.

Or at least, that’s what I thought, until today.

I’ve been reading a YA book and the plot is dragging a bit. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m invested enough to want to know what happens in the end. A friend of mine suggested I skip to the last page. Literally, the ONLY circumstance which would force me to read the last page (before I’ve read all the others) is when I am so bored that I just can’t be bothered. My friend, however, confessed to ALWAYS reading the last page first.

“Doesn’t it spoil the whole reading experience?” I asked.
Apparently not. He thinks it makes it better. And when I posed this question to Google, I discovered he is not alone. Lots of you read the last page first. And what’s more, studies* suggest it does make reading more enjoyable. The brain may find it easier to process a story when you know how it ends – especially if it is a complex plot – and, it seems that knowing the ending can give plot developments greater meaning or significance. You read with more awareness of the nuances and are better able to contain the emotional experience, keeping it story focused. Also, if you read the end first you know what’s coming so you lessen the chances of being disappointed by an unsatisfying ending.

I’m still not convinced. I want to be there with the protagonist, experiencing her highs and lows and I definitely don’t want to spoil the surprise.

“But hang on,” said my friend. “Just because you know how a story ends, doesn’t mean you won’t still have surprises.”

As a writer, I know this to be true. Good writing is littered with surprises of all shapes and sizes. Surprises up the ante in the plot, test our characters in new situations, they delight us with fresh sparkling prose and play with our emotions. If I read the end of the story first, will I lose all of these things?

No. Obviously not.

And what about those stories which I’ve loved and loved again, knowing not just how they end but all the twists and turns on the way there? Did knowing what was on the last page actually stop me reading them time and time again?

I guess the answer is also no. 

So maybe it’s time for a new approach to reading? Maybe I should start reading the end before I get there naturally? Not sure if I can break the habit of a lifetime, but I think I'll give it a go...

Or should I? What would you do? 

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