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Voice of the Fans: Do You Read the End Before the Beginning?

I ran across this very interesting article over on Wired: Spoilers don’t spoil anything, in which research suggests knowing how a story end actually increases the pleasure of reading the story. There’s some other interesting observations there, but let’s look at the main point, that reading the ending of a story makes it a more enjoyable experience.

Way back in the day, when I would buy several books at once from the local Bookstop, I would have the strong urge, while browsing, to peek at the ending of a book, even those I was considering purchasing. That urge is pretty much gone today, although, when reading an anthology I do like to see how long each story is (ie – what page it ends on). Not knowing gives me a dissonant feeling when reading, so that sort of jibes with the research. But even then I don’t read the end first. And now that I read more stuff on either my Kindle or iPod, it’s more of a hassle to get to the end of a story than it is to open a book and flip to the last page. I’m not sure that’s a big selling point for regular books, but there it is.

But what about you? How many of you read the end first? Does it enhance the story for you?

Let us know in the comments!

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

23 Comments on Voice of the Fans: Do You Read the End Before the Beginning?

  1. That would certainly be the definition of the word Anticlimatic.

    Sure it is the ride that is the bulk/meat of the experience. But the beginning and end parts are equally important.

    A Bad ending doesn’t ruin what was good and a Great ending doesnt make up for a bad book.

    But a Good ending does cure a lot of ill’s.


    Maybe we can do a article on whether Desert should be eat first!?

    Or Intercourse before Foreplay.

    or Wiping before……….




  2. I am normally very much against reading the ending first.  It is a common point of contention between my wife and I.  She often reads books after I reccomend them to her and will ask me how things are going to turn out and I always refuse to divulge anything.  

    That said, upon the purchase of the new Dresden book, I rushed to end of the book to find out if/how the previous book had been resolved.  I just had to know.

  3. I understand the impulse to skip ahead and read or watch the ending first, but it’s never one that I’ve ever seriously considered — and, moreover, one that’s always disappointed me when I do accidentally find out how something ends.

  4. My wife checks the end of books all the time, especially if she is anxious about how the story is going or wants to know if a character survives and I gently harrass her for it every time I see her flipping the pages to the back.  

    I struggle with the whole concept of knowing the end before you know the whole story, whether it’s books or movies.  I don’t want to know the end ahead of time, nor can I bring myself to share the end with anyone when I know they haven’t read/seen the rest of the story.  

    The end of the book is off limits until I reach it sequentially. The author wrote it to follow a path and I generally believe a single book is best read that way. Not to mention, I really enjoy the build up to the ending and hopefully the author has made the journey worth the wait.


  5. CBrachyrhynchos // August 12, 2011 at 9:51 am //

    I make a habit of reading the conclusion, largely because I can’t stand getting suckered by a bait-and-switch where the author says to me, “Ha! You thought this was going to be a well-structured novel! It’s just the first chapter of my big money-making epic! And here’s a cliffhanger!”  I’ll forgive it in a handful of authors (Pratchett and Bujold) I trust to deliver a good novel anyway, but most other cases are just a cover for bad pacing and development.

  6. Absolutely not. No spoilers, ever. I will not even visit a website with spoilers until I read the work at hand. *I* choose if spoilers ruin it for me not some damned research paper.

  7. This is further evidence of a complete lack of respect for authors and a climate where the reader thinks they know better.

  8. I recall the character of Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally said he did this in case he died in the middle of reading a book. We even see him do it in a scene.

    I once did try to read the last line of a book first (Lucifer’s Hammer) and was mightily confused.

    Now, I prefer to be surprised, or to put it another way, prefer to see where the author unfolds the narrative rather than seeing the ending. 


  9. I sometimes read the end first. Blame it on too many books where I felt betrayed by the ending. Also, if I’ve read the requisite 50-100 pages and am not liking the book then I will read the end to see if I think I want to continue. I see I’m in the minority here. Is it a disservice to the author? Maybe, but, once the book has been offered for public consumption and I’ve put down my money for it, then it becomes my decision how to interact with the text.

  10. Though I may look at the last page to see the total page count, I don’t look at the text. I never read the final page, or any other page, until I get to it in the course of reading the book. Not Ever. If I feel like doing that, I figure I’ve really already given up on the book, so why bother?

  11. Rich Gombert // August 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm //


    I never read the ending first. Even bad book and stories I slug/slog my way through.

  12. One of the pleasures of reading a book is finding out the ending, but I think it is wrong to think that in a really good book merely what happens in the end is the main pleasure. How that comes about in all the intricacies of a novel in the end has to be a greater pleasure–the details, the atmosphere, the characters in their situations, all that–which is why there is re-reading. 


    Of course, reading the ending robs you of some pleasure, but I have had so much pleasure from re-reading my favorite books that I really doubt a good book can be ruined by sneaking a look at what it says on the last page.

  13. Lots of nos, so I will chime in as a yes. I always read the ending first. I don’t feel like it spoils anything because if you only read the last page or two you would be surprised by how little information that actually gives away. All you can really tell is whether it is a. happy b. sad or c. open-ended (there will definitely need to be a sequel). And it tells me what the tone of the novel is much better then the first few pages, so it makes it much easier to decide whether I really want to devote my time to reading it. And since I haven’t the best memory for names, half the time even if there is significant info there, I won’t remember it because I’m not connected to the characters yet. Now if it’s a series I have been reading for a while, then I might not bother to read the ending because I already trust the author not to blindside me with a terrible ending, and I kind of know what I’m getting myself into anyway.

    If I am getting too tense about a book, sometimes I will also skip ahead and just find out what happens and get it over with. Otherwise I read too fast and have trouble breaking away from the book to deal with other things. Being “lost in a book” is something that’s supposed to be great, but let’s face it, staying up until 3am on a worknight is not clever. And the reading too fast is a horrible curse, because I lose a lot of the details even tho I don’t lose the thread of the plot (it’s like rushing to get somewhere – you only think about the destination. If you aren’t in as much of a hurry, you notice the scenery). I will often re-read books for similar reasons – I have forgotten things or I read them too fast while I was trying to race to find out what happens (this happens sometimes even when I’m trying to check myself – speed reading is habit-forming!). Once I am ‘comfortable’ because there’s no suspense anymore, it’s actually easier to enjoy the book and appreciate the way the author has written it.

  14. Yes. I almost always read the last few pages after I’ve begun the book (even <gasp> murder mysteries). Doesn’t spoil it for me in the least. The notion that the ending must be a surprise has always baffled me. Half the books I read, I’m rereading anyway. I’m more interested in the journey than I am in the destination. I’ve been reading this way for nearly 60 years, and I and the books have survived nicely, thank you. The idea that it’s disrespectful to the author is preposterous.

  15. Tony Geer // August 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm //

    I can’t imagine why I would ever want to ruin the surprise

  16. this made me laugh. sometimes i flip to the back with one eye shut while cringing. it’s more a game of “what if” as in, “what if i see what happens?” rather than full on reading the ending. so far i havent caught any real spoilers. 

  17. That article got me thinking when I read it earlier this week.  My main reaction was that it kind of eased the stress I feel when composing a review and attempting to avoid ALL spoilers.  The fact that you can’t really write anything about a book without giving something away causes really does stress me out.  One person’s sub-genre is another person’s spoiler (don’t tell me there if there are zombies, I want to be suprised…)

    I often open a book at random and read a few paragraphs to get the feel of it.  I may do that a few times at different spots in the book.  I do this in bookstore and at home with my library.  I do this with books I’ve read and books I haven’t.  

    I don’t usually read the last couple pages, however that article and this discussion has piqued my curiosity and I susspect I’ll be doing a lot of it in the coming weeks.

    And really, if it’s a good book, NOT reading it is probably the best way to spoil it versus any particular WAY of reading it… hmm.

  18. This concept is foreign to me and just indicates a culture of impatience and instant gratification.

    I would never do this…except maybe on the Wheel of Time series.  I’m not sure I will ever find the time or will to wade through that.

  19. Once again, its not the ending but the ride, with the ending setting up personal clapping(like the end of a movie blah blah)   ]


    If a book is not good enough to get to the ending, I throw it away, Why would I want to read the end of a bad book. The only satisfaction one can have in that case is that you get to end it on your own terms(and when you want too) 


    The End is meant to be the End of what was begun(you know Ummm the first page of the book) And there is a reason the book is writen with numbers to mark your progress.  Two (2) comes after one(1), not Three hundered fifty three (353).


    Why Read in the first place.    I  like most people feel its the build up in Sex that leads to JakOlation(try banning that word) that is the best part.  To skip to the very end would be pointless, infact It would be a Major problem that needs looking into by Professionals.


    Get with it my fellow FOOLS.

  20. Nick Camm // August 13, 2011 at 10:20 am //

    If I ever feel the urge to end-read, I drink whisky, thus killing two birds: not spoiling an intended narrative and remembering I didn’t remember what I read. A kinda brown, liquid palimpsest, kinda.

  21. Ellliot Grosvenor // August 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm //

    Then there are books such as World War Z that let you know from the start that things work out. I was tempted to sneak a peek at the end of the latest Dresden book, but remained firm and steadfast not doing so.

  22. Spoilers will have a different impact depending on what is being spoiled.

    For some things, it makes little difference.

    For some things, it means I lose interest in reading/watching that particular spoiled thing, because I know how it ends.

    For some things, I continue on, but my experience is marred.

    On the whole I prefer not to be spoiled, but I can deal with it, and even seek it, in certain contexts.

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