1.26.2014

Reading ahead

I hate spoilers. Really, really hate them. I've been known to walk away from people at the merest threat of hearing a spoiler. Which is why it's weird that I read summaries of classic books on Wikipedia (up to the last paragraph) and book jackets. It's not so much that I want to know what's going to happen, plot point by plot point. I really just want to know what to expect.

"Self Portrait With Books," by Priscilla Warren Roberts.
Though this could almost be a portrait of me.
I was thinking this over as I was reading Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. I had planned to read the book without dipping into Wikipedia. I broke down a few chapters in. Though my English history is pretty good, 1855 was such a strange place. I had very little idea what was going on in the country at the time. So I hopped over to Wikipedia, just for the background, you see—nothing more than that. Then I went back to North and South. A couple more chapters went by before I was back in Wikipedia learning which characters to pay attention to, etc.

The back and forth between book and Wikipedia made me realize just how often I do this. So, as I was pondering North and South and Gaskell's portrayal of the plight of the working class in the dark counties, I thought about why I find it so vital to know what to expect from a book. I've come to the conclusion that it's because I'm primarily a genre reader. I expect one thing from science fiction and something completely different from historical fiction. Which makes sense. These and all the other genres tend to stay within their boundaries. Really good fiction, classic fiction can transcend the boundaries. Brave writers break the rules all the time. But these are the exceptions.

Reading partial summaries and book jackets also helps me make sense of what authors are up to, as well. I've read a few books that opened with bewildering details and actions that made absolutely no sense until I learned that the the author was writing a thriller or a New Weird* story.

So, there it is. I cheat a bit. But I do my best to not spoil the ending for myself. The ending of a book is often a magical moment for me. I've had my mind blown by spectacular endings and warped endings and twisty endings. I've had my heart broken by tragic endings or overjoyed by happy endings. It just wouldn't have been the same if I'd known what was coming. If you try to tell me how something is going to end, I will probably wander off with my hands over my ears, singing, "La la la la!"

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* Yes, it's a real genre. Books in the New Weird genre should come with a cheat sheet or drugs, just to help the reader along.

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