Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursentary: The Art of Reading Ahead

Have I ever mentioned how I read Game of Thrones?

Caught Reading
Flickr Credit: Jayel Aheram
I waded in and found myself rather confused by the onslaught of characters and strange names. A fourth of the way in, I decided I only really cared about Dany, read her last chapter, and continued on to all her previous chapters in backwards order. Then I returned it to the library.

(No, I didn’t count it on my reading log.)

I have this feeling I’ve told that story before, but my point is, it’s an extreme example of how I’m willing to read books. There are four stages:

1. The Do-I-Care Stage: I read the first fourth-ish of the book and find out if I care
2. The Yes-I-Do-Care Stage: truly caring, I delve in to about the halfway mark
3. The Oh-Crap Stage: suddenly, the characters find themselves in a terrifying or upsetting situation; I flip to the end and pick out choice sections of the last chapters to see what happens
4. The Okay-Then Stage: I read the rest of the book normally but flip back if I think it’s necessary to gain more details

If I make it to Stage 2, I end up finishing the book; if I do not, then it is left in the dust. I’m well aware of the criticisms against this method. A few examples:

  • my philosophy teacher gave me “the look” when I said I read the end of Sophie’s World while I was in the middle—apparently you’re just supposed to tough through the confusion
  • while I was reading Sophie’s World, Sophie refuses to read the end of her story because reading the ends of books first is cheating
  • I mentioned that I read ahead in this post and various people were like “oh, I could never read ahead,” “you read ahead a lot,” and cheating was mentioned again

Allow me to share with you my thoughts on cheating, as told by Inigo Montoya:

via dirkkelly
The dictionary contains many meanings for cheating. For the sake of this argument, when we describe a reading style as “cheating,” it is in one of two ways: either it violates how books are to be read, or because it’s dishonest.

Now, in the absence of a binding “rules of reading” list, when we talk about how books are to be read, we’re talking about how we’ve been taught to read them. The author ordered the story a certain way—they’ll share information in good time, yes? The emotional heights grow with the stakes. We as writers design our books to be written from beginning to end. That’s how it is.

Reaching the end of a book is a noble goal. Many books make it difficult to get there. Nor is it a bad thing to want to get to the end. It’s just that a fixation with getting to the end tends to come with a focus on what is at the end—the plot’s climax, the emotional climax, the resolution, the denouement. More than that, we have that extra idea of dishonesty. It’s cheating to take something out of its time, or to spoil an ending before it is the end. You ruin the book for yourself.

I’m afraid that Oscar Wilde’s quote has become my doctrine: “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

Authors set a story in motion, but it’s the reader who decides what they want. For me, I’m not as concerned with finding out how the story ends—as I’ve mentioned, I tend to flip to the end frequently to find out what happens. I read to find the story. I read, reread, and reread again until I know the characters, I know their motivations, I know where they live, and I know why it’s all important.


You’re of course going to see a story when you read a book from start to finish, but there’s something about studying a book that makes it richer. So I read ahead. Maybe I don’t get to anticipate any surprises, but writers I read don’t bank on surprise to make their books remarkable.

Again, that’s just my style. I’m well aware that there will always be people who don’t understand why I’m willing to spoil the ending or go against an author’s construction, but then, I’ll always be the one asking—if a spoiler ruins reading the entire thing, then why do you bother in the first place?

Do you read ahead in books? Why, or why not?

18 comments :

  1. Personally I don't read ahead in books. For me, I love the discovery of watching the book unfold in front of me. Plus I tend to try and guess all the plot twists before they happen so I try not to read ahead in case that makes it too easy. But at the same time I totally understand why people might want to read ahead. There are certainly no rules about how a book should be read. And I say, if reading ahead is you thing then go for it. Who am I to dictate how other people want to read?

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    1. And that's totally something that works for you. :) I'm not as interested in that discovery, as I said. XD I really like your rhetorical question at the end, because I feel like it applies not only to this discussion, but things like Banned Books Week and so on and so forth. We make a lot of judgments about how others should read, and it can be a doozy for us all.

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  2. I do read ahead sometimes. If I'm rereading a book for the third or more time, I'll just read the parts I like (and then I don't count it on my reading log/goodreads either) and I think if you're hating a book, it's a sensible method-though certainly harder to do in e books :) I used to do this a lot more, particularly in the really tense parts when i JUST HAD TO KNOW. But I do enjoy the buildup of tension towards the ending, so unless I'm not' liking a book, I won't merely read the end

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    1. XD Oh, in rereads all regulations are null and void. XD I can see why you'd skip ahead in a book you hate, definitely, although at least in my case I tend to put down books I hate because I would rather read a book that I love, you know? But, it's still good to appreciate that tension, and if it works for you, I say rock on.

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  3. I read ahead a lot when I was just getting into YA. But now because I tend to get books out of the library after I have some background knowledge about them, I tend to have an idea about the story anyway.
    I do have a bit of a thing about reading ahead- more so since I started writing, but at the same time, I understand why you would do it.
    In the end, it's about understanding a story. When I love a book and so re read, I don't start at the beginning again, I start somewhere else and jump back and forth :)

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    1. Well, YA does have its repetitive moments, doesn't it? XD I assume by a "thing" you mean it's one of your peeves? That's okay, I know that not everyone likes to ruin that discovery, haha. Anyway, rereading out of order sounds totally interesting, too! Jumping around is fun.

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  4. You do have a point. BUT I STILL DON'T READ AHEAD. I mean, I spend so much time screaming "NO SPOILERS" at people, it would be sad to read the ending first. And predicting the end is one of my favourite pastimes.

    A situation where I do read ahead, or at least I Google the synopsis and read that first, is for school texts. You're absolutely right that it helps me get a richer understanding of what is happening. And no, I assure you no one toughs it through the confusion.

    To each her own, I suppose. *clinks books*

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    1. Well I was defending my honor, not trying to tell everybody to throw out their traditional book habits. I don't want to be the evil dictator in this situation! I was just pointing out that some people like spoilers and don't want to bother with predicting the end.

      Yes to reading ahead with school books, and sometimes movies. Sometimes people of great literary merit just decide that it's okay to throw everything out the window and be like "AHHHH POETRY" and nothing makes sense. That is why things like Spark Notes are beautiful.

      *thumps books because books do not clink, they thump*

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  5. I don't typically read ahead, but some books I make exceptions for. Like, reading ahead in a mystery is a BIG NO-NO. Unless you're so bored and just want to find out what happens so you can finally put the book down and move on. Some books are like that.

    I have a friend who ALWAYS reads the last page first...when she's reading a romance. Which isn't really that bad, considering romances are don't typically bank on surprising people.

    I see your point about studying a book, but a lot of books DO rely upon the element of surprise and I prefer not to spoil that for myself.

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    1. Yeah, I don't really read mysteries in general but I think the last time I read one (which would have been years ago) I wouldn't have read the end. That would have been an Agatha Christie novel, I think. Usually if I'm bored I don't care how the book ends, so there's always that for me. I just put it down. XD

      Well, romances... Couple gets together, all struggles are ended, they live happily ever after, the end. I don't think we expect anything else, like you said. XD

      *nods* And I get that, it's just like... If I have to be surprised to enjoy it then I would rather not read it because that can't be the only awesome thing I have to look forward to. How could it move me when all it is is flashing lights and a loud sound when I need a whole symphony to dazzle my senses?

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  6. I almost never read ahead (I might scan a little bit, but I don't actually /read/ it, and I've never read the end before the rest of the book). But, from your post, I understand why you do. Finding the story is as noble a goal as finishing the book from start to finish ;)
    /I'm/ still not reading ahead, though, lol. For me, that would kind of ruin it.


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. And that's what works for you, so you keep doing that. :) I mean, you're totally my opposite in that regard, but my point was not to convince anyone to join me but to defend my choice. Keep reading!

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  7. Wow...that is a very interesting way of reading a book. I never read ahead on the first read through because I like to be surprised on the first read through, and if a book tempts me to read to the end, that means it's really good and reading ahead would ruin the surprised. However, on rereads, I still won't read ahead because I want to see that logical progression unfold before my eyes. I love when books are comprised of complex events that set off chain reactions that lead to other events, and it's not as satisfying for me to see this progression if I skip around.

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    1. I can understand the being surprised bit, because I do understand that some people like surprises and you need that satisfaction. However, I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you want to see the logical progression, I guess because for me, you see the logical progression better when you have both the beginning and the end present in your mind and you can reference all the bits as you keep moving forward. I guess in that regard, our interpretation of logical progression is different?

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  8. I've never thought about your perspective on spoilers before. It happens less now, but a few years ago my sister would finish every book before me and spoil me. (Including every Harry Potter book. It drove me insane) And knowing the plot twist or impending doom the characters were heading towards made me less interested in how the author wrote it. Because 'oh by the way they're all clones' can't be enjoyed as much as an entire chapter which never explicitly states the clone-i-tude of the characters but uses incredible language to bring the reader to a gradually dawning allusion. I personally don't read ahead, but then I gave up on Sophie's world because it made no sense, (I was in 6th grade though, I have to give myself some credit) but you managed to get through it by reading ahead. Anyway, I commend you on this controversial post!

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    1. See, and if that were me, I would be glad I had those spoilers because if something is ruined in that way, then it means you can't enjoy it any other times, and that's just a sadness. For me, anyway. I need something else. Also, I think sixth grade might have been very ambitious to try and read Sophie's World, although it's impressive that you tried! You might keep trying—I think it might make a little more sense with a few more years on your back. Thanks for reading, Shar!

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  9. This is so interesting. I have always felt, with myself, that skipping to the end was some kind of almost illicit act. I am a big one for the surprise at the end of the story or just following how it goes from chapter one to chapter sixty, but I really liked learning about your reading preferences, and I do understand how you want experience the story and that doesn't necessarily mean reading from A-Z with no skipping or going forward in between. It's not how I do things, but I think it's neat to learn how others read! xx

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    1. You're not alone—you'll notice that I'm pretty much the only person defending that aspect. I think the A-Z method is very linear and that works for a lot of others, but again, I guess we all have our own methods of reading. I'm glad we can appreciate our differences, and thanks for stopping by! :)

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