x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

My life: The ending of a book comes first for some

Do you jump ahead to the ending of a book? You're in good company if you do.

i have a confession to make. I'm a closet peeker. I don't mean I indulge in some sordid practice worthy of arrest; I mean, I can't resist reading the end of a book before I've read the entire story ahead of it. More often than not, I read the ending before the opening paragraph.

Now, before you pelt me with rotten tomatoes, you should know I am not alone. A Google search for peekers reveals much heated debate, with offenders being bombarded with insults, abuse and death threats (OK, maybe not the latter, but hyperbolic outrage with words such as "horrifying" and "unimaginable").

Even JK Rowling, incensed by leaked plot lines on the internet, wades into the furore: "I loathe people who say: 'I always read the ending of the book first'," she bleats. "It's like someone coming to dinner, just opening the fridge and eating pudding, while you're standing there still working on the starter. It's not on."

Really, Ms Rowling? And why would the 12th-richest woman in Britain, in command of a US$15 billion empire fuelled by guarding the secrets of the next Harry Potter installment, get so hot under the collar about spoilers?

I'm an advocate of the Philip Pullman school of thought. The Golden Compass author says: "Nor do we have to read... in a way determined by someone else. We can skim or we can read it slowly; we can read every word or we can skip long passages; we can read it in the order in which it presents itself or we can read it in any order we please."

I had no idea others had such strong opinions on the issue until I brought it up in conversation. I have read book endings first for as long as I can remember, and I don't mean in a Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally... kind of way ("When I buy a new book I always read the last page first - that way in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side").

Peekers have different reasons. Some say they don't want to waste time on a book that may turn out to be a disappointment. Others want something to look forward to during the slower passages.

Personally, I think I am just nosy. Being a journalist involves delving into other people's lives, being professionally curious, finding out how things turn out before you have started writing the story. Naysayers suggest plot is the most crucial part of a novel. Yet once I have shaken off any apprehension about how events evolve in a book, I can relax and concentrate on the nuances of character development, descriptive passages and setting without having to reread a page several times to take it all in.

But mention this and you are likely to be castigated. When I brought up the topic with a friend, steam began coming out of his ears as he lambasted me for ruining an author's carefully crafted work.

"I can't talk to you when you're like this!" he fumed, purple with rage, and stormed off. We didn't speak for three days. I relayed this incident to another friend during a lengthy car ride and was met with equal indignation.

"It's a travesty," he spluttered. "You might as well go up to the author and rip out pages in front of him."

"But I'm not spoiling it for anyone else, only myself, so why should it matter to anyone else how I read a book?" I countered. "I think you're overreacting."

"Get out of my car," he said.

So I have learnt to keep my furtive habit to myself and reveal my secret to only those brave enough to admit they are fellow peekers. The world is not ready for us.

 

Tahira Yaqoob is a senior feature writer for The National.