A Treatise In Defense of Reading the Last Chapter First

I’m someone who likes to know how things end. I go crazy during movies guessing how it will all turn out, I scour the internet for spoilers about my favorite TV shows, and yes, I read the last chapter of the book when I’m only about a quarter of the way in.

I know a number of people who are bothered that I have this habit*. Not just bothered, but utterly appalled. These people are not authors, they don’t even read as avidly as I do, and yet this little thing seems to personally offend some of them. Why? What business is it of theirs if I read the last chapter first? It’s not like I run around telling others and spoiling the end.

I don’t like having to defend my reading habits, but I do wonder why it matters so much to some people how I read a book? And to turn the looking glass the other way, why is it that I am so driven to read that last chapter? Why am I so desperate to know?

For me, knowing the end actually improves the reading experience. If I don’t know the end I am driven crazy with desire, and I skim through the book quickly just to find out what happens. I miss too much. Knowing the end of an engrossing book allows me to slow down my reading and really enjoy the prose, to appreciate the work and art that the author put into it. Mystery author Alafair Burke (although not an end reader herself) admitted in her interview on Talk of The Nation that most authors would actually prefer that a reader slow down to enjoy the art; setting, description, characters and prose.

Moreover, Burke says, once a book is in the hands of the readers the reading experience belongs to them, and if that bothers an author then the author needs to “get over it.” I agree completely. If I’m impatient, that is my own failing. I work hard to temper that impatience in most areas of my life–with my children, in my buying habits, while driving–and I like to think that I’m fairly successful. But reading is mine. Reading takes place in my head and my heart and you aren’t allowed in there. When an author is in the midst of writing a manuscript the work is theirs, utterly and completely. But once that book is on the bookshelves that work is mine… I will read it, write in the margins, approve or disapprove of the characters, and yes–read the last chapter first.

It’s a compliment, really. if your book is boring I won’t bother to read the last chapter, I simply won’t care enough to do so.

But I have discovered a new obstacle to reading the last chapter first, and that is my own beloved Kindle! I downloaded this weekend the latest book by Stephenie Meyer for some indulgent reading; and sure enough, 1/4 of the way through the book I felt a desperate need to flip to the end and find out how it goes with our main characters. But with the Kindle you can’t flip to the end! You can (by choosing the menu button) go to the “Cover”, go to the “Table of Contents”, or “Go to Beginning”, but you cannot “Go to End”. And so, my fellow readers, I was forced to read the book all the way through from beginning to end as god and authors intended.

It. Was. Torture.

But wait! It has just occurred to me… The Kindle also allows you to “Go to Location”, and always tells you at the bottom of that little screen what the final location is… Gods be praised! I have found the Kindle loophole! My degenerate reading habits can continue.

*If you are one of those people who are bothered by this habit, I really would love to know why. Please comment and let me know what it is that bothers you so much.

4 thoughts on “A Treatise In Defense of Reading the Last Chapter First

  1. It doesn't bother me at all if you read the last chapter before the rest of the book. I could never do that though. I already avoid back covers and reviews so that I generally have no idea what a book is even about before I start, aside from what genre it is. I despise spoilers of any kind so I can't imagine spoiling it for myself! And yes, I do skim through books quickly if I'm anxious for the ending, but I'm also at heart a re-reader, so I know I'll get back to enjoy the smaller details eventually.

  2. Yes, I wish I had known this trick when I was younger. It would have saved me reading each book at least twice: once to see what happens, and a second time to savor everything else. Anyway, there are not too many possible endings. The tragedies all end in death, and the comedies all end in marriage.

  3. Meghan and Mark, I also am a re-reader at heart. I have a number of books that I re-read not just one time, but many times. There are 2 series in particular I can think of that I re-read every 5 years or so. I thought about bringing that up in the post; nobody seems to get upset when you read a book a second time, when you would already know how it ends. A friend of mine commented on Facebook and said that it upsets her because she feels like it's cheating. I suppose it could be seen as cheating, but cheating who?

  4. I often skip and read the last page somewhere near the beginning of the book. Why. I don't know. I try not to read the chapter, but the last paragraph or whatnot. Of course.

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