With each new Harry Potter book release it would begin again—angry complaints that someone had “spoiled” the book for someone else. Not by leaving it out in the rain (as did one of my students in 1998 with my copy of the first book), but by making mention of something in the book in a public forum that was seen by others as spoiling their reading. Along with this came less than complimentary comments about those who read the end of the book first.
This came to mind upon reading Alison Morris’s post, “Are You Prone to Peeking?” and the associated comments. I appreciated Alison’s gentle query; a none-peeker she was curious about those who did. As an occasional peeker (more below), I was relieved that she only asked and did not place judgement on those who did. Unfortunately, too many others do.
So first of all, when and why do I peek? I do so when I am worried, when I’m racing through the book barely paying attention to any of the writing, only the plot, to find out if the characters are okay. I admit that I did page ahead just to see that Harry was okay at the end of that final book. I didn’t want to know how or why, just that he was okay and that Hermoine and Ron were too. I cared about them, a lot, and the idea that they wouldn’t survive their grand adventure troubled me greatly. I very quickly knew as I began reading that I needed that worry set at rest so I could get into the book to enjoy the adventure, to find out how they made it safely to the end.
I hadn’t thought about it, but I suppose there have been occasions where I’ve looked ahead, as some commenters on Alison’s blog described, to see if the book was one I wanted to finish. That is, I might find it slow going and rather than immediately quitting, I might check further along to see if something there made it worth continuing.
Now, what bothers me so much about this issue is that some make it a moral issue. They write about it being a bad thing to do. Some get furious. Authors who feel they have carefully created a particular reading experience have expressed their discontent when readers do not take the route they had in mind.
“I [J.K. Rowling] loathe people who say, ‘I always read the ending of the book first.’ That really irritates me,” she said. 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. “Harry ‘s fate known to millions, yet still secret.” MSNBC July 24, 2007
Just as I think it is perfectly fine not to finish a book, so I think it is okay to read ahead if you need to. After all, once the book is in the hand of the reader, it becomes theirs. It is no longer the author’s, the publisher’s, the bookseller’s, or the librarian’s (temporarily as it will be back in the library again, of course). I really like Philip Pullman’s concept of the democracy of reading. That reading is a private act that we readers are in charge of.
Nor do we have to read it [the book] 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; we can look at the last page first, or decide to wait for it; we can put the book down and reflect, or we can go to the library and check what it claims to be fact against another authority; we can assent, or we can disagree. “The War on Words”, Guardian, November 4 2004
And there is Daniel Pennac’s Rights of the Reader with #2 being the right to skip. I’d go further and say readers have the right to skip about…to the end and back to the middle… wherever they want to go. Every book does not have to be read in a linear way.
So, please, don’t think I’m being bad, rude, unethical, or something else when I chose in my private act of reading to not read a book the way you did. Authors, please do not be offended if I read the end…it really just means you’ve done something right…made me care enough about your characters to want to know they end the story okay! The democracy of reading rules!