Kay: Whose Side Are You On?

The scene of the crime

This week I finished a subpar mystery and promptly wrote about it to fellow Lady Jilly. I spared nothing. I revealed clunky plot points, egregious characterizations, poorly constructed story arcs, and, perhaps worst of all, the irritating and unrewarding ending. Not only that, I said that had I known how the book ended, I wouldn’t have started it.

This discussion was all in the name of science, of course: I read bad books so others don’t have to.

But then the story broke about the Russian scientist stationed in Antarctica. You’ve probably read this one. Sergey Savitsky stabbed coworker Oleg Beloguzov in the heart for revealing the endings of books.

Okay, then!

According to multiple news sources, Savitsky and Beloguzov had been colleagues for four years at the Bellinghausen research facility located on King George Island, part of the South Shetland island group. In their off-duty hours, employees enjoy two Russian television stations, exercising at a gym, or reading in the research library. And although the reading dispute was the final straw, evidently a generous consumption of alcohol and the close confinement in the camp played a role in the attack.

In the good news dept, Beloguzov is making a full recovery in a Chilean hospital, and Savitsky is under house arrest in St. Petersburg, no doubt reading to the end of his books in peace and quiet.

I feel for both these guys. Who wants to have your book choices repeatedly ruined? I understand why Savitsky snapped.

And I tend to think that Beloguzov must have been a jerk. Or maybe he had a personal grudge against the scientist. Still, I see his point: sometimes I like to know the ending of the book before I get there—or in the case of the subpar mystery I complained about to Jilly, I’d like to know the ending before I start. (Where’s Beloguzov when you need him?) Will the time I spend with this story have the payoff I want and deserve? If the book is difficult, will the ending give me the closure I need? If I’ve invested a few hours and I’m halfway through and finding it heavy going, should I go on? Or quit before I throw good time after bad?

I never used to check out a book’s ending before I got there the old-fashioned way—by reading my way through the rest of the book first. Now, perhaps confronted by my own mortality and knowing I’ll never be able to read all the books I want, I go to the ending as soon as I’m not sure I want to finish, just checking to make sure the journey’s one I want to take.

What about you?


8 thoughts on “Kay: Whose Side Are You On?

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your no-holds-barred review! Thank you for taking one for the team 😉

    In general, if it’s a new book by an author I already like and trust, then I’d rather find out what happens the old-fashioned way, by reading to the end. In all other cases, I’m very happy to be spoiled. I find that the spoiler-y reviews on the Zon help me to form a good idea of the author’s story choices and thus decide whether the book is for me or not.

    I don’t think I’ve ever flipped to the ending to see if it’s somewhere I want to go. I quite often skim-read the second half of a book to see if I enjoy the plot. I’ll do that if I’m bored with the book but want to know what happens, but I also do it if I’m embroiled in the plot and am finding I don’t have attention to spare for the good writing, interesting characters and clever nuances. In that case I’ll whizz through to the end, and then go back to the midpoint or whatever, read slowly and savour!

    • Well, first, let me thank you for not stabbing me in the heart after I revealed the ending of that book, metaphorically or otherwise. That’s been a big relief.

      I think my jumping to the end is my equivalent to your skimming to the end to see what happens. For every book that has a slow start and I’m wondering if I should finish—or for every literary novel full of anguished, self-immolating characters—I want to know if there’s a reason to go on. But I also do the other thing you do, about whizzing through when a book is really good, trying to get to the ending, and then rereading it to enjoy the elements that made it a good read.

      So many books, so little time!

    • I used to be less worried about the destination. But now, in the age of cliff-hangers and other Structural Mistakes, I’m more vested in how the book turns out. But I completely agree that the journey better be worth it, because otherwise, it’s DNF for me.

  2. I generally read books the old fashioned way – straight through from beginning to end. I’d never even started a book and not finished it until I encountered Madame Bovary in a literature class. We only had to read the first quarter or so and I had no desire to read any further or even skip to the end to see how it all worked out. That book went straight into the donation pile.

    I’ve only skipped to the end when reading for a couple of books and only when I was worried the story wasn’t going to turn out the way I wanted it to.

    As for your sub-par book, I thinkI would have enjoyed hearing your “review”; sounds like it was more entertaining than the actual story.

    • That book that I reviewed was unbelievable. Jillyhad told me about it, that it was indie published, the author did no marketing for it, and then it turned into a smash hit. So I thought I’d try it. It was a great example of how not every book is for every reader, as well as not every book that sells well is a good book. Great sales for a mediocre book always astonishes me, even though there are so many examples of it. Well, like I always say, if anybody knew what made a best seller, there would never be anything else.

  3. When I was a kid, I ALWAYS read the last few pages of the book first. I needed to know it was going to be a happy ending, I think. I’d put it back on the library shelf if the ending wasn’t good. Somewhere along the line, I grew out of the habit, but honestly, I’ve never understood this “no spoilers!” (exclamation point needed) culture that has grown up over the last few years. Some “spoilers” are such minor details that it seems foolish to give a spoiler warning.

    For me, the story is about the journey. As long as I trust we are going to a good place (great beginning, good reviews), I’m happy to just go along. And spoilers don’t really spoil a great story. It does give the story a “second read” kind of feel, I guess — but really! People would have to talk for six to eight hours to get anywhere close to the kind of detail that a typical book gives. (-: I don’t think I’d sit still for that!

    • When I was in school, I also knew kids who read the ending first. That must be a thing that kids do. I agree that knowing the ending or any part of the middle doesn’t ruin the book if you’re enjoying the story. If it did, nobody would ever reread an old favorite. It is about the journey. It’s just that for me, sometimes, I question the value of the journey.

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