Sep 25, 2011

The Sunday Salon - To Spoil or Not to Spoil

Sue Blackwell book sculpture
Photo Credit

Sakura at Chasing Bawa wrote a post the other day which included a discussion of spoilers– she asked her readers how they thought bloggers should handle them, and it was very interesting to read through the comments and see all the different perspectives. Kinna, with whom I almost always agree, said she wished people were as accepting of spoilers in contemporary novels as they are in classics, as the experience of reading a book amounts to more than plot. This reminded me of that spoilers study that made the rounds a few months ago - according to this study, spoilers don’t actually lessens people’s enjoyment of literature or films (for once I’ll try not to go on about how much sweeping generalisations based on a sample of thirty participants irk me.)

I actually agree that there’s far more to one’s reading experience than plot, and that in many cases knowing how a book or movie ends will not ruin it for you. This isn’t just because of all the things that go beyond plot, but also because like those thirty participants reported, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a story more when you know what’s coming – I have many friends for whom that’s usually the case. Yet as you might have noticed, I’m very cautious about spoilers in this blog. The reason is that I believe that although the word ‘spoiler’ may be a bit of a hyperbolic misnomer, wanting to know plot details in advance or not comes down to individual preference, and I want to give each reader the choice to see them or not.

One troubling thing I sometimes notice in these conversations is that individual preferences get wrapped up with assumptions about why people read. Not minding spoilers is often associated with a preference for theme, language, and characterisation; avoiding them with an investment in narrative that is perceived as a less sophisticated way of reading (and this could be the topic of a whole other post). But the association doesn’t really hold – it’s perfectly possible to have a deep love for narrative and still want to know how a story ends in advance. And it’s equally possible to avoid spoilers while being perfectly aware of all the things literature does besides tell a story.

People do read for different reasons – not only that, but the same person reads for different reasons at different times. But their attitudes towards spoilers don’t really say much about what those may be. Personally I read for many reasons, and I love many things about both literature and narrative that go beyond how events unfold. And yet I wouldn’t trade the pleasure of reading, say, Fingersmith for the first time for anything in the world. This novel has a twist that many readers more perceptive than me found very obvious, but I delighted in being completely taken by surprise. If I had seen what was coming, Fingersmith would certainly still have become one of my all-time favourite novels – I love it for the writing, the period detail, the characterisation, the way it handles themes such as gender, sexuality, social inequality, patriarchal definitions of madness, etc, and for Sarah Waters’ astonishing sensitivity, depth and insight. At the end of the day, those things matter more to me than being surprised. But the experience of being taken aback by the plot is still something I deeply treasure.

s not just story but to see a story unfold is nevertheless a wonderful pleasure to me, and I dont want to do without it if I have a choice. This is as true of a brand new novel as it is of one 150 years old, and it’s the reason why I no longer reader introductions or back cover synopses of classics before I’m done with the book.

(ETA: What Eva said.)

(ETA II: I also recommend that you read Teresa
s take on the subject at Shelf Love.)

How do you feel about spoilers? Do you associate them with different attitudes towards reading? Do you ever wish other readers would be more careful, or would get over themselves and just embrace spoilers? Do you feel differently about them if the story is a classic? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Banned Books Week! If time allows I’ll use this week as an excuse to finally read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. And if you head over to Chelsea’s blog, you’ll see a review of a different banned book every day this week.

Last but not least, I wanted to let everyone know that nominations for this year’s Independent Literary Awards are now open. I’m a judge for the speculative fiction category this year, so I would be especially grateful if you told us what your favourite speculative fiction books published in 2011 are. Any reader can use the form to nominate their favourites - you have until the end of the year to do so.

Have a great Sunday, everyone!

The Sunday


  1. I'm addicted to spoilers! If I'm enjoying a book or a series, I love to hear what other people online are saying about it.

    Lots of times I'm disappointed by spoilers - like, such and such character dies, or the romantic heroine chooses Team You Weren't Rooting For. I guess that disappointment is easier to take if I hear it on an online forum, or overhear it somewhere than if I had been reading the book and suddenly had that sprung upon me.

    On the other hand, if you find out from a spoiler that something really good happens you can then spend the rest of the book (or the show) looking forward to it.

  2. I completely agree that the disappointment is easier to take if you come across it in a spoiler. But very often when I'm invested in a story I want to go through the emotional rollercoaster of being properly horrified/heartbroken/disappointed/etc, you know? Harry Potter is an excellent example. I loved fully experiencing the emotional impact of certain deaths I hadn't seen coming at all. But again, it's all a matter of personal preference!

  3. I really hate spoilers; I prefer to experience books for the first time on my own. But I fully appreciate how much a book grows on rereading, and it's only after the suspense of finding out what happens is removed that other aspects of books can become clearer to me. I always reread my favorites (or at least try to) because I know they'll be enhanced in ways I didn't think about the first time.

    I don't think I've ever disliked a book simply because it was spoiled; it's just because, like you I think, I cherish that first read-through all on my own. I'd like to experience the book through no lens but my own.

  4. Meghan, that's an excellent point! It's very easy to miss details in the rush to read on when you're dying to know how a story ends. But all the same I still want to have that experience, and then complement it with a second, slower reading.

  5. Funny, I almost wrote about this topic for my Sunday Salon today, but I couldn't get my mind in gear yesterday (and won't have time today).

    For my own personal reading, I don't have a strong opinion about spoilers. I don't make any big effort to avoid them, but I don't usually get upset if I happen upon one. If some sort of twist or mystery is important to the book, I'd prefer not knowing how that is resolved, and I have been known to get upset about people matter-of-factly giving that kind of thing away, but it's not likely to ruin the book for me.

    The thing that I find interesting is that what constitutes a spoiler seems to vary from person to person. I've known some people who don't want to know anything about what happens, so a discussion of a plot development after the first chapter or two would seem spoilery to them. And then there are the plot points that seem obvious to a lot of readers (who's going to get together in a romance), but may not be obvious to everybody. And classics are a whole other thing, too; there are events in books that are so often talked-out that it's hard to imagine someone not knowing about them (Little Women was "spoiled" in an episode of Friends), but there are always going to be people who haven't heard. All this makes it difficult for me to figure out when I need to use spoiler tags. I tend to find them distracting when they're all over the place, so I try to use them with discretion, with the author's intention and whatnot in mind. And if I talk about a development late in the book, I'll usually say it happens late in the book or describe it in vague terms. If I want to get specific, I'll add a warning.

    Hmmm... looks like I might just have the beginnings of that post I wanted to write.

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  7. Having read Teresa's comment, I wanted to add that although I often prefer to know nothing (which means I sometimes read blog posts in a kind of patchwork way), I don't think it needs a 'spoiler' tag as long as it happens in the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the book.

  8. Huh! I've never associated them with different kinds of reading, just different kinds of stories; for instance, I'll poke at spoilers for How I Met Your Mother and not Sherlock, even though both focus on presenting familiar situations in different ways.

    But I have been really enjoying coming to films blind in my film class; it really makes all the twists and turns genuinely surprising. And I knew very little about A Fire Upon the Deep before I started reading it, and I'm just loving it to pieces.

    Once upon a time, there was a great graphic about a statute of limitations on spoilers by age of the intellectual property in question; I've never been able to find it again, but the older the classic, the more spoiled I probably am from popular culture. (This is why Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde fell flat for me; it was twist-based and I knew the twist.) But I am trying to keep myself unspoiled.

  9. In lieu of editing, have deleted my previous comment and reposted it w a change of wording! :)

    I'm firmly in the tabula rasa camp! (Which I think would be a great alt to 'spoiler': 'tabula rasa warning!' LOL) I can completely understand wanting to discuss a book in depth, which might necessitate talking about later plot developments, but I do appreciate when there's a warning first. If a blogger consistently discuss whole books in-depth w/o any kind of warning, I stop reading the blog regularly, just because I don't want to be spoilered!

    Also, I don't think wanting to watch the plot unfold organically makes me any less of a careful reader! ;)

  10. You are right, there is nothing quite like "discovering" a book all on your own. Fingersmith is a great example. Just recently, I read "The Taker" not knowing anything about it and it was a wild experience. Despite this, if someone puts a spoiler in a review, and even if they warn me, I am compelled to read it. Call it a human foible. I'd rather it not be in there in the first place.

  11. I got slated earlier in the year on Goodreads for apparently providing too many spoilers for a Persephone book. I couldn't believe it as I don't think I have ever been accused of that.
    I don't mind spoilers although there are books where you should go into them with little knowledge as I think otherwise it will spoil the experience. For instance, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Passage.

  12. The first time I read a book or watch a film I want to come to it fresh. I find that if I have read a review before hand then I'll notice what the reviewer pointed out, but why? Because that reviewer pointed it out or because I spotted it.

    Once I've read a book then I will often reread and enjoy it, sometimes even more because I know what is to come.

    But for my first read I don't want any spoilers, and if on my blog I'm going to give away details of character development, plot etc., then I'll post a warning.

  13. Teresa: Like I was telling you on Twitter, I look forward to your final post if you get around to writing it! Very good point about the definition of spoilers varying from reader to reader. I don't mind anything that happens in the first 50 pages or so. And although I prefer to err on the side of caution, I can see how too many spoilers tags would be distracting.

    Eva: I loved your tabula rasa post! I also prefer a warning if anything too in-depth is going to be discussed. Like Sandy was saying I sometimes read on anyway, but at least it's my choice in that case!

    Clare: I find the association puzzling myself, but I come across it pretty frequently! It's really hard to avoid spoilers from culturally prominent older classics, and yeah, sometimes the reading experience is just not the same.

    Sandy: Sometimes my eyes decide to read on of their own accord even if I don't want them to! But on the other hand, there are books about which you really can't say much without giving things away.

    Vivienne: I've never seen you give too many plot details away, I don't think. And you saying that about Daughter of Smoke and Bone only makes it sound more enticing.

    Fence: That's another good point. I never know how much another person's reading will affect my own.

  14. I'm firmly against spoilers -- can't stand them in books or movies. I understand if it's a work that's been around for awhile, sometimes it can't be helped, but if it's less than a year old, that really bugs me, especially in movies. I've really stopped reading a lot of current reviews for that reason. I'm even becoming cautious about reviews on Goodreads.

    That being said, lately I've noticed it's caused me to really truncate some of my online book reviews. I do feel bad about telling people that I can't say any more for fear of spoilers, because sometimes that doesn't leave me much to talk about!

    I actually saw the movie version of Fingersmith first, so I knew the plot well before I read the book. I enjoyed it nearly as much, maybe more so because I wasn't rushing through to find out what happened. However, that was MY choice, so it didn't bother me as much. And I didn't see the plot twist when I saw the DVD, so it was pretty jaw-dropping for me.

  15. Sometimes I think spoilers are all right, but a lot of times, I just like to read a book or see a movie without any idea of how the end will turn out. The first thing I think of are movies like The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense or The Others - I would hate to know the ending and then watch the film. That would destroy that "a-ha!" feeling. I prefer to not know what a book truly is about, and many times, if a book has a premise that I know I'll enjoy, I will skim over reviews because I'm afraid something might be given away. Many times, I won't even read the blurb of a book - I'll just dive right in. And I like the camaraderie of people (book bloggers or otherwise) who don't know each other at all who will make sure to not share anything about the ending of a film or book.

  16. Funny, as I've been thinking about this topic recently and was going to post on it myself. Anyway.

    I agree - spoilers don't really, or rarely ruin a story for me and knowing the story doesn't prevent me from reading it beforehand.

    In fact if you think of films - sometimes it is better to enjoy the film first, and the book second because the other way around doesn't always work. It's difficult to watch a film with pre-expectations from the book. Although if the film is really bad I guess it wouldn't inspire me to read the book which might have been a lot better.

    As a kid, I grew up watching all the BBC drama adaptations of classics so unfortunately, a lot of classics that I do read, I am already familiar with the story. And the BBC has this annoying habit of coming out with an adaptation just as I start thinking about the book! I really want to read some classic books without knowing the story first, and seeing if I enjoy it more or understand it differently.

    However, I do avoid spoilers because I love - well I don't love the feeling - but I love it when a book surprises me or rips my guts out when a favourite character dies or is in pain. If I know a character is going to die, I find myself starting to un-invest as a sort of self-preservation technique, or I just end up dreading the moment entirely. But if I know something is going to happen I look forward to it with pleasure. Yet, I do enjoy that nervous anxious feeling of worry you get from not knowing followed by the relief.

    Such feelings in "real life" are not welcome but in the safe confines of a book there's something releasing about those feelings.

    Some books of course live on the suspense of the plot, such as crimes. Although saying that I prefer howdunnits and whydunnits to whodunnits. However, suspense is not a bad thing...

    The one thing that troubles me with spoilers is reviews - it is hard to say what you want to say about a book, or what you think without ruining the whole story. I guess there is the difference between wanting to review a book, and wanting to discuss a book.

  17. Karen: I feel bad about that too - I hate being full of thoughts about a book that can only be shared if you give away the ending or some other major plot point. I guess that in those cases we can always try to find a blogging friend who has read it and e-mail them.

    Natalie: Yeah, with movies like that a spoiler can literally spoil them, because so much of what they do depends on the surprise factor. And to me that's as valid an experience as any!

    Fiona: I hope you still do, as I'd love to hear your take! You make a very good point about book to film adaptations. It's much easier for me to enjoy a book if I've watched the adaptation first than the reverse. Also, I know exactly what you mean about not allowing yourself to become too attached to a character if you know that something bad is going to happen to them.

  18. Yes it's a really difficult topic isn't it? I find it hard to avoid spoilers in writing posts, but at the same time like to know next to nothing going in. I feel like that way the book holds so much more surprise and excitement. Of course, I still re-read books often, but that isn't the point. Something about that first read is just so exciting! BUT I still think they have a place in reviews - if I plan to read the book soon I simply avoid reading the review closely!

  19. Well, as you know, I love spoilers, LOVE THEM. They are beautiful and make reading awesome, and they also make watching TV shows awesome. The best spoilers are the ones where the author has done an amazing job of constructing the book, and knowing spoilers allows you to see the elegant way the author built the book up layer by layer. Plus, as soon as I start worrying about something (like, oh no! Will Eleanor survive?), I can FIND OUT THE INFORMATION. It's so great.

    However, I try very hard not to spoil things for others. It's hard for me because I have no idea what ruins a book for people. Almost nothing ruins a book for me, so my calibrator is all off and weird. But I do try! In my reviews, I try super hard.

    I do not understand whatsoever how anyone in the world can go into a book with no expectations at all. I would hate that. In fact I do hate that. I find that unfathomable.

  20. I much prefer to know almost nothing prior to reading a book. Not only do I want to be surprised by plot, but I also want to be surprised by theme, point of view, setting, tone, style, characters, all of the elements of literature in other words.

    I don't mind when bloggers include spoilers, especially if I've read the book, as long as they forewarn the reader right before inserting the information. Then I can read the majority of the post and skip the spoilery section.

    I do re-read books, so that may seem contradictory, but I think it's perfectly normal. The first time through I get the enjoyment of a new experience; the second time through I get the deepness of a prior relationship.

    On a side note, I don't like classics to be spoiled for me either. I've never understood that whole distinction.

  21. I'm one of those people who will cover her ears or shield her eyes from spoilers. I hate to know when things are going to happen before I know it. I hate it when a book gives too much away. I often like to go into a book blind, though not always. I'll usually read the first ten pages of a book and if it grabs me right away, I'll go in without knowing anything about the plot. If it's not really grabbing me, I'll read about the plot to make sure it's something that will probably interest me. It's not that I don't agree with you about knowing the plot to the book can enhance enjoyment... that's why I reread. That's why books that are as rich as A Wrinkle in Time or Harry Potter thrive on rereads. But at the same time, I wanted to be the one who discovered those books for the first time, not someone else who spoiled it for me. So maybe, really, all this aversion to spoilers is me being very selfish. Like Eva said, anything in a review that happens in the first 1/3 of the book or anything that's given away on the book jacket is fair game, unless I think it totally alters your perception of the book.

    I also hate that classics are okay to spoil. Even though a lot of people have that knowledge, a lot of times I don't. I have weird gaps in my knowledge. I've stopped reading the introductions to classic novels on the whole.

  22. I haven't read through the comments, but i'm absolutely anti-spoiler. Somehow, I managed to get through life knowing nothing about books like Jane Eyre and Phantom of the Opera and Harry Potter, and I much appreciated getting to experience them the first time without prior knowledge. Of course, I loved reading them the second time knowing what would happen in advance as well, but that's a reread. For me, rereads are the time to read with spoilers. I don't want to have a reread experience my first time around.

  23. I heard about that study on Books on the Nightstand. They had an interesting discussion on their own preferences. Everyone is different when it comes to spoilers. Sometimes I have to know if the characters will be happy or if they all die halfway through. I get stressed out.

    It really depends on the book. I'm not totally anti-spoiler but I don't like having the 'surprise' ruined either.

    As for reviews, sometimes I want to discuss the details of a book with other readers so I will say, there be spoilers here.

  24. I have to join the crowd that tries to avoid spoilers. I also don't read the intro's to classic novels, having had a book's killer revealed in one. LAME! I avoid them for movie and TV as well, so it isn't just books. I do think "spoiler" is a bad name though, there needs to be a more fault neutral term.

  25. I've been hardcore anti-spoiler for most of my life. My stance is similar to Trisha's: I want the characters and themes to surprise me every bit as much as the plot does.

    I also treasure the opportunity to speculate as I read. I love guessing how a character will change as the story unfolds; which tiny detail from earlier in the text will prove important; whether or not that odd little aside will grow into a full-fledged idea that motivates the love interest's actions. All that jazz.

    Basically, I like to guess along and try to figure out where everything is headed. I love being right, but I also love it when an author tricks me. It doesn't happen often (she said, with as much modesty as she could muster), so it means all the more to me when I completely failed to guess what was going to happen.

    Spoilers steal that from me. They make it possible for me to see the author's path in retrospect (which is my favourite thing about rereading), but they make it impossible for me to truly guess along. I sometimes circumvent this by praying what I've heard was a false spoiler, thus allowing me to invent a wild alternate ending, but I have to be pretty invested in a book or TV show before I can pull that off.

    That said, I recently began trying my damnedest not to care about spoilers. They're just too hard to avoid. Twitter is full of them, at least where TV shows are concerned. I think most folks assume that everyone who's reading their stream is watching the shows at the exact same time as them, so they don't shy away from spoilerific reactions. I've had major plot points from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DOCTOR WHO and GAME OF THRONES spoiled for me on there. It makes me awfully sad. I've managed to forget some of the GoT spoilers, but the BSG and DW ones have coloured the way I've watched the shows.

    So I'm trying not to care. As a test run, I've actively sought out a few TRUE BLOOD spoilers from people who've read the books. That's worked out okay. But then, I'm not so much emotionally invested in TRUE BLOOD. It's a fun show, not something over which I'd cry my trademark TEARS OF BLOOD (which usually happen whenever my favourite couples break up).

  26. The whole topic of spoilers is very interesting to me. I ride both sides of the fence. There are some books that are very plot driven, and for those I think the experience can be ruined by spoilers. That being said, there are times when spoilers don't bother me at all, and actually give me something to look forward to. This is usually the case with classics.

  27. You are so right about it being a personal preference. I am avidly against spoilers. I love to see or read the plot unfold before my eyes and get quite upset if is spoilt for me, while a close friend of mine is completely the opposite and will go and look up the spoilers of any book I recommend for her before she's even bought it!

    It is very different when a book or film has been out for a long time. Its then really hard to avoid spoilers, especially when they are referenced in pop culture (the sixth sense seems to be the worst, ruined for more than one friend of mine by shows like friends!), so we really need to accept that if you are going to wait that long to see a film or read a book, it may well be spoiled in the meantime. Having said that, I'd like to think that I haven't spoilt many, if any, endings for people and I apologise profusely if I have!

  28. I don't really like to be spoiled, but I am also really impatient and can't help myself sometimes from spoiling myself. And I've often regretted it because I feel like in those cases I'm not experiencing the story the way it is meant to be experienced if that makes sense. Also with so many books to read, I prefer to not know.

    But also, one of the things about really detailed reviews is that I often prefer them after I've read a book, otherwise I go into it with too many voices already...the author, my own, and the reviews that I've read. I sometimes think this influences how I perceive the text, so I prefer to consume first and then discuss, etc. later. Just me tho!

  29. It's a difficult one. Sometimes I like them (if I'm unsure whether or not to read a book) and other times it does spoil things. And similarly, you can try not to spoil in your reviews but sometimes things just can't be explained without it. I agree with you on the classics, the blurbs on the books telling you everything is annoying.

  30. It is a personal preference when all is said and done. I like to know a little something about a book I am considering reading, but I prefer not to have the major plot points spoiled. At least not on first reading. Movies and TV are a completely other matter--I like spoilers in those cases--or rather, I don't mind them.

    I can't say I ever gave much thought as to what kind of reader that might make me. I am not sure it means anything at all.

  31. I have a weird relationship with spoilers. If someone shares a spoiler from a book that I am reading or am going to read, I lose something in the story because I become hyper aware of said spoiler and how it will be dealt with. This also happens when someone mentions a huge twist in a story. I spend so much time looking for the twist that I seem to enjoy the book a little less because I am so focused on it. I try to avoid spoilers, and tend tow write my reviews without them, just because of how I feel about them personally. I usually like to go into a book totally blind and ferret out all the good stuff for myself. This was a very interesting question, and I had fun reading everyone's perspectives!

  32. Great post! I usually want to know something about the book I'm going to read, but I definitely don't want to know how the book ends! With classics it's a bit different, I actually might mind less knowing the ending. All in all I don't have a strong opinion on spoilers, they are ok. :)

  33. I love knowing how a book will end. I read the last few pages either before I start or a few pages in. It doesn't ruin the book for me. I enjoy seeing how the author unfolds the story and trying to figure out how the author will get to the end I know makes me keep reading.

    When I write my reviews, I try to stay away from spoilers - not everyone has my appreciation for them. :-) If I'm reviewing a series, I try to warn readers ahead of time.

  34. I find it often very difficult to write about books where at least to me not knowing was a huge part of the fun. I know I would've been hated knowing the twist to Fingersmith! I really hope I haven't spoled anyone so far!

    Otherwise I often don't mind or enjoy knowing about the plot or that there's an open ending, then I take more time to savor a book.

    Oh well everyone has some assumptions, I know many people find it weird that I love rereading mysteries, not even for the second time, but a third or fourth when it's not even about realizing how the writer put clues in, anymore.

  35. I think we've discussed this before, and I've told you that I don't mind spoilers at all. This summer in New York, it was so glorious to be with Jenny and spend time, the both of us, spoiling books for each other without REALLY spoiling them :-)

    I don't know that I completely agree with your assessment of "People who don't like spoilers are assumed to read for different reasons than people who do like spoilers." I can see where you draw that conclusion, but I respectfully disagree. I like spoilers because I have zero patience, and just really DO like to know what is coming next so that I can appreciate the plot devices that authors might use. I think other people are the opposite, and prefer the view in hindsight.

    I think for me, the difficulty with spoilers is WHEN DO THEY START BECOMING SPOILERS? On page 3? Chapter 5? Last page of the book? When does a plot summary become spoiler-esque? I really struggle with that and knowing how much to share.

  36. Honestly, it depends on the book. For some stories there's a lot of narrative tension that comes from not not knowing X until the author wants you to. If someone tripped that wire for me, I'd be pretty pissed off.

    That being said, I tend to have mind-bleach when it comes to spoilers. I always forget Rochester's wife is in the attic when I'm in the middle of reading Jane Eyre, for example. Plus, what's a spoiler? Once I chastised (gently, of course ;) a blogger for revealing spoilers of a book in a series, but because she'd read the books out of order, she didn't think of them as spoilers.

    I think if you're going to be hard-core anti-spoilerage, you have to read books that no one else you know has read.

  37. I am one of those people who cringes to realize she's read or heard a spoiler. I've even avoided book jackets if, upon beginning to read them, I feel they're moving too near to spoiler territory. I know there are plenty of other elements to books, but I love the feeling of exploring totally unknown waters, to starting a book with as few expectations and anticipations as possible. I find that, if I've heard spoilers about a book, I spend the whole book trying to figure out how the story will get to where I know it's going. As for modern novels vs. classics, I feel the same way about both. I don't want to know what happens or anything that hints at it! I read Jane Eyre, for instance, knowing only the bare minimum of the premise and that there was a twist (not what it was). I don't know how I managed to avoid all the spoilers out there, but I was so glad I did.

    I do think it's hard to know what each person will call a spoiler. For that reason, when I encounter a new blog, I'll often skim a review of a book I'm not interested in reading before I read one for a book on my TBR. I can usually get an idea of how they treat spoilers and will read their future posts accordingly.

    Yeah, I know I'm super fussy, but I really do feel spoilers affect my enjoyment of a book. I'll still read a book if I know what's coming, but I'd much prefer to go in with a mostly blank slate.

    Great post!

  38. I think it depends on the book. Some books are all about the plot and when they are a spoiler can totally ruin things.

  39. I rarely post spoilers on my blog but if i do, I post a warning. Sometimes I don't mind reading spoilers as long as I have the choice.

  40. Jenny: Don't worry, I have never ever seen you be inconsiderate of other readers! Even though I prefer to avoid spoilers myself, I know what you mean about it being hard to tell what IS one, since it varies so much from person to person. But when I'm reading a post it's easy to tell if the person is about to go into something that I'd consider spoilerific, and if that happens I just stop reading.

    Trisha: I don't mind knowing about themes in advance, though sometimes that *can* be a spoiler - some books are slow to reveal what they're about, or they seem to be about something and then become about something else.

    Lu: I do that too! I use plot synopses to try to find out if it's going to get good and if carrying on is worth it. But yes, having that first time experience is something I really don't want to give up, and that goes as much for classics as it does for newer books.

    Amanda: I love it when I manage not to be exposed to something that is almost always spoiled for people because of pop culture. Mathie hasn't read Harry Potter yet, and shielding him from spoilers is becoming harder and harder as you can imagine :\

    Chris: Yes, putting up a warning like that couldn't be easier and it can save people a lot of frustration!

    Melanie: I wish there was a more neutral term too!

    Memory: That is terrible about Twitter :( I've taken to avoiding it on Sunday nights because I can only watch Downton Abbey once it's up on the ITV player and people DO post spoilerific reactions all the time. But yeah, like you I really want to have the opportunity to both guess along and then one day appreciate just how the author took the story where they wanted to take it.

    reviewsbylola: Although I think I'd be especially upset to have something like a mystery spoiled, I don't think I make much of a distinction between plot-driven and other books. Whatever they fall under, I'd rather not know.

    Mariel: I have friends who do that as well. To each their own :P But yes, the more time goes by the more difficult it becomes to avoid spoilers, especially for things that are culturally resonant.

    Amy: I've been known to spoil myself in the past, but then I also regret it. And I'm with you about preferring to read reviews after I've read the book/seen the series/whatever.

    Charlie: It is, isn't it? I used to assume that whatever's in a blurb would happen in the first 50 pages or so, but sometimes the synopsis includes almost the whole book!

  41. I personally prefer not to read spoilers. I like to find out what will happen for myself and particularly enjoy books with surprises and plot twists. Having said that, I'm quite happy to read books again (ie when I already know the plot), as long as there is some depth in them still to explore.

    Because of my spoiler preference I write short reviews that don't reveal much at all about the plot of the book- leaving the reader to find out what they want for themselves.

  42. My reaction is fairly simple. I don't like to be spoiled when the book is a really plot based one, so I avoid spoilers for action adventure books like The Hunger Games and I'm not super keen on spoilers for love triangles (see again Hunger Games) unless they're the really obvious kind. And I would be hugely disappointed to read a book that hinged on revealing secrets slowly, with foreknowledge (Liar for example relies partly on the reader having no idea what's going on). It's not the end of the world but I'll preserve my spoiler free state as much as I can by doing what Eva does and skimming plot revelations.

    Otherwise I'm mostly open to reading spoilers from others, if they can add some depth to the reviewers analysis that would ahve been missing otherwise. I'd hate to miss out on a smart interpretation because I was avoiding the spoilers.

  43. I'm another person who prefers to know as little as possible about the book before reading it - and then I'll read reviews after I've finished. I do think it's nice sometimes to write and read about the book a little more in depth, which might mean giving away the plot or themes, so I think I enjoy reviews and blogs the most as a way of discussing and thinking about books *after* reading them (although I have heard about some wonderful new books through reading blogs too!). In my blog I give a warning if I'm going to write about a major plot development, and also try to be vague about what it actually is (although that's difficult sometimes...).

  44. Oh dear! I doubt I have anything else to say at this point, so instead of trying to be insightful, I'll just discuss my own behavior instead! ;)

    I agree that knowing the plot of a novel doesn't necessarily mean that the pleasure of reading it will be lost, BUT I love the act of discovery that takes place while reading, and I actually find plot summaries of books the least interesting part of the book blogging world. Like Eva, if a book's general premise sounds intriguing to me, then I tend to skip over the parts of reviews that discuss the plot in anything more than 2 - 3 sentences. I think it is generally possible to write about books without revealing all of their secrets to naive readers, though sometimes I do think that deeper discussion may hinge upon revealing things that occur later in an novel.

    Whether you like or don't like "spoilers" I do think it's easy enough to warn people when you're going to discuss plot points in particular detail (sort of like warning people if something contains nuts or gluten! ;) ), so whenever I am talking about say, the way a book ended, or something similar without being vague (e.g., "I can't believe the author killed off XX at the end" vs. "I was very surprised, and perhaps disappointed, by the direction the ending took.") then I let people know in advance that I'm going to do that. I find it more fun going into books without knowing tons, so I respect others may feel the same... and if not, they can ignore my warnings!

  45. I've never really thought so much about this, the only thing I am concerned with is that I don't like spoilers at all. I never associated that with reading attitudes.
    I do agree with everything you've said. Just because someone doesn't mind spoilers doesn't mean that he/ she is not interested in the story aspect of a book.

  46. What a thought-provoking post. I agree with your comments in paragraphs 3 and 4. I tend to be on the fence about spoilers, although I more often than not lean toward the "no spoilers" side. And yet I wouldn't consider myself as someone who is solely interested in plot. I think my aversion to spoilers has more to do with my delight in discovery than anything else. Knowing what will happen doesn't keep me from reading a book, either. (If it did I would never reread anything!) It offers a completely different reading experience, sure, but is just as fantastic.

    What I think is interesting about the whole "spoiler" issue is that people usually use the term when revealing plot elements. But isn't discussing a book's tone, theme, characteristics, narrative style, etc. "spoiling" it as well?

    Great post, Ana. Ahh, it is so good to have you back! :)

  47. I dislike reading spoilers, whether it's a classic or not, until I've read the book myself. However, I love reading spoilers in a book discussion, when I've already read the book. The discussion is always richer.

    I actually used to LOVE reading spoilers, for all the reasons outlined: an ability to focus on writing technique, theme, etc. But I've realized the suprise of watching a story unfold is important, in a book. That's the magic of it! To read more deeply and take in theme, etc, I've started re-reading. Then I get the unfolding story the first time, and the enriching study, on follow-up passes. :-)

  48. I'm not a fan of spoliers, but I don't mind them if they are noted in the review with a spoiler alert or if they don't ruin the books. I agree that a book like Fingersmith just wouldn't have the same ending if you knew the twists and turns before hand.

  49. You make many wonderful points Ana but it's the bottom line that I agree with the most. For me it's the experience and there are several books that I would LOVE to experience again for the first time. And if I were to read them again, I would still love the book for what it is, but that first can never recreate that.

    I prefer to know very very little about a book before I read it. This sometimes backfires because I'll get into it and realize that it is not what I expected at all and isn't something that I am enjoying (unfortunately Knife of Never Letting Go is an example of this). So, do I read book reviews? Yes. It's amazing how much about a book can be gleaned from someone's reaction to the book. But I don't want to know what happens...

  50. Beautiful post, Ana! I normally don't read introductions to books and don't read reviews or spoilers of books that I am planning to read. I read the description of a book on its back cover though - it is one of the things I use to decide whether to read a book or not. I like surprises in a book being revealed when I read the book. And so I can say that I am not a big fan of spoilers. I keep thinking what would have happened if I knew in advance what was the ending of Agatha Christie's 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' :) However I also appreciate why some readers would like to get the plot out of the way and enjoy other aspects of the book like characterization and description of a historical period. But that is not me. If a book has a plot with surprises, then I prefer to discover them myself.

  51. I love spoilers. I don't think it necessarily has to do so much with what type of reader I am or what I find important in books though. I just like to know what's going to happen. It lets me relax and enjoy the story, if that makes sense.

  52. Wendy: I actually feel more or less the same way about movies and TV. But yes, I agree with you - it doesn't say much beyond what our preferences are!

    Zibilee: That has happened to me before - if I know something is going to happen, I keep trying to figure out when!

    Tiina: I dislike it just as much when the book is a classic, but sometimes it's really unavoidable.

    Amy: You're just like Jenny, then! I could never do that myself, but I think it's awesome that some readers do. Such a different approach to my own.

    Bina: I can't remember you ever doing so! Also, personally I can see how mysteries would be a lot of fun to re-read - the second time around you can pay better attention to all the clues, red herrings, etc!

    Aarti: What I meant to say is that I *disagree* that liking spoilers or not says something about what kind of reader you are, but it worries me that people often assume it does. Also, I can imagine how much fun you and Jenny had! I wish I could have joined you, even if I had to cover my ears at all the spoilers :P And yes, it can be very difficult to draw the line, especially as people's definitions of a spoiler vary so much.

    Heidenkind: That's true - if you're going to be part of bookish conversations at all, a hardcore approach will be difficult to maintain.

    Erin: I've been avoiding book jackets lately too, as lately one or two said far more than I was comfortable with! And to me that's also as true of classics as it is of any other books.

    Kathy: I tend to feel that way even about the ones that aren't quite as plot-oriented, but it's of course up to the individual reader.

    Bookmagic: Yes, it's all about being given the choice.


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