I regularly indulge in a dreadful habit.
Actually, I am a teeming mass of bad habits, but it’s best to address just one at a time so that you won’t be overwhelmed and give up on me.
This one involves picking up a book, reading through the first several chapters, and then flipping to the back to see how things turn out.
Now to my mind, this is no worse than my bookkeeping technique of estimating how much I’ve spent this month, subtracting that from what I’ve started with, and calling it good if the bank says I’ve got more money than the number I approximate.
I mentioned this to an accountant friend of mine and she gaped in horror.
Granted, I expect higher standards from an accountant (she probably uses a calculator), but it’s not as if I let the dog lick the baby’s ice cream cone or anything.
Similarly, checking out a book’s ending isn’t cheating so much as it is protecting myself from undue emotional harassment – looking ahead, planning for the future, all that positive seminar type stuff. It’s certainly not a crime that warrants a visit on the porch by a couple of deputy sheriffs and a piece of official paper.
And yet, by many people’s reaction, it’s as if I admitted to letting that baby back there eat flies out of the dog dish – while the dog snuggles in the blankie.
Look at it from my perspective: we’re talking about a 500-page book involving Roberto and Gwendolyn, and the three of us are going to be spending a lot of time together, as night after night on the sofa I allow their miserably chaotic and unrealistically audacious lives intertwine with mine.
I know that — in the process of averting nuclear meltdown in a remote South Sea Island that has been secretly taken over by vampire zombie aliens — Roberto and Gwendolyn are going to deal with some major issues, especially when Norman enters the picture (chapter 6), Gwendolyn’s dog dies (chapter 8), and somehow Roberto gets convinced that Gwendolyn and Norm were working together to bump him off when they accidentally shot the dog.
This is all fine, actually, and no less than what I expect.
I also, however, expect for everything to tie up neatly at the end and for everyone who is supposed to be happy – namely Roberto and Gwendolyn – to truly end up blissful, together, with a new dog. I don’t care what happens to Norman.
An increasing number of writers, however, delight in stringing along the reader for 498 pages with murky promises of eventual closure, only to spend the last two pages ravaging the lives of their characters beyond repair or care, all in the name of authenticity and truth.
(I’m not sure if they’ve noticed, but vampire zombie aliens aren’t real.)
For some reason, many self-professed deep thinking intellectuals define reality as unmitigated desolation, despondency, and despair, broken up here and there by the occasional smile, sunny day, or successful birthday party.
As an English major in college, I had the unfortunate experience of having to read novels by these people. I almost switched to physics.
Now I am not naive enough to think that bad things don’t happen. Bad things happen to all of us, every single day, and for that reason I look for the total opposite in my reading pleasure.
That’s why it’s called reading “pleasure.”
And if you’ve never done it, it’s more challenging than you think to check out the last page of a novel without learning too much, especially in a mystery story.
“I can’t believe Roberto did it.”
Poor me as well. How am I going to finish this book?
“I love you, Gwendolyn.”
“I love you too, Roberto.”
Sigh. That’s all I wanted to know. God is in His heaven, and all’s right in my little world. I can go back to chapter 3 now.