To read the end of a book… or not?
By Lauren on April 12th, 2012
“Begin at the beginning and go on ‘till you get to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll provides readers with some pretty obvious and straightforward storytelling and reading advice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And while reading from beginning to end may seem like a foregone conclusion, I think I’m inclined to disagree with the King of Hearts.
Blog confession: I’ve read The Notebook, by Nicholas Sparks. More than once. The first time I followed the good King’s wisdom: I began at the beginning and went on until I came to the end…and wished I hadn’t. Not because Nicholas Spark’s book isn’t great (this blogger personally thinks it is), or even that I was dissatisfied with the how the book concluded. It’s simply that, to me, Noah and Ali’s story ends at a very specific point (I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t checked it out) and I just never felt like I needed to go any further on their journey. Whenever I re-read the book or watch the movie, I check-in until I’m satisfied with the story, then I move on.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who sometimes chooses to read this way. Tim Parks recently wrote a great piece on The New York Review of Books¸ asking readers ‘Why Finish the Book?’ And he’s not referring to the novels we toss aside because we’re not enjoying them, he’s posing a question I find far more interesting. What about the good books? The ones we thoroughly enjoy? Do we have to finish a book in order to consider it good? If we haven’t begun at the beginning and gone on until we’ve gotten to the end, can we still say we’ve liked a book? Can we still call it good? Parks thinks we can. Even though as a reader, you may not resolve the plot, there is still merit in the other aspects of the book and as long as you’ve enjoyed those, you’re still taking a satisfying journey.
His question got me thinking about the other books I’ve read and how much the endings matter. How would you feel about the Harry Potter series if you didn’t find out what happened to Ron, Hermione, and Harry? According to Kristen, Book 7 (and the series as a whole) would be just fine. “I didn’t really feel like the epilogue added anything to the story. I’d rather imagine what the characters are up to now and let the adventure continue then to have a definitive answer.”
Another of my favorite books is Great Expectations (which got honorable mention as #6 on my bookprint over at YouAreWhatYouRead.com). To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read the final chapter of the book (apologies to my Victorian Literature professor in college), despite loving it so much. Dickens might not have had too much of an issue with this. Following the publication of the book, he decided the ending was too sad and changed it. Knowing the author actually changed the fates of the two protagonists makes me wonder if I have the right to do the same thing.
What do you think? Do you need to finish a book in order to enjoy it? Are their any books you haven’t finished that you still love?
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