Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do You Read Books in Reverse?

I belong to my neighborhood book club. Every six weeks or so, eleven of us get together at one of our homes and discuss the book that the meeting hostess selected. Yummy snacks and adult beverages are always available. Opinions fly freely.

A book club is a great place to find out what attracts some readers to a book and repels others just as fast. It’s rare for the entire group to agree on every aspect of a book. The first hint of trouble is usually that one of us didn’t buy into or like the premise of the story. Or worse, didn’t take to the main character.

In the course of these discussions, I learned some of the club members read the book’s pages out of order, most often when they can’t get into the story or find it confusing and want to know where the story is going. A few even admit to more than once reading an entire book in reverse page order—and enjoying it more that way!

This revelation was a shocker. I’ve only recently matured to the point in life where I am willing to put down a book I’m not enjoying. In many, many years past, I would read it to the end no matter what, maybe skimming along as much as possible.

But I always, always read the book’s pages in order. For me, it’s cheating to read the end first. If I read the last page first, what do I have to look forward to? I like a story where I wonder how it’s all going to turn out, where I’m reading to learn where it’s all going. I prefer the journey and a destination or two, preferably a surprise destination. So much the better if a little unexpected twist occurs at the end, where reading the pages out of order would ruin the whole effect.

Now let me give you a big hint: I try to write the kind of books I enjoy reading. To receive maximum value, For Better, For Murder should be read in the order the pages are numbered. If you pick up the book in the library or bookstore, read the back cover. Read the first few pages. Please don’t read the last page. If the storyline intrigues you after reading the back cover and the first few pages, take the book home and read the story from start to finish.

But if you read the last page first or my whole book in reverse, please keep it to yourself. This time I really don’t want to know.


G.M. Malliet said...

Fascinated by your comment about reaching the stage in life where you can abandon a book you aren't enjoying. It also took me years to get to that stage, realizing I just didn't have any more time to waste.

p.s. Eleven people is a big number for a book club, isn't it?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sometimes I'm a cheater. I admit it! It happens with the suspense is just too great--I'll flip ahead to make sure it all comes out well in the end. Which is bizarre! I know very well that most books these days have happy endings.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Julia Buckley said...

When the last Harry Potter, one of my good friends (who has a PhD) stood in line at midnight to get it; her plan was to take a taxi home so she could read it right away--and she planned to read the ending first.

I was so upset I almost challenged her to a duel. :) I couldn't stand the thought of her not reading it in the order Rowling wanted.

But that's just me being a control freak, I guess.

Julia Buckley said...

That should say "When the last Harry Potter came OUT." I guess it's too early in the morning.

Lisa Bork said...

Actually eleven seems to be the perfect number for our club. We never have to cancel a meeting due to low attendance.

Alan Orloff said...

Put me in the camp of reading the pages in order and NEVER reading ahead (call me crazy, but I like to read all the words in order, too).

It seems like reading the ending first would spoil all the fun!

It also took me a while to be able to put down a book I've started. Unfortunately, since I've been writing myself, that happens with increasing frequency.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm a purist - I always read a book in order and never peek at the ending. And I have no problem putting down a book I can't get into. Time is just too short. However, there have been books I've picked up again later and enjoyed greatly on the 2nd try. Sometimes the timing is just off for a book and my mind to merge.

Trina said...

I'm with you, Lisa. Though I have been known to read the last few pages of a book I don't have the interest in finishing. Just to get some closure--most of the times I'm not surprised by the ending, but there's been a few times I've kicked myself for not sticking with it.

Paul Lamb said...

I read from start to finish. I figure a writer crafts the story that way with a purpose. I know there are some novels deliberately left unbound. You take the pages from a box, throw them in the air, then read the novel in the random order you pick up the pages from the floor. Julio Cortazar's novel Hopscotch has instructions at the end of each chapter telling you which chapter you should read next. You literally hopscotch through the novel.

I've been in many book discussion groups, and I think they are beneficial for fiction writers. It's important to learn how readers "understand" novels. I've been to discussions with only three members and some with close to twenty. One group I was in took two years of monthly meetings to cover Moby Dick!