Why I Read the End First (Finally! Part 2)

Note: I originally intended to publish Part 2 in March 2018, but unexpected illness prevented me from doing so and unfortunately has kept me offline for most of the year. I’m doing a bit better now, so – finally, Part 2!

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In the first part of this two-part post, I confessed to reading the end of most novels immediately after reading Chapter One, and explained the first reason why. In this post I’ll explain Reasons 2 and 3, but before I do, I want to answer a related question: “Do you mean to tell me you read the end of everything first?”

The short answer is: no. The shorter the story, the more likely I am not to read the end, unless I have reason to believe the author is steering into dark and murky waters where I might not want to follow (more about this under Reason 3, below).

For example, I recently discovered DJ Edwardson, a fellow indie speculative fiction writer who, like me, writes from a Christian perspective. At the time of this post, he’s offering two free short stories. Because they’re short I was able to read each in one sitting (although not the same sitting), and so I read both from beginning to end (like a “normal” person!). In the case of one story, in particular, I was very glad I didn’t read the end. (If you’re interested, here are links to my review of “The Spirit of Caledonia,” and also to “The Artificer’s Apprentice.”)

That said, let’s wrap up Reasons 2 and 3:

The Second Reason I Read the End: If I begin reading a novel and find myself enjoying it, I’m sad to say I have very little self-discipline about putting it down and walking away to take care of other things in life. And unfortunately, I’m no longer able to read all night and leap out of bed in the morning to continue on my merry way, clothed and in my right mind. (I suppose I could try to get up in the morning, but the result would be more pitiful than merry!)

Finding myself in the middle of an unresolved plot with no power to reach the resolution as quickly as possible not only feels painful, but interferes with my ability to concentrate on what I should be doing: paying bills, performing life-sustaining chores, listening to my husband…. The best treatment for this condition is to read the end, for it diminishes the pain of having to put aside a book that I don’t have time to immediately finish.  Once I know where the journey is going, I find I’m able to bear the anguish of separation and mentally put the story on hold until I can pick it up again. (I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lived during the Victorian period and had to read Dickens in serial form. I don’t think I would have survived Great Expectations!)

The Third Reason I Read the End: Life is short, and I’m getting older (I won’t say “old,” because I don’t think my folks are amenable to the idea that any child of theirs could be “old”!). So if there’s a way to quickly determine that I’m going to dislike or feel apathetic about where a book is taking me, I’m not going to spend those precious hours making the entire journey to confirm my suspicions. I simply do not have the time.

The wisdom of taking this approach came home to me recently when I read the end of a very popular psychological thriller. Chapter One was interesting, but I wondered where the author was going with the story. So I read the end next, and boy, was I glad I did! The end was not only dark; it was inky black-utterly nightmarish. UGH.

“Inky Black Nightmare” is not a vision I’m interested in pursuing in fiction (either in reading or in writing). There is plenty of real-world “IBN” featured in headlines about endless wars and rumors of wars (between individuals and nations) every day. No need to invent more!

What I’m looking for in fiction is the gleam of light in the midst of darkness. The hint that all is not lost, we can wake up from the nightmare, and when we do, we’ll see that help is on the way. That’s the story I believe, and those are the stories I most want to read.

So there you have the reasons I re-read: it’s a compliment to a story (and its author) if it can survive the dreaded “End-Reading Test” and prove itself re-readable; I read the end for the sake of humanity (mine); and I read the end for the sake of sanity (again, mine).

And now it’s time to log off so I can (you guessed it!) read the end of the last story I downloaded….