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Year End Review: Don’t Tell Me

Dial M

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Will the hero still have a pulse at the story’s end? Will the young woman have the wit to pick the man who really cares for her? Will the professor get tenure?

These are urgent questions and as a reader I’ve never wanted to know the answers before the author was ready to tell me. As a writer, I’ve assumed other readers were similarly inclined.

But maybe not.

For example:

(1) A woman I know reads widely and ardently, but will never begin a book until she’s read its last several pages. Something compels her to read the ending first. Doesn’t this spoil it for her? Evidently not. It’s spoiled for her if she doesn’t approach it in this fashion. (This only applies, I should add, to fiction. When she sits down with a book about the War of 1812, she doesn’t have to begin by reading about the Battle of New Orleans. Unless it’s a novel about the War of 1812, in which case she does.) Continue reading “Year End Review: Don’t Tell Me”

What Happens Next?

Noir sp

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

It’s like the lit crit version of “If you, foolish child, still believed in Santa Claus, it’s not my fault I ruined it for you.” It seems instructive in terms of that perpetual false paradigm of “literary fiction vs. genre fiction.” There seems a real desire to diminish or dismiss “suspense” as being a shallow  or “dirty” thing. The subtext is: If we are feeling the thrill of “what next? what next?” it can’t be good literature. While Fish clearly sees immense value in Hunger Games (and his piece on it isn’t a review, after all, so I can see why he was surprised that readers considered him a spoiler), he still seems resistant to admit that suspense–sensation–is a worthy thing. He seems to view it instead as the shallow aspect we must dismiss to mine the story for more “significant” aspects. But what could be more significant about the reading experience, about stories themselves, than that sensation of: “What happens next? How will it end?”

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film studies at New York University, the New School, and the State University of New York at Oswego. She lives in New York City.

Dare Me, which Rosamund Lipton calls “arresting, original and unputdownable,” is coming from Reagan Arthur Books in July 2012.

Spoiler Alert

Snakes in my eye

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Mr. Fish doesn’t think he owes us any warning when his reviews include spoilers. I think we all deserve a warning about Mr. Fish’s reviews, not to mention his misguided opinion – and definition – of spoilers.

He starts by stating that spoilers don’t really spoil anything. But the example he gives to support that notion – that the pleasures of a first read are only different, but no better than the enjoyment one gets from a second read – has nothing at all to do with spoilers. He states: “First-time readers or viewers, because they don’t know what’s going to happen, have access to the pleasures of suspense — going down the wrong path, guessing at the identity of the killer, wondering about the fate of the hero. Repeaters who do know what is going to happen cannot experience those pleasures, but they can recognize significances they missed the first time around, see ironies that emerge only in hindsight and savor the skill with which a plot is constructed. If suspense is taken away by certainty, certainty offers other compensations, and those compensations, rather than being undermined by a spoiler, require one.”

Certainly, readers can derive different kinds of pleasure from the first to the second read of a story. The first read gives us a chance to experience the thrill of the unknown; the second gives us a chance to more closely observe the craft of the writer since we now know the outcome. But what the hell does that have to do with spoilers? A first reading of a book is not a “spoiler.” A spoiler is a giveaway of the twist without the benefit of having the chance to read the whole story. It’s what some critics – one of whom is apparently Mr. Fish – might do in a review. When a review gives away a key plot twist, the reader has no chance to enjoy the suspense of the unknown, i.e. “is Mr. X the murderer? Or is it Ms. Y?” and “will the murderer get caught?” or “will our hero survive?” Thus, the term “spoiler” is apt, because it spoils the suspenseful aspect of the reader’s experience. But when the reader learns the plot twist by actually reading the whole story, that is not a “spoiler.” In that case the reader has been able to enjoy the full experience of following the story without knowing the outcome, of trying to guess who did it, whether the bad guy gets caught, etc. Now if the reader decides to go back for a second viewing in order to observe the story from a different vantage point, for example, to see how the writer built to the conclusion, why the “solve” did or didn’t work, that’s a voluntary choice and a whole different matter. The problem with “spoilers,” is that we readers don’t get to make that choice. The review that includes spoilers makes it for us. Continue reading “Spoiler Alert”

Bad Dog

Listen to Wisdom

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

This is the silliest defense for spoiling stories for those of us who don’t want them spoiled that I have ever heard. I have spoiled, accidently, a film and I was almost lynched. They were right. If it’s done to me, I feel the same. This is a case where the writer messed up and spends a new column justifying it instead of just saying, you know, I should have thought that through. There may be those who read the last page of a book, or like the previews for films to be so precise it lets them know how it’s going to turn out, but surprise has a great place, and most of us prefer it, and if we prefer not to have things spoiled for us, a spoiler alert is a nice warning to us who would prefer not to know.  Bad journalist. Bad, dog.

Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than a dozen novels, including The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, and Leather Maiden. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Edgar Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, and eight Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his family in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Lansdale’s EDGE OF DARK WATER, called by the Boston Globe “a terrific read [with] an unforgettable cast of characters,” is now available in bookstores everywhere.

My Digital Confession

CobbleA recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Oz isn’t real because Dorothy was dreaming the whole time.

Norman Bates’ mom is actually dead – he just wears her clothes. 

Harrison Ford’s wife was the killer in PRESUMED INNOCENT.

If we were in the time of the height of the popularity of these films, and you were on the way into the theatre to see one of them and I stopped you in the lobby and told you these spoilers, you’d serve me up a well-deserved knuckle sandwich. Why? Because I would’ve ruined the movie for you. A child would understand that. And it takes a child-like mentality to believe otherwise.

The New York Times piece wins a gold medal in the Rationalization Olympics as it tries to support the notion that being pre-told the surprise/shocking/unforeseen conclusion to a story doesn’t necessarily take away from the movie-watching or TV show-viewing or book-reading experience.

As humans we’re wired to hope for “The Surprise Ending” because we innately know that life itself is full of surprise endings.  Your life can end as soon as you step off a curb … or, as it did in my case … it can change forever as soon as you swing your fist at another. Continue reading “My Digital Confession”