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A Blank Slate Approach

December 20, 2010

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In a Library Loot vlog earlier this month, I mentioned that a lot times I request a book with no idea what it’s about. And Jenny left a comment wondering why I would do that. So I’d already planned on writing this post today, and then I began The Hunchback of Notre Dame and read this in Elizabeth McCracken’s introduction:

The fact is, most novels, great and bad, are best read in a state of near ignorance. You are always more easily and pleasantly seduced-even by a brilliant seducer-without the voice of your mother or your eighth-grade English teacher in your ear. Perhaps the only proper introduction for a Great Novel is: Reader, here is your book. Book, here is your reader.

Aren’t little bookish coincidences fun? I agree wholeheartedly with what McCracken says here (I can’t wait to read the rest of her introduction once I’ve finished the novel): I find that the less I know about a (fiction) book beforehand, the more it can delight me.

But how do I got about selecting books to read if I don’t know what they’re about? In some cases, it’s easy! When I requested The Evil Genius from the library, all I knew was that it was written by Wilkie Collins. That’s all I needed to know: for authors who I’ve read and loved in the past, I like diving into other books by them completely blind. The other easy case for me is stumbling across an author from a more ‘obscure’ country, especially if that author is an older one. Persian Requiem by Simin Daneshvar, a book I’ll be talking about tomorrow, popped up in a random library catalogue search I did: upon seeing the author’s 1921 birth year in the ‘more information’ tab, I put it on hold, no questions asked. That’s just because I tend to connect better with older books, and I love ‘seeing’ things through the eyes of an author from a different culture. So even if I end up not loving the book, I’m usually happy that I’ve read it. The approach of learning a bit about the author, but leaving the book itself a mystery, is one I’ve had great success with.

In other cases, I know a little more about the book, usually its setting and ‘genre,’ or style if you would. That’s what I know about most of the books I read due to other bloggers! When I start reading a post about a book, and realise it’s a book that sounds appealing, I’ll kind of glaze my eyes over any mention of the plot and just read the blogger’s reactions to the book (I usually go back and reread the post once I’ve read the book). The only time I will get anywhere near a publisher’s blurb is when I’m putting a booklist together. In this case, since I’m creating them as a resource for others as well as myself, I like to include a brief sketch of what the book’s about (i.e.: why I’m putting it on the list). But since I tend to look at a lot of books in a short time when making those lists, I don’t remember many details about any of the titles when I go to actually read one of them. So I still go in with the bare minimum of information! I think it’s easier to do that since I get almost all of my books from the library: if I begin a book and realise it’s not for me, I can return it without any twinge about the money I spent on it or worries about a commitment to review. Anyway, I like to know as little as possible so that I limit my expectations. In the past, I’ve found that expectations can get in the way of enjoying a book.

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As you might have guessed by now, I prefer blogs that provide spoiler warnings. Although I think the word itself is incredibly unfortunate, I really dislike accidentally discovering the plot of a novel, or its ending, while innocently blog hopping. I try to keep myself in a bubble to avoid knowing the plots of classics too, which is why I don’t read print columns about books (which have a habit of airily referencing sad or dramatic endings of the classics in particular) and approach any volume of literary criticism/essays on books with a certain amount of trepidation. As you might have gathered from my opening, I never read the introduction to a classic before reading the classic itself; I’ve learned the hard way that the introduction almost always includes a summary of the entire plot. It’s not that I think the plot is the most important part of a book (for my reading style, it just isn’t), and as I said in my post on rereading, part of what I love about revisiting a book is not worrying about the plot. But at the same time, for my introduction to a new novel, I want to experience the book the way the author meant it to be experienced, for the story to unfold at the author’s chosen pace, and for the ending to feel as inevitable or as shocking as she chooses. And that goes for whether a book was published last month or last century.

This, of course, affects how I write about books on my blog: as much as possible, I’ll just ignore the plot, or give the briefest of sketches. If I want to talk more about it, I always preface that discussion so readers like myself know to skip to the next paragraph (and even then I’ll only talk about things that occur in the first quarter of the book or so). At times, do I feel frustrated by this? You bet; I didn’t talk about a lot of what I thought made Purge such an incredible novel, because I think it’s something readers need to discover for themselves. But here’s the thing: once I’ve read a book, I can always e-mail other bloggers who have read it and have spoilerific discussions to my heart’s content. Does my attempt to keep my writing about a particular book general make my blog more shallow? Probably, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make. When I post about a favourite book, I’m trying to convince others to read it; I’m not trying to demonstrate any powers of literary perception. But that’s a topic for another day. ;)

Over to you: how much do you want to know about a book before reading it? How do you decide which books to read? How do you handle blogging about plot points? And can any of you think of a better word than ‘spoiler’?

98 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 5:35 am

    I choose my books all kinds of ways, too many to list in a comment. As far as blogging about plot, I figure anything in the first 1/3 of the book is fair game for a plot synopsis; I try to avoid real spoilers though and would never reveal an important twist. I like to know at least something about a book before I read it- basic plot, genre, author- just to see if it interests me at all. Otherwise it would be impossible to choose what to read LOL.

    • January 8, 2011 1:38 am

      If I do talk about the plot, I tend to go with anything in the first quarter/third too. :) I definitely need to know something: I usually go with author or genre, though, rather than plot stuff!

  2. December 20, 2010 5:43 am

    I’ve never thought about how I choose books, but you make some great points. I’m sure I’ve read books before just based on who the author is. And I agree – I appreciate when spoilers are mentioned in a review, and I try to do that myself, when appropriate. :)

    • January 8, 2011 1:38 am

      Yeah: I think spoiler warnings are just good manners. ;)

  3. December 20, 2010 5:43 am

    I actually like reading the blurb at the back, although I do often get books just because the title or cover catches my fancy. But in reviews I like to know if there’s a spoiler coming. Often if I’m reading the same book I might postpone reading the review until I’ve finished the book. Nothing worse than that finding out the ending in the middle of the book (however tempting it is!) I also wonder whether my posts are too superficial too, but it’s difficult to have a proper discussion without giving away spoilers and you don’t want to spoil the reading experience for others.

    • January 8, 2011 1:40 am

      I’ve gotten burned by some blurbs with insane spoilers, which is why I avoid them now. But in a bookstore, I’ll read the first couple of lines if a book catches my attention. I postpone reading posts if I’m in the middle of a book too! :D

      I don’t think of your blog as superficial at all!

  4. December 20, 2010 6:14 am

    I’m one who does like to know a fair bit about a book before I read it, not so much about plot really, but about style, character, theme, and so on. Somehow that helps me choose the right book for my mood or get myself into the right frame of mind before reading.

    I also tend to not mind spoilers all that much, unless it’s a spoiler for some sort or twist or big secret that the author was clearly being coy about. But it’s also not always clear when the author is deliberately holding back. I heard an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro a while back in which he said he was happy for people to know the “twist” in Never Let Me Go because that meant they would focus more on the themes regarding life and mortality that really interested him. I thought that was pretty interesting, especially since when the book first came out, I remember hearing people talk a lot about the premise and I didn’t realize until I read the book that it’s something that is only gradually revealed in the book itself. So I was “spoiled” without knowing it, and it didn’t take anything away from the experience at all.

    Because I don’t care so much about spoilers, I do wonder sometimes if my reviews are too spoilery for a lot of readers’ tastes. Like Marie, I tend to treat the first third of the book as fair game. If I want to talk about some development that occurs late in the book, I’ll be as vague as possible. Or sometimes I’ll talk about some moment or scene that gets at some idea that interests me but that can be discussed in isolation from the rest of the plot–and I’ll usually mention that it occurs late in the book so people can skip that paragraph if they choose :). It’s hard, though, to find that balance, because everyone’s idea of what constitutes a spoiler is a little different.

    • January 8, 2011 1:44 am

      I’m usually in the mood for anything, hehe; if I’m in the mood for something specific, I tend to go for an author I already know, so I know what to expect. :)

      I saw that interview with Ishiguro! I think that’s interesting too: I honestly can’t remember if I knew the ‘twist’ in Never Let Me Go ahead of time or not. I definitely think a wonderful book stands on its own, even if I know the plot beforehand, which is why I don’t like the word spoiler. But I prefer to watch things unfold as the author wrote them!

      I take the ‘talk about an isolated bit’ approach too sometimes! Finding a balance is definitely difficult, though. I love your blog, so I read your posts even if I sometimes find out more about the book than I’d hypothetically want to. I don’t think you ever give too much away, though, so you’ve struck the balance! :)

  5. December 20, 2010 6:29 am

    I have found that I really need to know something about where a book is going to end up to be able to concentrate on the story. One way is of course to read genre fiction, then you know more or less how the story will end even before reading the first page. If I happen to pick up a non-genre novel from an author I haven’t read before, where the first 50 or so pages doesn’t give me a clear picture of where the book is heading, then I sometimes flip through the book to the end reading random bits here and there.

    I don’t like spoilers, though. Somethings are better to find out for oneself.

    • January 8, 2011 1:45 am

      That’s interesting! I know other people who read the end of a book early too. It’s so opposite from me, but I’m glad it works for you. :) I’m curious to know what you consider a spoiler, considering your skipping ahead approach!

  6. December 20, 2010 6:31 am

    I’m not a big blurb reader, not because it provides spoilers, but mostly because it doesn’t! I like the general FEEL of a book if I’m going to get a preview and a back blurb often contains s little feel/emotion that it’s, usually just worthless. These days, I go on author selections or recommendations for books but rarely pick a book based on the jacket flap.

    • January 8, 2011 1:45 am

      I agree that blurbs rarely convey the feel of a book!

  7. December 20, 2010 6:53 am

    I find that going into a book “without any expectations” — i.e., with no idea of what’s going to happen — is terrible for me. I develop expectations anyway, from the cover and the title and whatever I’ve read about the book that made me want to read it. Only if I don’t know what the book’s going to be about, I feel like I’m thrashing about blindly as I’m reading. I like the structure that knowing something about the plot imposes.

    Of course, I read the ends. I like the structure that imposes too. Thus I am aware that what works for me as a reader is exactly the opposite of what works for most people. :p

    I try to mark spoilers on my blog, although I’m never sure what counts as spoiling people, and what doesn’t. Spoilers isn’t a concept that makes a lot of sense to me, as an end-reader, which means I do not have a feel for what other people want to know about a book they haven’t read, and what they don’t want to know. I always want to know.

    • December 20, 2010 8:26 am

      Eva, Jenny’s comment is pretty much mine too. I love to know the end before I begin, and I read the last pages or a plot summary at the beginning. I don’t believe knowing a plot “spoils” a book for me, so it’s hard to know what would be too much for other readers! I love knowing how a novel all fits together, it helps me know if the journey will be worth it. And I have too many books I want to read to just choose my next read randomly. If I’m going to spend five hours or more with a novel, I want to make sure it’s going to be satisfying in SOME way.

      That said, I can understand not wanting to know how something ends especially if it’s a mystery or something. That might make a difference. Not for me, but I can understand!

      • January 8, 2011 1:49 am

        Rebecca, that’s so interesting! I don’t believe knowing the plot “spoils” the book either, which is why I don’t like that word. I would prefer to go in knowing nothing about the plot, but I still love books even when I accidentally find out the ending (like when my mom thought I’d read the first Dalgleish mystery a couple of weeks ago and told me the killer *sigh*). I can understand not wanting to choose your reads randomly: I can usually tell by reading a few pages whether a book is going to satsify me or not (I think because of the writing style). If I don’t get into it, I just return it to the library!

    • January 8, 2011 1:46 am

      We’re total opposites Jenny, lol. Isn’t it fun how we’re all different? I don’t think you give too much away at all, so you’re good on the spoiler marking count!

  8. December 20, 2010 6:53 am

    Sometimes I love reading books that I know little about because I have found some gems and had some wonderful surprises that way!

  9. December 20, 2010 7:03 am

    I think I do usually like to know a bit about the plot, but sometimes my expectations get in my say. And there are authors out there whose books I’m happy to pick up without knowing a thing about the content. And sometimes I pick up books and find my expectations are wrong or incomplete, and it has an interesting effect on my experience. For instance, I recently read a book where I expected the principal tension throughout the book would be the unequal relationship between two characters, and it just wasn’t, and I almost felt a little bit disappointed, although the book was still good – in that case, knowing less would probably have helped me.

    Someone upthread mentioned Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and I think that one of the really excellent pleasures of reading that book was figuring out what was going on in the world Ishiguro had created, and I think I would have been really annoyed if I was spoiled. I reread it this year, and since I already knew all the big secrets I was able to concentrate on other things, and it really felt like a different experience (but still enjoyable!). So I guess my point (do I even have one?) is that ‘spoilers’ and expectations both do really change the reading experience, and I can’t make up my mind one way or the other whether I always prefer to know what I’m getting into or not.

    • January 8, 2011 1:50 am

      I agree: knowing more about the book does change the experience! I think that’s why I enjoy going in blank to my first reading; I can always reread it from a more knowledgable place in the future. :)

  10. December 20, 2010 7:08 am

    I want to know the premise, which ought to be easily summed in a sentence—you know, the library of Congress summary. ;) This is because I’m a plot-focused reader; if the premise grabs me, then I’ve got to read it, don’t I?

    I handle blogging about plot points by making my second paragraph of any review the plot premise and leaving it at that; I hate reading reviews that are essentially just rehashing of the book.

    And nope, I can’t. ;) Fandom has hammered it into my head.

    • January 8, 2011 1:51 am

      I don’t enjoy reviews that go over the whole plot either! But it makes sense that as a plot-focused reader, you want a brief summary. Since I’m a writing-focused reader, I prefer reading the first few pages to see if that grabs me.

  11. December 20, 2010 7:19 am

    I definitely prefer to know as little about a book as possible if I’m going to read it. I find I am able to suspend my disbelief a wee bit quicker. I tend to skim over posts if I know that I’m going to read the book, and similar to you, just look for a reaction. I tend to do this with the most popular novels of the moment (which I don’t seem to keep up with nearly as much as others….) But, like, take Dash & Lily for example. I knew I was going to read it (uh, crush on David, yes!) so I didn’t really want to know much about the “book of dares” prior to reading it. I paid a bit of attention to bloggers opinions, but even then it was a brief attention.

    How do I choose books? Well, the classics I just grab. I figure I need to expand that inner library anyways. Fiction…cover art if I’m at the bookstore? Authors that I respect or love? And I’ll give it a try if an author that I love backs another book. Also, I’m a whimsical reader. If I have an interest, I want to devour everything I can on that topic.

    • January 8, 2011 1:52 am

      I want to become more whimsical re: topics too! That’s a good point about suspension of disbelief. :)

  12. December 20, 2010 7:36 am

    Great questions! Unless I’m reading along with someone (e.g., a book group or a friend), I usually do want to know a little about the subject/plot/characters/setting/genre because there are some of each that appeal to me more than others. (Does that mean I miss out on great books. Sure. It would be nice to be able to read anything and everything, but that’s just not possible, in my honest opinion.)

    How do I choose books? I read a synopsis (not necessarily a review, by the way) to see if the book sounds appealing, so I don’t mind some plot points. (And…snark alert…I have to say that one thing that drives me NUTS is when bloggers involved in a group read find it necessary to summarize the book chapter by chapter in excruciating detail.) And not spoilers – I do mind those. If I’ve read the author before and liked his/her work. My best ‘blank slate’ experiences come from recommendations…I read Willa Cather’s Death comes for Archbishop with a group earlier this year. Would probably never have picked it up on my own, and loved it.

    • January 8, 2011 1:53 am

      Audrey, I agree that we can’t read everything! lol @ your snark bit; I just skip over those posts. ;) I read Death Comes for the Archbishop in high school and didn’t connect it, but I think I was too young. I gave Cather another go last year and was very impressed!

  13. December 20, 2010 7:38 am

    I kind of like the word spoiler, because it is fairly descriptive, right? We’ve had the book spoiled for us. It’s better than ruiner ;). The thing is, I’ve gotten to the point where I read one line of summary and then I know if I’ll be interested in the book or not. Sometimes I pick up a book based solely on the title or the cover or the fact that it was on a specific blog (like yours). Without knowing anything. Sometimes you come into a book with a lot of knowledge about it, like I just did with The White by Deborah Larsen. It is historical fiction of the best kind, that gave me a different perspective on a history I already knew (that of Mary Jemison who was captures by Shawnee Indians and raised by Seneca Indians, to eventually marry Seneca leaders and have their children).

    I’m like you, I prefer to know nothing. Sometimes spoilers can completely ruin a reading experience, like Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. We read it in school and some people started talking about the ending in class without realizing some of us hadn’t finished it. It ruined the book for me. I could barely finish it because I knew the ending.

    • December 20, 2010 7:38 am

      So I realized that I just spoiled The White for you… but I assumed you already knew it. Maybe you did?

    • January 8, 2011 1:56 am

      Well, that’s the thing: I don’t think a reading experienced is *spoiled* by knowing the plot. It’s just *changed* (for me at least). But I’m probably getting too bogged down with semantics. ;)

      lol @ The White! I didn’t know that ahead of time, but I don’t think actual history can be ‘spoiled,’ so no harm. It’s going on my wishlist! Also, boo to your high school peers. Although, I didn’t like Of Mice and Men even without being spoiled.

  14. December 20, 2010 8:04 am

    I prefer to know very little about a book. I may skim over the blurb when I first buy or recieve the book, but I only reread it if I’m looking for books suitable for a challenge or if I’m 10 pages in and lost, wondering what/who the focus of the book is (happens rarely, but with authors like Will Self its sometimes reassuring to know a little).
    How do I pick books? Through covers, recommended or favourite authors and bloggers or friends recommendations. I also have a huge mental should read list, with a lot stuck in my mind from uni. Most of my books I get through bookcrossing or the second hand section of amazon so not much money has been spent on them.
    Plot is probably one of the least important things for me, I have to blog about a book straight away before I forget what had happened. I read for the feel of the book and the images that stick in my mind, some books I read in childhood still have sharpe and vivid images attached to them, it may be just one scene of a huge book but that’s what struck me.

    • January 8, 2011 1:57 am

      I have a huge mental should read list too! Great phrase Katrina. :) And I love how you put that: “the feel of the book.” That’s what’s most important for me as well.

  15. December 20, 2010 8:06 am

    You may find as you get older, as I have, that by the time your reserved book comes in you have forgotten all about it. So you’ll be reading with a blank slate more and more often.

    I consider it one of the benefits of aging, myself.

    • January 8, 2011 2:01 am

      LOL I actually already experience that sometimes. :D

  16. Therese permalink
    December 20, 2010 8:44 am

    Great post. I do that as well for some books. In the spirit of the post, I won’t tell you much about it except to say the writing on each page is transformative in a way that might not be expected for the seemingly daunting subject. With that mysterious comment, let me recommend Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. It’s short — I’ll say that much — so maybe it will make its way to a TBR file.

    • January 8, 2011 2:02 am

      Thanks for the rec Therese! I’m all about writing, so I’ll definitely put it on my TBR list. :)

  17. December 20, 2010 9:11 am

    I’m the same – I always avoid those introductions – I like to read them at the end but ultimately I want to discover a book myself.

    I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but that’s my usual strategy when choosing a book – I’m rarely wrong about the ones that will appeal to me…although I suppose I could be missing out on some amazing books with dowdy covers…

    Anyway, the way I see it is that, unless the author is dreadful, I’m going to get all the information I need to understand the book within, so there’s nothing lost by starting reading with a completely blank slate.

    • January 8, 2011 2:03 am

      I’ve definitely picked up books solely because of the title before! Or because of something vague, like “it deals with fairy tales.” That’ll get me every time. :)

  18. December 20, 2010 9:27 am

    For the most part, I like to go into a book knowing very little about the plot. I’ll skim past the plot points in reviews sometimes to do that. Also, as I keep an enormous to-read list on goodreads, which I update constantly. By the time I actually get around to reading a book I’ve added there, I’ve often forgotten any plot details I picked up from the recommendation source.

    That said, I can think of at least one book off the top of my head (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven) where a blog review’s plot reveal instigated me to read that book where I wouldn’t have picked it up before. And it turned out to be a thrilling read.

    I see some mentioned Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go above. Of all things, I was spoiled by the library catalog record, which had assigned a subject category that gave away the true nature of the characters’ lives.

    I do a synopsis at the beginning of my reviews, but as several said above, I don’t go far into the book with plot detail. I try to walk the line of not giving away too much but saying enough so that people who have read the book which plot points I’m hinting at. I like to write reviews for both of those audiences – those who have read it and those who haven’t.

    • January 8, 2011 2:04 am

      I’ve usually forgotten the details by the time I get to a book too! :) Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is nonfic, right? This post was only about fiction; with nonfiction, I definitely want to know the details!

      And I’ve been spoiled by library catalogue categories before too! Now I’m extra careful.

  19. December 20, 2010 9:36 am

    Unlike you, I am very interested in plot, so I don’t mind knowing something about the story before choosing a book. Usually, a single sentence is enough to get me interested (or not), but I’m ok with a more detailed description, as long as there are no “spoilers”. The blogs I read are very polite and I don’t think I’ve even had any problem. It must be hard work keeping away from plot hints, Eva! :)

    On the other hand, I’m also a fan of taking changes. Like you, I would also try anything from a favorite author, or if I’m interested in things like the topic, genre or location. For instance, I would always take a blind chance with Southern Lit or with books about the Blitz. At my local yearly bookfair, I always agree with myself to pick up two books almost completely at random (e.g. liking the title or the cover).

    • January 8, 2011 2:06 am

      Some books I talk about the plot, but most of the time I’m so focused on other things I don’t think about it! I do talk about characters and themes, though, which sometimes give away bits of the plot.

      Blind chances sound like fun! I have certain ‘types’ of books that I automatically want to read too.

  20. December 20, 2010 10:31 am

    For a lot of books I read I don’t know what they are about. Most of the time it’s for the best. If I’d known The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was classified a thriller, I wouldn’t have read it. But I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I read it.
    I try to keep my reviews spoiler free but sometimes I’ll talk about plot to a certain point (hopefully before giving the twists away), the characters, and the writing especially if it was noteworthy.

    • January 8, 2011 2:06 am

      I talk about characters a lot too, which sometimes means giving away bits of the plot. As long as it’s early in the book, I don’t feel bad. :)

  21. December 20, 2010 10:49 am

    I try to know as little as possible going in, but I have to know something. Usually that just means reading the blurb on the back. Like you, I do try to avoid hearing things about those classics I haven’t read yet. I have found myself avoiding Jane Eyre spoilers more than anything else! I prefer to discover the story myself rather than have someone else tell it to me.

    I also read the introductions when I finish. Matt thinks it hilarious, but I always do. :) Glad to know I’m not the only one!

    • January 8, 2011 2:08 am

      I can’t imagine trying to avoid JE spoilers! lol You should hurry up and read it. ;)

      And I think it makes perfect sense, so nyah to Matt. hehe

  22. December 20, 2010 11:24 am

    I like to know a lot, sometimes only a little, (depends on the author/book) about the book before I start. Shortly after starting, I usually read the ending so I know where it’s going. I guess one could say I’m sort of the opposite. I like spoilers. :-)

    I will pick up books without any prior knowledge though if it looks good, and I do have to admit that sometimes the cover plays a large part in this choice, especially if it’s a library book. I won’t always buy a book without knowing anything about it first but I will take home a library book on a glance. If it doesn’t grab me, it can go back and I’ve lost nothing. Many time though they turn out to be nice surprises.

    • January 8, 2011 2:09 am

      Another one of the end-first readers! So interesting; my mom does that sometimes too.

      I usually request books from the library online, so I don’t often see the covers beforehand. But when I do browse, I definitely am more attracted to certain cover types. I think being a library patron makes it much easier to give random books a chance!

  23. December 20, 2010 12:15 pm

    I’m the same (and I loved that quote from Hunchback – that’s exactly how I feel!). I love bringing books home that I don’t know anything about, and once I’ve decided to read a book I avoid reading reviews and discussions on it – I find that you can’t help but be influenced in some way by other people’s reading experiences. And I try never to provide spoilers, and give a fairly basic summary, in my own reviews.

    One in particular, for Never Let Me Go, I refused to discuss the premise or plot at all – my complete ignorance when I read it made it an amazing book, but other people who read it knowing what it was about were mostly disappointed. I always feel so annoyed when I see people’s reviews for that book and they’ve given it away. I’m inclined toward the idea of letting other people experience a book the way I did. Spoilers aren’t always about plot twists or the ending!

    • January 8, 2011 2:12 am

      Never Let Me Go seems to be one that springs to mind quickly! As I said above, I can’t remember if I knew things ahead of time (I think I probably did, because I don’t remember trying to puzzle it out), but I loved the book.

      If I already know I want to read a book, I tend to skip over blog posts about it too. But usually, I don’t decide to read a book until after seeing a blogger talk about it!

      • January 8, 2011 3:17 pm

        So true! I can’t count how many books I’ve collected after seeing you post about them – whether it’s only library loot or a review! (There’s always the danger with library loot that the book could turn out to be a bit of a dud, but I don’t mind taking that risk – the surprises are so worth it aren’t they? ;) )

  24. Jillian permalink
    December 20, 2010 2:18 pm

    I often like to know what’s going to happen, before I begin a book, because I’m fascinated by ‘how’ the author leads us to the finish. Not always, though. Sometimes I want the surprise.

    I do try to use ‘spoiler’ alerts whenever I discuss a plot. I’m afraid, since my blog is a journal intended to be printed for later reference (by me), that I do included spoliers sometimes. I like top discuss the finer points of a story sometimes, and it’s hard to do that, without spoiling…

    Reading reviews has really helped me decide what to read. :-)

    • January 8, 2011 2:12 am

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with including spoilers as long as you mark them first. :)

  25. December 20, 2010 2:37 pm

    Eva, I’m a lot like you with respect to approaching books as a tabula rasa. Lately, especially, I’ve been diving into books without knowing the least bit about them other than the title and the page count. For me, it makes reading all the more fun, since everything is a complete surprise and I have no preconceptions going in and can react to the book more honestly (i.e., respond to the book based on what it is vs. what I thought it would be). I also tend to skim over the parts in books that discuss plot, as that’s generally the thing I least like reading about (though I love discovering it for myself). I am far more interested in seeing how a reader responded to the book rather than hearing what the book was about.

    • January 8, 2011 2:13 am

      I’m just going to ditto everything you said. :)

  26. December 20, 2010 4:43 pm

    Very interesting discussion you’ve got going here, Eva!

    I’d say that knowing or not knowing where a book is going before I read it makes very little difference in how much I enjoy it. Like you, I don’t read for plot, and most of the classics (and many newer books too) have been “spoiled” for me already, just through having conversations in English classes and with other bookish folks—since each step in the Western canon tended to influence the next, I know (for example) the plots of Medea and Ivanhoe without ever having read them. And that’s actually not annoying to me at all, because the conversations and explorations themselves are one of my big reading-related joys, and one of the primary things I want out of blogging – an in-depth conversation about specific aspects of books to which people reacted. If achieving that level of specificity means spoilers, I’d prefer that by far to a general, newspaper-style review. So for example, if a blogger pulls a specific paragraph or character dynamic and dissects it in an intriguing way, I’m much more likely to pick up the book than if they’re very enthusiastic yet vague. And sometimes it’s not even about communicating with other people – lots of my blog entries are me, trying to work out my own thoughts about the book as I write.

    Of course, I do try to avoid major plot spoilers, but like Jenny I sometimes have a hard time gauging what will be considered “spoiling” a book. When in doubt I usually label it with a spoiler warning and write about it anyway. :-)

    • January 8, 2011 2:16 am

      How interesting Emily! I like having in-depth conversations about books, but only if I’ve already read them. So that’s when I e-mail bloggers. ;) I try to talk about specific aspects of a book other than the plot, but I’m sure I fall into the ‘very enthusiastic yet vague’ camp too often. It’s something I’d like to work on more in this coming year.

  27. December 20, 2010 5:01 pm

    With library books, I have no problem going into a book with a bare minimum of information, but I always investigate books thoroughly before I buy them (unless they are for school).

    I’m terrible at spoiler warnings, but I do try really hard not to spoil anything major in my reviews. I have been told (on GoodReads) that a review or two need spoiling warnings and I feel bad when I forget them.

    • January 8, 2011 2:16 am

      I completely understand wanting to know more before buying books! That’s why I use the library. ;)

  28. December 20, 2010 5:53 pm

    I read a lot of classics, so it’ s not so much of an issue. I think someone once said a classic is a book where you know what happens but can’t wait to read it anyway ;)

    • January 8, 2011 2:17 am

      That’s a fun definition of a classic! I read classics too, but I still prefer going in with a blank slate. ;)

  29. December 20, 2010 5:55 pm

    Oh, and I detest the word ‘spoiler’ – I would always explain around the idea rather than use the word :)

    • January 8, 2011 2:17 am

      I detest the word too, but I fall into the ‘ease of use’ trap. That’s why we need to come up with a different word!

  30. December 20, 2010 6:56 pm

    I don’t mind reading the blurbs on book covers, but I really don’t like blog reviews that use two or three paragraphs to describe the plot of a book before the two sentences that give their impressions. I usually skip these posts. I like something more along the lines of your impressions of Ceremony the other day ~ I didn’t really need to know the details of the plot to want to read it. I also really like Nicola’s posts at Vintage Reads or Jane’s posts at Fleur Fisher Reads. I’m trying to emulate their (and your) style in my own posts.

    • January 8, 2011 2:19 am

      I agree re: reviews that are focused on plot descriptions. I’m glad that my post on Ceremony worked for you! And what a lovely compliment. :) I love Jane’s blog as well; I only came across Vintage Reads recently, but I’m already a fan. It sounds like your blogging approach meshes well with me: I’ll pop you in my reader!

  31. December 20, 2010 11:17 pm

    I prefer knowing as little as possible going into a book, although I choose a lot of my books based on blog reviews, these days. As to spoilers . . . oh, how I hate them. I try to always warn people of potential spoilers but I’m not sure I always succeed. I hope I do!!

  32. December 21, 2010 6:35 am

    I don’t mind a tiny bit of summary to tell me premise and setting, and that’s what I give my readers when I review a book. But like you, I usually like to go in with the barest of notions — “this is about several generations of a family in Scotland” can be good enough for me. I’m always so torn when writing reviews. Most of what I want to say involves revealing the plot or providing much of my take or interpretation, which might totally ruin the book for others. But then sometimes I end up with a review that says pretty much nothing because I’ve gone overboard in the careful department. Always a dilemma.

    • January 8, 2011 2:21 am

      I love that example of a bare notion: sounds like we’re in agreement! :) And yes, the dilemma is ever present. I usually include about my take/interpretation, especially if the themes are of particular interest to me.

  33. December 21, 2010 1:02 pm

    I’m like you. And sometimes, it depends on the book. I like vague. I like knowing that someone I admire loves something and if they know me and recommend it, I’m all in and hopefully as blind as possible to anything about it. Like Green Grass Running Water (which is actually somewhat hard to describe anyway), just knowing you loved it and one of my bookclubbers loved it, I couldn’t wait to read it! It was a wonderful treat and it still reminds me of you. :)

    • December 21, 2010 1:04 pm

      PS I just went and re-read my own review and it is full of spoilers! oh well….

    • January 8, 2011 2:22 am

      I love that I’m associated with Thomas King in your mind! I agree re: wanting to read a book because someone I admire loves it. You’re definitely on my admiration list. :D

  34. December 21, 2010 1:05 pm

    If a book is a classic or published by one of my favourite authors, then I’ll happily pick it up without having the faintest idea what it’s about. Although I read for other things as well as the plot, I much prefer to come to a book without knowing all the ins and outs. For that reason, I tend to find that if I find a blog post about a book which sounds interesting or which I have in my TBR pile I tend to skip it once I’ve established that, yes, I’d like to read the book. I agree that it’s better to come to a book without expectations.

    • January 8, 2011 2:22 am

      I’m glad you agree with me! Especially since you read classics too. :)

  35. December 21, 2010 1:51 pm

    I am very like you Eva. I include a lot of detail about what the book is about in my posts (sorry!) and it does kind of hurt because I know that I prefer not to know that beforehand. I do try to keep it to the very top portion. Except with non-fiction. Ah some day I will work out a system where I would be able to read my own posts ;)

    I completely understand the wanting to go in blind though. I love knowing nothing because then everything is a surprise!

    • January 8, 2011 2:24 am

      I treat nonfiction completely differently: I want to know everything! lol Except with memoirs…perhaps. I’ll have to do a post on nonfiction now. :)

      I sometimes skim your fiction posts: if the first paragraph makes me want to read it, I’ll stop there and come back when I’ve finished the book. But not always! It’s so hard to figure out writing posts v reading them, isn’t it?!

  36. December 21, 2010 2:10 pm

    I like knowing a bit in advance about the books I pick up–either plot outline, subject, author, whatever–I think because there are just so many books I KNOW I want to get to, that I’d rather not take chances. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I’m glad I did, but I don’t do it often.

    • January 8, 2011 2:25 am

      I usually like to know something too! Just something rather vague, if that makes sense. :)

  37. December 21, 2010 3:29 pm

    I really like the idea of choosing your books that way. This is a great post.

    I’ll agree that if I read a book I thoroughly enjoyed, I always look up the author and immediately want to read other works, reagardless of what they’re about. A lot of the time if I’m reading a book I really enjoy and a reference to a writer or book is made, I’ll also look that up. It’s the same in regards to great leaders and thinkers who were influenced by writers. All my books seem to have these connections.

    • January 8, 2011 2:26 am

      Thanks Ceri! I enjoy reading books referenced by other books too. :D

  38. December 21, 2010 8:20 pm

    This is a really interesting post, Eva! I love the McCracken quote — that’s so true.

    That being said, I usually have to know a little something about a book before I pick it up, especially if it’s by an author I’ve not yet read. Once I’ve read and enjoyed an author, it’s a whole other story — I’ll just pick up a book and go! I don’t, however, want to know the ending of a book, nor anything beyond the very beginning. If it happens in the first couple of chapters or is already all over the internet, then fine. Otherwise, I’d rather not know.

    As for blogging about plot points, I try to keep my summary brief and stick to the beginning of the book or aim for general trends over specific happenings. I dislike many publisher summaries because of how much they’ll sometimes reveal. I prefer to tell a bit about where the book begins and then leave things kind of open ended. I set off the main summary part of each post with “About the Book,” then try to avoid too many plot points in the “My Thoughts” section. If there is a spolier (…nope, I have no better word, sorry!) I want to mention (which I sometimes do, if it’s something with which I took issue), I always warn people. However, I do sometimes blog about spoilers, because as my blog is a personal reading journal as well as a public blog, I like to keep a record of how I felt about a book.

    • January 8, 2011 2:28 am

      I agree: I sometimes blog about spoilers too (since as you say, blogs are personal as well as public)! As long as there’s a warning, I think that’s great. :) I usually do a more general ‘why you should read this’ and then get into the spoiler-y bits.

  39. December 21, 2010 10:31 pm

    Interesting discussion! I hate spoilers, but I feel that I have to know the crux of the book. I need to know something, anything if it isn’t an author that I already love. What I don’t need to know is how it all works out, how the main character deals with the crux, or if the vampire lose their sparkles. Oh, it also helps if I know the style of writing.

    I don’t give spoilers in my reviews, just try to stick to the emotions I felt while reading it.

  40. December 21, 2010 10:43 pm

    I’m like you. I like going to a book knowing as little as possible. If I read a review of a book I know I want to read I gloss over the plot summary. In fact, I don’t quite enjoy plot summary in a review in general, so I do little plot summary in my own review too (and I’m definitely careful about spoilers). A couple of sentences are usually enough for me to know whether I want to read the book or not, plus the background of the author (foreign authors in general attract me too). I used to like going to library/bookshop and picking a book in semi-random fashion, but not anymore. I often use “Best Books” list and prizes list as guides now (plus book bloggers recommendation of course :).

    • January 8, 2011 2:29 am

      I’m still quite a random reader, even though I definitely read books due to bloggers too! I’d guess I’m around 50/50. :) The difference is that now usually a book catches my eye online, and then I place a request with the library, rather than me physically browsing.

  41. Darlyn permalink
    December 22, 2010 9:43 pm

    Aah, I know what you mean about a blank slate. I’m currently trying the ‘blank slate’ approach with This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, so far, I’m enjoying being surprised.

    Also, I really appreciate book blogs with “spoiler alerts.” While reading The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, I came across a MAJOR SPOILER completely without warning. The blogger just popped it in there with her thoughts, and I found it very irritating.

    There’s a very thin line between being “spoiler-y” (is that even a word?) and not saying anything at all. Most of the time, I try to reveal just enough to tease a blog reader’s interest.

    Great post. :)

    • January 8, 2011 2:31 am

      I don’t know anything about This Side of Paradise either! So I’m glad it’s a fun way to approach that one. :) I find ‘sneaker spoilers’ the most irritating of all!

  42. December 23, 2010 5:23 pm

    I totally agree about the classics. There are so few where I don’t know at least a little of what they’re about that when I find one I know almost nothing about I want it to stay that way (Anna Karenina for example, I know the ultimate end for Anna but nothing else and I’m loving discovering things). And why can’t we have afterwords instead of forewords in editions of classics? So easy just to put the explanatory stuff at the back instead of the front I would have thought.

    With contemporary novels you have to go a long way before I’ll consider soemthing a spoiler. I think if someone dies and it’s unexpected I don’t want to know, don’t even really want to know if ‘someone’ is going to die. Maybe some resolutions to some love plots, although most are pretty predictable (not that they’re not gorgeous to read at the same time).

    I want to know a reasonable bit about the book before I pick it up and in some cases only knowing a reasonable bit will get me to pick it up. Take The Agency books, the UK edition looks like just another Victorian mystery series, no mention of feminism or Lascars, or a whole lot about female spies in the blurb. I’d never have picked it up if I hadn’t heard a bit more about it from bloggers, because I’m kind of tired of the standard Victorian mystery. Sometimes I do miss the days when I’d pick at whim not knowing anything about a book – harder to do that when you read so many great blogs. I guess that just means I need to ferret out the lesser known books doesn’t it.

    • January 8, 2011 2:35 am

      I didn’t know the ending of AK before I read it! I’m not sure how I managed to avoid that, but I did. I think it made the book better too. Anyway, I’m especially annoyed by newspaper articles about ‘best of’ lists that include offhand classics spoilers.

      All I knew about the Agency book was that it was Victorian and feminist; I also knew the author was a Victorian scholar, which is what made me really interested.

      I still read a fair amount of random books that aren’t blogged about, which is nice! I like having a balance. :)

  43. December 24, 2010 11:24 am

    I love that quote. I’ve been trying to pick up more fiction and jump into it without know what it’s about. Reading is much more interesting that way, though I’ve abandoned a lot more books that way as well. I just started reading 20 Under 40, the collection of stories by the most up and coming writers under 40. I’ve barely even heard of most of them, let alone have read them before. I’m hoping to find some good new authors to check out that way.

    • January 8, 2011 2:35 am

      Isn’t it a great quote?! That’s a good idea, to find authors through a short story anthology.

  44. December 25, 2010 2:47 pm

    I like to read an author’s backlist if he/she is new-to-me and I’ve enjoyed one title. In that case I don’t mind knowing anything about the plot (kind of pre-approved, or a good chance of it).

    Great post, and it’s generated fantastic discussion, Eva.

    • January 8, 2011 2:36 am

      Thank you Dawn! Pre-approved is a great way to describe that situation. :)

  45. Zoya permalink
    December 28, 2010 9:33 am

    I prefer reading the blurb as well as a summary/review while selecting a book to read. There are times when I just pick the book based on the cover page and the title. But a good blurb/review is really necessary to help decide. While I’ve tried to reduce the spoilers in the blog..I really like reading the details through yours and other blogs. Details help a lot in trying to understand the genre itself leave alone the story.

    • January 8, 2011 2:36 am

      I’m glad you enjoy the details I do talk about. :)

  46. December 30, 2010 6:21 pm

    I like reading any which way–knowing a lot about a book is sometimes what gets me to read it, and sometimes I just want to throw myself into the deep end without even putting a toe in. But I don’t believe in “spoilers.” Some books have secrets that it’s more fun not to know and I never tell those.

    • January 8, 2011 2:37 am

      You don’t believe in marking spoilers? Or you don’t believe that revealing late-happening plot details spoil a book? I don’t think that it ‘spoils’ things, per se, but I do think it changes things.


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