Friday, April 20, 2012

The Art of the Spoiler Alert

Not just about blogs, either...  Yes, yes I'm giving you the stink eye, Barnes and Noble Classics.

No spoilers here, I just thought this was a great spoiler warning.  I found it on a blog that I'm now following.

So I was extremely excited at the concept of Midweek Dostoevsky.

In my everyday world, the vast majority of people I know don't read these things.  The few that do - or at least claim to - merely give quotes and are completely uninterested in discussing the book in depth.  This surprises me as I'm faculty at a university.

Some might say "But you're science faculty."  Yes, but for Oppenheimer to quote the Vedas off the top of his head at the Trinity Test he had to have read them.  For Carl Sagan to write on the history of science the way he did he had to have read at minimum elaborate histories of science.  Remember, there was no Wikipedia back then; in order to find quotes or summarize you had to have actually read the material.

So growing up I had this misperception that by entering science I was going to some sort of heaven for smart people: fine literature, politics, history, etc. would be discussed as a matter of course.  How profoundly untrue this perception was is a topic for another day.

This blog post is on spoilers.

Continuing: I was excited to be writing weekly, at least for a while, about an author I love.  Because I didn't have anyone to really discuss it with, I had dropped reading such things for the past year or so.  But the idea of blogging about these things - and not caring about whether or not someone immediately responded - made me excited once again.  "Just throw out a net," I thought, "Who knows?  Maybe some kid who even just has to write a report about it might be interested in discussing it."

But on the train this morning I was in a fairly foul mood.  I had decided that my next Midweek Dostoevsky was going to be on Notes from Underground and using that as a medium to discuss my views on the isolation in modern culture, particularly with regards to the internet.

However, I am not one of those people who likes to feed foul moods, and on the train reading Notes from Underground it suddenly became like my darkest thoughts were all reprinted for me, justifying their validity.

I really wasn't up for that, so I went the introductions which detailed the life and history of Dostoevsky.

I just want to say I find that sort of thing utterly fascinating.  I love reading about the lives of the authors I love, particularly philosophers.  I love wondering how their writing became so beautiful and transcendent.  Do they know the analogies they're making?  Or is it something I'm projecting on to it?  What in their experience and mental state contributed this story?  And so on.

So, while reading the introduction - the very beginning of the book - and learning little interesting details such as the translation of the names of main characters, virtually out of nowhere the intro drops the ending to The Double.

Now, I've read quite a bit of Dostoevsky, but I've never read The Double, and the fact that someone writing the introduction - who, one would assume, loves Dostoevsky - would just drop the ending right there in the readers lap seemed unconscionable.

It's a little like when I wanted to read Never Let Me Go, by Ishiguro, a wonderful author who has written several books I love.

The people writing the reviews acted as though it was obvious that anyone who might be reading a book review would know beforehand the major revelation in the book.

In the case of Never Let Me Go, it wasn't so terrible.  Ishiguro is a wonderful storyteller, and the major reason I read his books is because his characters are so vibrant.

But that's not the point.  The point is that these things are written by people who supposedly... love books.  How anyone who loves books could possibly just drop spoilers without warning is beyond me. It's the author's right to take you there.  It utterly destroys the experience to know what's going to happen next, especially for major plot points.

So please be a good story lover.  If you love the story and want to share it, please try to make sure other people can enjoy the full experience as well.


  1. There was this debate in film about spoilers. When do you allow that Rosebud is a sled, e.g.? And I've never been satisfied with the answer. Just because "EVERYONE" has been able to have seen the film - it's been on DVD and Blu-Ray for 6 months - doesn't mean that there won't be that future student of cinema who'd revel in the surprise.

    I think it's equally true in literature. Your "spoiler" person probably things that EVERYONE has read the book in question - why else would you go to that site except to read about it AGAIN?

    I think most spoiler folks are myopic.

  2. On the "Rosebud" thing: You may not believe this, but... my husband when we were teenagers spoiled the big Star Wars "Darth Vader is Luke's Father." That wouldn't be weird, but I was born in 1980. The way I was raised, I knew who Andy Williams and Jack Benny were, but only had a vague notion of what Star Wars was.

    That one's a little silly - everybody but me knew about Darth Vader - but with classic literature there's plenty of people reading it for the first time.