Sunday Salon: Spoiler Warning?

I’ve been thinking for the last several weeks about spoilers. I couldn’t quite get my mind in gear yesterday to write a post, but when I woke up this morning and read and commented on Nymeth’s thoughtful post on the topic, I realized that I had the beginnings of a post in her comments. So I’ll be fleshing that comment out here.

Some of you probably saw the story about that study that said spoilers actually enhance reading. It was amusing to think about, and I know that for a lot of readers, like Jenny, knowing the end in advance is preferable. But  a lot of people prefer to be surprised. Some people prefer it so much that having a book “spoiled” in any way does literally spoil the experience. Some will declare that “A Watched Plot Never Spoils,” and others will prefer a “Tabula Rasa” approach to their reading.

In my usual manner, I have sympathies with both positions. In general, I don’t have a strong opinion about spoilers. I don’t make any big effort to avoid them, but I don’t usually get upset if I happen upon one. If some sort of twist or mystery is important to the book, I’d prefer not knowing how it’s resolved, and I have been known to get upset about people matter of factly giving that kind of thing away, but it’s not likely to “spoil” the book for me. A lot depends on the book. (And as Nymeth said in her post, the world “spoiler” itself could be hyperbole, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of truth to it.)

The thing that I find interesting—and challenging as someone who writes about books—is that what constitutes a spoiler seems to vary from person to person. I’ve known some people who don’t want to know anything about what happens in a book, so a discussion of a plot development after the first chapter or two would seem spoilery to them. And then there are the plot points that seem obvious to a lot of readers, but may not be obvious to everybody. Is it a spoiler to mention who ends up together in a romance novel? Or to mention a plot development that occurs around the halfway mark? For me, no; for another, maybe.

And classics are a whole other thing. There are events in books that are so often talked-about that it’s hard to imagine someone not knowing about them. (The big death in Little Women was “spoiled” in an episode of Friends, for heaven’s sake.) Still, there are always going to be people who have missed those references. And then there’s historical fiction. Is it a spoiler to mention who won a particular battle, or which of Henry VIII’s wives got the axe?

Plus, even though people think of spoilers in terms of plot, plot isn’t the only thing that could be spoiled. What about characters? If a seemingly flat stock character develops layers late in the book, would that be a spoiler? Or theme? If a book that seems to be about one thing turns into a book about something else, is that a spoiler?

Of course, in the blogging world, we have the spoiler warning as a way to get around all this. If you think you might be giving something away, post a warning. Seems simple, right? Except that for some, sharing any details about the book at all would constitute a spoiler. (One wonders what such readers want from a blog post—opinion only? Whether the blogger liked it? But that’s boring without something explaining why and how the blogger liked it. That requires details.) If, to satisfy the extremely spoiler averse, I were to start any post with plot details with a spoiler warning, just about all my posts would need a warning. Frankly, that seems silly—and it’s no help at all for readers like me who are only concerned with avoiding spoilers involving secrets that the author is clearly trying to keep hidden. (The twist in Fingersmith or the identity of the killer in a mystery.) See, not so simple!

My usual approach, for what it’s worth, is to allow myself a free hand with events in the first third to one-half of a book. I’ll discuss the premise, the central problem, the growing conflict, and whatnot without any warnings at all. If I’m discussing events late in the book, I’ll try to be vague. I might discuss what works and what doesn’t about the resolution without saying what happens: It was too tidy, or left too many loose ends, or came out of the blue. If I want to discuss the resolution in detail, I’ll add a spoiler warning or at least mention that I’m discussing events late in the book. (Which approach I take often depends on how detailed or how important the developments I’ll be revealing are to the overall book.) Sometimes, too, I’ll discuss events in isolation, without explaining much about how they relate to the overall story. If, for instance, I’m discussing the language, the quote I choose may or may not come late in the book, but it usually won’t reveal any big secrets. If it does, I’ll mention it.

This is an area where I think it’s easy to state a clear and basic rule: Don’t spoil, or if you do, post a warning. I’ve seen people state firmly that this is one of the absolutely most important rules of blogging and that not following it is an inconsiderate violation of basic courtesy. I’m not a fan of blogging rules in general, and even if I agree with the sentiment behind this one (I certainly don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience); I don’t think a no-spoiler-witout-warning policy is as easy to apply as this baldly stated rule would imply. For my part, I try to be considerate, but I know it’s impossible to please everyone. I do what seems reasonable to me and hope for the best. That’s all any of us can do.

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59 Responses to Sunday Salon: Spoiler Warning?

  1. Nymeth says:

    Excellently put, Teresa. Trying to be considerate is really the best we can do. As with many things, common courtesy is the best approach. I don’t mind a reader who thinks I revealed too much telling me so as long as they’re not rude about it. And likewise I don’t mind people who don’t believe in the concept of spoilers at all expressing their opinion as long as there’s no contempt for what they deem silly and shallow plot-based readers implicit to their comments.

    • Teresa says:

      The vexing thing about the common courtesy approach is that there seem to be so many different ideas of what that means as far as spoilers are concerned. I’m definitely willing to be considerate by holding back regarding surprises or late developments (or giving a warning), but warning about events halfway through or even what the book’s about goes above and beyond common courtesy, IMO. Others might disagree and think any potential revealing discussion requires a warning. So it’s difficult.

  2. softdrink says:

    I’m more forgiving of spoilers in blog posts, because, let’s face it, it’s hard to be chatty about books without giving away something (although I do try to warn people about major spoilers).

    But when I read Pat Conroy’s book earlier this year and he was giving away endings right and left, I was seriously annoyed. Because I don’t expect to be reading merrily along in a BOOK and whammo, have another book ruined for me.

    Am I holding published authors to a higher standard? You betcha.

    • Teresa says:

      Exactly–what can you say without giving something away for somebody!

      Your observations about the Conroy are interesting, though. I haven’t read that, but I’ve read plenty of books about books, and I almost always expect some spoilers. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes not. Depends on the book (both the one I’m reading and the one ostensibly “spoiled).

  3. Audrey says:

    I think you’re right. It’s hard to talk about a book without divulging something, and that could ruin things for people who are strongly spoiler-adverse. But otherwise, all you could say is ‘something happened in this book and I liked it.’ On the other hand, when I’m reading a book, I like the small discoveries, and when I’m writing about it, I sometimes think that I shouldn’t give them away, because I want someone else to have a chance to discover them. And I was annoyed with the last book I read (or with its publicists, to be fair) because the book jacket copy said that something was going to happen to a main character; it didn’t happen until the very end, and I found myself waiting for it, rather than it having the shock value the author probably intended. Totally unnecessary!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve read some back cover copy like that too, and it mystifies me why a publisher would do that. When it’s mentioned on the back cover, I expect it to happen fairly early on, and waiting for the expected event can be distracting!

      I think it’s easy enough to divulge some details while leaving plenty of small discoveries for future potential readers. The best books have lots of things in them worth talking about.

  4. amymckie says:

    Great post, loved reading your thoughts. Personally I dislike spoilers for the most part but I expect reviews to have them. I think the easy solution is that if you haven’t read the book and you expect to shortly, skip reading reviews of it!

    • Teresa says:

      That seems like an easy enough solution to me. I would think that most blog posts tread some sort of middle ground as far as the amount of spoilers is concerned. People who really don’t want anything revealed can probably avoid the sort of posts that reveal a lot.

  5. Bookish Hobbit says:

    I was reading a review for a classic novel that I knew nothing about and have on my e-Reader. I thought I might glean from the review enough interest to perhaps read the book next once I finished the title I was currently working on, but then it occurred to me that the review seemed less a review as a summary of the book, spoilers and all. I’m one of those people that hates getting spoilers because I’m of the mind that it ruins the experience.

    Great post for the Sunday Salon!

    • Teresa says:

      And I probably wouldn’t have minded reading a summary if I know nothing in advance because I often like knowing having some idea of what to expect. (Although I do prefer for reviews to be more than summary.) Just goes to know how different people are different.

  6. Victoria says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts Theresa. If I know I’m going to be reading a book soon and see reviews, I’ll probably only read the first part of the review until I feel like it might be getting a little too into what happened and I’ll make a note to come back to it once I’ve finished. The only times I try very, very hard to avoid spoilers, is when it’s something that I’ve put a lot of time into, most often series with big gaps between them eg Harry Potter. I did everything I could to avoid spoilers of The Deathly Hallows, including staying up until 4 AM to read taking a short sleep break and not looking at anything online until I had finished the book. Extreme? Maybe, but I had spent so much of my life at that point invested in the books, I wanted to find out how Rowling ended it for myself. That’s probably the only time I’ve ever done something like that.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve done that too, as far as stopping when a post gets into more detail than I want. But then I often want the detail, so it really does depend on my mood, the type of book, and so on.

      And I know just what you mean about Deathly Hallows. I read that on the first day it was released for much the same reason. Right now, I’m trying to avoid detailed discussion of both Dr. Who and Season 2 of Downton Abbey because both stories involve a lot of surprises. However, I won’t get annoyed if I happen across a post or tweet that spills the beans. My fault for looking.

  7. cbjames says:

    I did see this study and Roger Ebert’s recent post on movie viewing and spoilers. Back in the day, pre-1970’s it was common for movies to run basically on loops. People showed up and took a seat whenever. I remember as a kid, arriving at the movie mid-way through and then watching the first part of the next showing. Spoilers just were never an issue. We all knew how it would end before we went.

    I saw a production of Medea years ago that kept me glued to my seat in suspense over what would happen next even though I knew every detail of the plot. I was still shocked when it all happened. I think the best literature still surprises us even when we know what’s going to happen. That’s a mark of quality.

    I also basically think that if you do not want to know what happens in a book before you read it, you should not read reviews of it at all. There are many times when I do just that myself.

    • Teresa says:

      I hadn’t seen anything from Roger Ebert recently on spoilers. I vaguely remember a post from years ago. I’ll have to look for that–he’s one of my heroes and a great model for popular critical writing. I’d love to see what he thinks.

      Like I told Victoria, I’m avoiding posts on some TV series because I relish the surprise those offer. It would be the same for a book if I think surprise matters. I don’t want to silence the universe just because I’m slow to get around to things.

  8. Lisa says:

    Another thoughful, and thought-provoking post. I wonder about this myself, especially in posting about mysteries, where you want to give some idea of the plot and characters, but clearly you don’t want to say, “I was so surprised to find it was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.” And if it’s the thirteen book in a series, even talking about the main character’s life at that point would be a spoiler for someone who hasn’t caught up with the series – I’ve noticed how careful you are with the Cynthia Harrod-Eagles books. I’ve included spoiler notices, but usually at the point in the post where I think it necessary, not at the start. It never occured to me to include one for a non-fiction work.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve figured out that part of the trick with the Morlands is not naming names, but it’s a challenge because some just a book or two behind could figure it out easily, I think.

      If I do include a spoiler notice, I usually wait until I’m getting to the relevant part of the post, and I try to say something of value before then. I’ve seen people put them at the start, but I’ve gotten impression that they worry that revealing anything along the way is a spoiler.

  9. I generally avoid spoilers when possible, but there are a few exceptions. A lot of times, if I am having a hard time with a book, knowing the spoilers actually help and give me something to look forward too. Sometimes I feel the same way with classics too.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve had that very same thing happen. Often, when I’m struggling (whether because a book is hard or because it’s bad), I’ll try to read more about it, either to help myself figure it out or to decide if it’s a waste of time to continue. So-called “spoilers” in that case can be extremely helpful!

  10. I do love to approach a book knowing little about it, but most of the times that doesn’t happen because I don’t like to waste time (or money) with a book that I won’t finish and in order to do that I need to know a little bit more about the book.
    Spoiller warnings are great!, but it’s hard to know what some people consider spoilers.

    • Teresa says:

      Definitely. I like at least knowing enough so that I can decide if I’m likely to enjoy or benefit from the reading, and just knowing that someone else liked it is rarely enough.

  11. Emily says:

    I must admit, with full acknowledgment that this is a personal pet peeve of mine, that what I perceive as the obsession with spoiler-avoidance in the blogging world often gets on my nerves. Although I certainly wouldn’t divulge the “whodunit” of an Agatha Christie, and generally avoid big plot points that are set up by the writer as reveals, it seems (again personally, to me) that some folks object to incorporating any kind of plot information beyond the basic premise as “spoiling” the book, even if the plot stuff in question isn’t set up as any kind of surprise.

    Sometimes an analysis doesn’t need to talk about plot at all in order to make its points; other times it needs to talk about the big reveals; still other times, random plot information from the latter part of the book comes in handy. I use spoiler warnings about the really big stuff, but it just seems silly to flag any little plot-based development I happen to mention as a spoiler warning.

    And I guess my attitude also might have to do with the kinds of books I most like to read and write on, which are often light on plot and heavy on style and ideas. To be fixated on the plot and “spoilers” of, like, Beckett’s Molloy or Woolf’s The Waves seems to me to be missing the point, and to include spoiler warnings for these books seems kind of absurd to me.

    Er. End of cranky screed.

    • Not just the kinds of books you read, Emily, but the reading about books that you have done, the models you are following, the work of the great critics who have inspired you to write, not just read.

      That’s the great puzzle to me, the refusal, by people who have chosen to write about books, to acknowledge that learning how to write about books is a valuable activity, and that we need not just examples, but really good ones, the best. But no, Virginia Woolf’s Common Reader is forbidden because it will not enhance but ruin the pleasure of books. Nonsense.

      • Teresa says:

        Tom (wow, you have a name now!), I know you’ve talked about this before, and I think you make a great point that we as bloggers could do well to think of ourselves as writers. Just because it’s not on paper doesn’t mean it isn’t writing. I’m sometimes mystified that bloggers don’t think of what they’re doing as writing.

        You’ve inspired me many times to start at least thinking about reading those really good models. One day, I will get around to following your advice. The best criticism often does enhance my pleasure, even if it reveals more than I might choose to. (Of course, much depends on the particular writer’s audience and purpose when it comes to choices about what to reveal.)

      • Follow Jenny’s advice first! Dirda & Jarrell, right? I used Woolf as an example 1) for Emily’s sake, 2) because The Common Reader books are nothing fancy, mostly just plain old newspaper book reviews, except that they’re among the best ever written.

    • Teresa says:

      Emily, I think we’re of similar mind about this, and I think our approaches to dealing with the problem are certainly similar.

      Yes, there are books where it’s good to hold back on the details, but I really don’t understand wanting to know nothing but the premise. If that’s what people want to do in their personal reading, that’s fine. I have no quarrel whatsoever with that. But when I’m writing about books, I’m not going to flag everything that might be considered a spoiler by someone. Yet I’ve seen some say that this is a clear and incontrovertible rule and that any other policy is inconsiderate. I’ll flag stuff that’s obviously meant to be a secret, which seems fair to me, and I’ll be as vague as I can about late developments. My thought is, if you’re so sensitive to spoilers that knowing anything much is a problem, don’t read my posts. Simple!

      And yes, in some books to think about spoilers at all is laughable.

      • Teresa says:

        Dirda and Jarrell are on my list for sure, as is Woolf’s A Common Reader. In fact, I have read and enjoyed Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure and do read his WaPo reviews when I think about it (or really when I realize it’s one of his reviews in my news feed. WaPo reviews are astonishingly uneven). I just want to make time to read more.

        I always want to make time to read more of everything. Sigh.

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  13. Jenny says:

    As I think you know, Teresa, I have taken the attitude more and more lately that I’m blogging to discuss books, end of story. If my discussion of a book involves interesting things I’m thinking about that might reveal more about the book than someone else is happy with, why, they ought to read a different blog, that doesn’t discuss books with the level of detail that I’m happy with — because their opinion counts, it just doesn’t have to be catered to in my reviews.

    I will say, though, that I recently did smack a caveat on my review of Pale Fire, something I haven’t done for years. I wanted to talk about *all* of that book, from beginning to end, and since my reactions were so bound up with the way the book unfolded, I wanted to give other readers a chance to duck out and read it that way, too.

    • Teresa says:

      I’m absolutely more interested in discussion than in recommending or promoting or whatever. I’m willing to cater to certain expectations (not naming the murderer without a warning and the like), but there’s no way to cater to everyone, and I’m not going to try. I think I use spoiler warnings more than you do, but I don’t use them often (especially in comparison to many other bloggers). I prefer to find ways to write around any secrets that I think are better left for future readers to discover–To describe what the ending is like or my reaction to it without divulging any details.

    • rebeccareid says:

      Jenny, I think Pale Fire is meant to be a whole book, I mean, when I read it I was going back and forth the whole time from beginning to end. And then I finished it and it still didn’t make sense. I enjoyed reading your post. It’s encouraged me to give it another go sometime. (maybe in a long time…)

  14. katrina says:

    I have to admit, I’m one of those readers who cheat and read the last chapter of books. I can’t help it! I really can’t. I’d like to be assured that there’s something to look forward to at the end, something that will make all the pain I feel (albeit vicariously) during a book’s rising action worth it.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve done the same thing many times. Not as often these days as I used to, but I still do it. I’m especially likely to do it when I’m not sure I want to continue with a book.

  15. ithinkisawsomething says:

    This made me laugh a bit: it reminded me of how I recommended my husband to read one of my favourite books “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, only for him to be told the ending by dutifully reading the Introduction in the book. He was absolutely livid that the academic who had written the introduction had given the plot away. I don’t think it’s as big an issue for me, but I think it would spoil my experience to some extent as it waters down the suspense you might feel and which the writer has taken a lot hard work to create. Personally, for that reason, I don’t read Introductions in novels.

    • Teresa says:

      There was a discussion of Introductions yesterday at Ready When You Are, CB! You should check that out if you haven’t already. I’ve noticed a trend of Introductions beginning with a statement that first-time readers of the book might wish to treat the introduction as an Afterword, which is what I generally do (especially with a book like Rebecca, where surprise is a huge element). If I’m struggling, I might give it a skim to see if there’s any help there, but usually I wait, not out of fear of spoilers, but because I usually won’t understand the essay without having read the book!

  16. Victoria says:

    I’d echo a lot of the sentiment already expressed here: that ‘spoiler’ is a bad, overly negative word; that bloggers need to be able to discuss books and to draw plot into their discussions; and that there can be no hard and fast rules for what constitutes too much information. Every book has to be taken on its own terms. As Nymeth said in her original post I would consider it a shame to reveal the plot twist in Fingersmith, but would feel few qualms about discussing in detail the ending of Jane Eyre. That’s because – for me – the experience of reading Fingersmith is enhanced by not knowing, while the experience of reading Jane Eyre is enhanced by knowing. It’s a decision I make as a commentator; it’s to do with how I have thought and felt about a book. How much I reveal is often a function of the reviewing process; a measure of what, how and why I feel a certain way.

    • Teresa says:

      I absolutely agree that there simply can’t be hard and fast rules. What I do changes from book to book. But I’ve definitely observed a strong anti-spoiler sentiment among bloggers and an attendant sentiment that all possible revelations must be flagged. I just don’t think it’s so simple when knowing anything in advance would seem like a spoiler for some readers. (A perfectly fine personal stance for a reader to take, but one I absolutely do not understand.)

  17. Deb says:

    I always try to be good about putting the words POSSIBLE SPOILER in my comments if I’m going to write about something that might reveal too much. Sometimes the “twist” in a book or movie is so much a part of the experience that it isn’t fair to spoil it for someone else. For example, would anyone really want to see “The Crying Game” is they knew the plot twist in advance? Would anyone who hasn’t read A KISS BEFORE DYING want to know what those of us who have read it already know? If I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying (or being surprised by or even disliking) something unexpected in a book (or movie), shouldn’t I let someone else have that experience too? As you say, it’s a balancing act. Let common courtesy and common sense rule.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, but see I wanted to see The Crying Game only after I heard what the twist was! Before that, I had no interest at all. That’s not to say I’d blithely reveal the twist, but it just shows that everyone’s different.

      And the trouble with warning anytime we might be revealing too much is that what’s too much is so dependent on the reader. I’d absolutely warn people to skip a paragraph if I were going to reveal something like the end of The Crying Game, but something like the big death in Little Woman, which is so well-known to the culture, isn’t so clear. In other cases, even mentioning that there is a twist or an unreliable narrator or something would constitute a spoiler.

  18. DrGranma says:

    Wow! I am one who likes ‘spoilers’ and have peaked at endings… with some frequency!! I am sooo glad to know I am not alone and can gilve up my ‘guilt’ for peeking. Loved this piece. It was really thought provoking.

    • Teresa says:

      No need to feel guilty! Many of us are habitual end-peekers. Other Jenny (of Jenny’s Books) has even gone so far as to make “I read the end before I read the middle” her tagline!

  19. sakura says:

    I think in the end you have to do what you think is right. There are so many book blogs out there that readers gravitate towards blogs that suit them and, as we all know, we can’t please everybody. I don’t really like spoilers mainly because I like reading mysteries (where uncovering secrets is the main point of the journey), but I always bookmark posts so I can read them properly afterwards and join in the discussion. I think if you give a fair warning it’s fine. Lovely post, Theresa!

    • Teresa says:

      I’d never intentionally reveal the answer to a mystery without a warning (and I’d try to stay vague enough that I don’t need the warning). It really does depend on the type of book how careful I am, both in writing and in reading about it.

  20. Mumsy says:

    I often read the end first – it makes reading the book MORE enjoyable for me if I can catch all the clues on the way – but I prefer to be able to choose if I will “spoil” or not spoil. So I think it is considerate of bloggers to at least eschew offering vital plot twists on the altar of book discussion.

    My mother-in-law was once in line to buy tickets for the film Titanic, and she and her friend were talking about what a huge deal the sinking of the Titanic was to their parents’ generation – and a teenager ahead of them turned around, face screwed up with rage, and said, “Oh, thanks a lot for telling the ending!”

    • Teresa says:

      I can definitely understand wanting the choice. I try to be vague enough in my discussions that it isn’t a problem, but I’m sure it’s not vague enough for everyone. That’s why it’s wonderful that there are so many blogs with so many styles.

      And I love that Titanic story! Another good example of how nebulous the definition of a spoiler can be.

  21. Steph says:

    I think everything you point out here is perfectly valid and reasonable. Like you say, practically anything can be considered a spoiler, but it would be insane for people to feel they can’t talk about anything that happens in a book for fear of being too liberal in their disclosure. I think my general policy is that if anything is a large source of tension in a novel, then I err on the side of not revealing how that tension is resolved because, yes, while most people know going into Sense & Sensibility how the Dashwood sisters will end up, some people obviously won’t, and for Austen that clearly was a huge thrust of the novel (Will Edward and Elinor get together? We don’t actually find out until something like 3 pages from the end!), so I’d rather be cautious rather than inadvertently say something that tells someone something they would have rather discovered on their own.

    Now, of course there are going to be times when you want to talk about something specific because it really annoyed/pleased/scared/angered/whatevered you, but again, it’s really easy to say something like “For the next paragraph I’m going to talk about specifics, so if you think you’d like to read this book, perhaps it’s best to avoid this section for now!” and then proceed. It’s one sentence, flags the stuff people might want to discover on their own, and then off you go.

    I get that some people like knowing the ending or outcome of a book before they even begin, but that’s not the kind of reader I am. I understand that sometimes books “let us down” in the end, by having unhappy endings or perhaps just disappointing ones where something we can’t abide happens. But to me, that’s all part of the reading process. I read books so that I can experience a rollercoaster of emotions, or a prolonged story… I’m not simply satisfied by reading the back blurbs on books or wikipedia-esque plot summaries. I’m past the age where I want to read things akin to 7th-grade book reports… thanks, but I’ll just read the book myself! No offense to book bloggers, but I think the author is probably going to tell the story in a more engaging way than a second-hand report. So I tend to skip the plot synopses in most people’s reviews and skip to the blogger’s reactions and responses to the book instead.

    • Steph says:

      Oh, I just thought of one other thing to add to my long-winded discussion of spoilers: to me, it also really matters how the blogger is making use of material related to plot. I don’t want to read three paragraphs that simply describe the plot of the book, or shoot off all the exciting bits and how they’re resolved. But if someone mentions something that happens in the book as a means of discussing something they think illustrates a central theme or idea or issue they had with the book, then that doesn’t bother me at all. I tend to think in those cases that that bit of information is really just going to be one of many, so there’s still tons for me to discover anyway!

      For what it’s worth, I’ve never felt like either you or Jenny are too tightlipped or too liberal in your discussions of plot, though I did appreciate Jenny’s warning at the beginning of Pale Fire. I have to assume most author’s believe their readers are going to approach their books being fairly tabula rasa, and when that mindset greatly enhances one’s reading experience, I want it for myself!

      • Teresa says:

        I really like the way you explain your approach, Steph, as holding back on how the sources of tension are resolved. And that can apply to character and theme as well as plot. The funny thing about Austen, though, is that her books seem like books that would have a happy ending, and the tension for me is in how the couple gets there. So it wouldn’t occur to me that mentioning the happy ending is a spoiler, although I suppose it could be for some. I’m glad to hear that you think Jenny and I have struck the right balance, though :)

        And you’re quite right to bring in the whole business of summaries. There was a great discussion over at Wuthering Expectations about summaries a while back, and the point I took away from it and try to remember when I write is to only reveal what you intend to use, which fits right in with what you say about mentioning events in the book to make a point. I’m with you on skipping summaries when they’re separated out from the review. If I’ve never heard of the book, I might skim such a summary, but that’s it. (And I have strong opinions about the use of publishers’ summaries. A bit of a pet peeve, to be honest.)

  22. Kathleen says:

    I think you’ve hit on the right approach. It is impossible to know all the ways one can spoil a book for another reader but revealing a plot twist like in Fingersmith would seem to be an obvious spoiler to me. I liked being surprised by it even though I knew a twist was coming. If you warn that you are about to reveal something then a reader has the chance to hop off and stop reading! This way those that don’t like spoilers have the chance to avoid them and those that don’t mind them can read away!

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for the support. I really try to stay vague enough that I don’t even need a warning for obvious spoilers, like in Fingersmith. (Just took a look back at my Fingersmith review, and I see that I didn’t use a warning there; I was just vague about plot, detailed about themes and personal impressions.)

  23. rebeccareid says:

    As you know, Teresa, I’m not overly concerned with spoilers and I love to know the ending first (and read the last page first sometimes).

    That said, I’ve read the back cover one classic and I was a bit annoyed when I found that what they said didn’t happen until near the end of the book. I mean, it just demeaned the entire first half of the book by not giving it credit…It was a strange thing for me to feel just what a spoiler could be, since I claim to not worry about them and I really don’t. And that didn’t “ruin” my reading of the classic, it was just kind of annoying that I kept waiting for something…

    I have enjoyed reading your post and Nymeth’s post. Very good to consider how we all read and respond differently.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve had that happen to, and it did bug me, although it didn’t ruin the book. I mostly what annoyed me was that I thought it was part of the premise of the book (which is what I expect the back cover to be about) and would happen early, so I never quite settled into the reading until it happened. It felt strangely like the book hadn’t started.

  24. I do include plot synopses but I would say to Steph that actually those are more for ME (a.k.a. The Great Plot Forgetter) rather than anyone else. And I do try to avoid spoilers or warn if I am forced to include them (e.g., by writing about books in a series). But over and above that, I am always astounded when bloggers complain about what other bloggers do. It is a HUGE blogisphere – why don’t they just don’t read bloggers they don’t like? I have enough trouble keeping up with bloggers I like – I guess I don’t get it.
    Perplexed in Tucson (or more alliteratively, Perplexed in Perpetuity)

    • Teresa says:

      For what it’s worth, Jill, I don’t have a problem with bloggers writing and including a summary in their posts as you do. I just rarely read that part because it isn’t all that interesting. I just skim it or skip right to the discussion and peek back at the summary if I’m not following something. It’s not enough of a problem to make me stop reading a blog I otherwise enjoy. And personally, I don’t have a problem with bloggers mentioning things we like and don’t in the blogs we read, as long as we don’t try to turn our preferences into rules. Does that make sense?

      All that said, I do have what might be considered strong opinions about the use of publishers’ summaries, and since I mentioned it above, I might as well explain my issue with bloggers’ using them. To me, publishers’ summaries are marketing copy. Their purpose is to sell the book. Using sales copy could feed the impression that bloggers are there to serve the publishing industry, instead of providing independent information and commentary (which may or may not support the industry). I’m not going to say bloggers should never use back cover copy, but using it has implications, and I’m not sure everyone who copies and pastes that text into post after post is thinking about that.

      • I personally think it’s a good “writing exercise” to try to come up with a summary that is not a replication of the publisher’s summary. I rarely get it to be as good or concise, but that’s why I’m a schlump living in Tucson instead of a marketer living in New York…

  25. anokatony says:

    For a long time, I avoided forewords or introductions to novels, because once in a while the introduction would spoil the novel either by telling the story in a dreary way or by being so obtuse they would impede the spirit of the book. I have noticed along with their excellent book selection, NYBR also has excellent introductions.

    • Teresa says:

      I, on the other hand, used to dutifully read the introductions, whether they were helpful or not, and half the time, I couldn’t even understand them because the authors seemed to assume I’d read the book. Now I read them after and find them much more interesting and helpful.

      I’ve heard varied opinions about the NYRB books introductions, but I’ve not read enough of them to have an opinion. Something to start taking note of in the future!

  26. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: Surprise, Suspense, and Spoilers « The Literary Omnivore

  27. Christy says:

    Late to comment because I’m catching up on my blog reading – but this is a great post! I put a lot of the responsibility for avoiding spoilers on myself. If there’s a book I do not want to be spoiled on, I might not read reviews of it at all, or only to a certain point as Victoria said she did in a comment above. I think most book bloggers can figure out which ‘big plot points’ they should keep bordered by spoiler warnings, and I haven’t seen bad judgment on that count yet.

    I once was on a movie discussion forum where it occasionally happened that a troll would post a spoiler in the subject line of a new thread, and then there’d be furious chaos for a while.

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