I remember the summer of 1981. It was the summer that my mother was reading "Cujo" by Stephen King. And her friend Patti “innocently” asks “did he die yet?” This has become the running joke in our family. That anytime you are in the middle of a book, someone MUST ask if the main character has died yet.
A few years after this, my 8th grade English class read “Oliver Twist.” We were assigned chapters to read. And I was sure to not read ahead. I didn’t want to confuse myself when quizzes were involved. But then there was a betrayl. And my teacher told us how it ended. BEFORE we were supposed to read the last chapters. I never finished that book. I didn’t see the point.
In 9th grade, we read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I loved that book. I read my chapters as assigned. And it was so difficult to not plunge ahead as I was absorbed into Scout’s world. But it happened again. The teacher told us what happened to Tom Robinson. And I was just livid. I couldn’t continue with the story. I took notes in class, but I didn’t finish that book. And did not pick it up again for 20 years. Not until my book club decided to read it.
Then, in 1999, I started a book club at my church. I was so excited to have this forum. To talk with other readers about a book we had just completed. Our first book that we read was “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier. It was not light reading. I really enjoyed the book. And especially liked the parallels between Inman’s journey home to his love, Ada – with that of Odysseus and his long journey home after the Trojan war to his wife, Penelope. But then. I got to the end. And guess what happens at the end of “Cold Mountain?” He dies. After all the travails, our hero, WP Inman, is killed.
Did Homer kill Odysseus? Did he kill the hero of that epic poem? The guy that managed to survive the Trojan war, the Cyclops, the Sirens, the witch Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, and the will of the Gods? No, he didn’t. But Charles Frazier. Yes, he killed off his hero.
I don't need every story to have a neat tie up. A clear resolution. Or even a happy ending. BUT. That book, “Cold Mountain,” changed me as a reader. I am now one of those people who turns to the end of the story to see what happens before I read it. Invest my time in it. Escape my reality with it. I just have to make sure. Make sure that I know the answer to the question. "Did he die yet?"
So, what about you? Do you ever read the last page first? Do you NEED a happy ending? What book have you read – that you liked – until the ending ruined it for you?
What Kind of Reader are you? Part 1
What kind of reader are you? Part 2