Reading The Last Page First: Self-Defeating Or Just Darn Sensible? We pose the question: Is it a valid tension-managing strategy to read the last page of the book first, or are you proving yourself a terrible cheater?

Reading The Last Page First: Self-Defeating Or Just Darn Sensible?

a woman reading a scary book

When we were talking about the Killer Thrillers nominations yesterday (there's still time to cast your votes!), something came up in the comments that was interesting.

I had briefly mentioned the idea of the person who has to read the last page of a suspenseful book first, and while some were sympathetic, another commenter couldn't understand how anyone could read a book after finding out the ending.

It's a movie and not a book, but let me tell you about me and Inglourious Basterds.

As you know if you've seen that movie, it's essentially a series of enormously tense sequences in which you are waiting for something terrible that may or may not happen, and none is more tense than the first 20 minutes or so of the film. Without revealing too much, a farmer (played shatteringly by Denis Menochet in the most underpraised performance of last year) is visited by the Nazi played by Christoph Waltz, and the two have a talk.

Fortunately for me, I was watching it on Blu-ray at home the first time I saw it, and I ultimately gave up and fast-forwarded to the end of the scene. It had actually gotten physically unpleasant to watch, it was so tense. Now, I immediately went back and watched the rest of the scene, and I was far more able to appreciate its subtleties when I didn't have my fingers in my ears because I was waiting for the moment I was sure was coming when somebody got shot.

Does it make me a bad viewer? Maybe. And usually, I don't do that. I wait out suspense all the time, and I enjoy the payoff. But there are moments when I'm actually having an unpleasant experience, because the anxiety of following the story has overtaken the pleasure of following the story. So every once in a long while, I cheat.

A side note: I have read a lot of Stephen King. As you may know, Stephen King isn't afraid to kill people, so you never know whether the characters to whom he attaches you are going to survive. Nevertheless, I have only ever jumped to the end of one Stephen King story: "Head Down," which is included in his 1993 short story collection Nightmares And Dreamscapes. And what is "Head Down" about, you ask? Perhaps a monster? An imperiled small child?

Not quite. "Head Down" is a nonfiction piece in which King exhaustively details his son's Little League baseball season. And it's the only thing he's ever written where I couldn't take it anymore and had to find out what was going to happen.


So I put it to you: do you ever skip ahead to the ending? What puts you in that frame of mind? When was the last time you did it?