Are You Prone to Peeking?

Alison Morris - January 28, 2008

Sarah Nixon, one of our store’s veteran booksellers, recently confessed on her blog that she is (gasp!!)… a peeker. Yes, she peeks at the ending of a book before she begins reading it!

To those of us who are not thus inclined the very idea of reading the end before the beginning is horrifying. Unimaginable. Why would we want to deprive ourselves of a story’s suspense, of being surprised by where it takes us?

I am one of those "if you tell me how it ends I won’t want to read it" types. I HATE having the ending of a book (or movie or play) revealed to me in advance. I want to get there on my own time, with own two eyes, thank you very much.

And yet, I *know* a lot of you are not like me. A lot of you, like Sarah, like to skip to the last chapter and read it first, or read a book’s last sentence before you read its first one.

What I’d really like to know is WHY? When Sarah dropped by the store soon after the appearance of her "peeking" post, we had a funny conversation in which she sheepish confessed that she has NO IDEA what it is that makes her sneak a peek at the ending. Nervousness, you might be thinking. An anxious need to know where something is heading, perhaps. But I have to say that those aren’t personality traits I would ascribe to Sarah, a world-class marathon runner who’ll run 26 miles on an unfamiliar road in a country she’s never set foot in before. No, I don’t think Sarah’s the fretting type. I think her peeking tendency stems from something else… But I don’t know what that is.

Anyone have any theories? Want to confess and/or justify your own peeking? Have any other odd reading habits to share? You can easily post anonymously here, so please — do tell!

25 thoughts on “Are You Prone to Peeking?

  1. Abby Gaines

    Like you, I simply cannot understand the peeking mentality! I know plenty of people who do peek, but I personally wouldn’t read a book whose ending I already knew… And as an author, I don’t like to hear that someone peeked at the end of one of my books – a lot of work goes into building up to the ending and the reader can’t judge if the ending was “perfect” for that story without reading the build-up.

  2. Abby

    I will sometimes peek if the suspension is so high that I find myself racing through the text to find out what happens… I find that if I can see what happens, then I’m more able to take my time and savor the words because I’m not racing through it…

  3. Jessica

    In a few cases the suspense is unbearable. An author friend of mine says she buries the end of the story a few pages before the end of the book just to thwart peekers.

  4. mary Crabtree

    I would never peek. It would simply be wrong! So many books that I have read and loved would have been completely thrown off if I had peeked at their endings. I’ll bet you peekers, are Christmas present peekers too. I will however admit to reading magazines from the back to the front. the best is always in the back and then you aren’t inundated or controlled by the onslaught of advertising that lives in the front of most.

  5. bluestocking runner

    How embarrassing…Now my shameful secret is REALLY out of the closet!! I apologize to all the wonderful writers of the books I love( despite the peeking). However, I DO NOT peek at Christmas presents.

  6. Stephanie Chance

    I usually read the last few paragraphs of a book before I start reading it. That tells me something about the quality of the writing. If the novel is a mystery and it is summed up on the last page, it is not worth my time to read. If I am in the middle of a novel in which the suspense of finding out something is driving me crazy, I will scan through the novel to find out the answer because not knowing detracts from my reading experience. I tend to read quickly over anything that does not pertain to what I want to find out.

  7. kjl

    I peek for two reasons; too much suspense & I can’t enjoy the book, or I hate the book & wonder if the ending justifies slogging through the part I hate. But I do not peek at Christmas presents. The analogy there doesn’t work at all.

  8. Monica Edinger

    Last July I titled a child_lit post, “Rowling Loathes Me” because she complained about those who read the ending first. While I don’t read the ending first, if I’m reading along and worried enough about the characters (and it would seem to me authors should be happy I care that much about their characters to be so worried) I may look ahead to find out that they are okay. That’s all. Then I can relax and enjoy the book. I have to say that I appreciate Philip Pullman’s idea of the republic reading; that once the book is out of his hands and into the readers’ there is no wrong or right way to read and, to my mind, that includes those who chose for whatever reason to read in a nonlinear way. I read books all sorts of ways. Some I read, put aside for months, and then come back and finish. Some I read snippets of. And some I begin, get nervous, check the ending, and then read it all through. There are many ways to read a book, I say.

  9. via bloomington

    I don’t always peek – but there comes a point where I do (not usually in mysteries) – I need to know if the journey is going to be worth the end. Then, when I’m pretty sure it is – I can relax and read the rest of it. (enjoy the scenery, as it were)

  10. ShelfTalker

    I am learning so much from all of you! Thanks for the insights/justifications from you sometime peekers, and thanks for the author insights on this one. It never occurred to me before that authors might resent the act of peeking and/or attempt to thwart it!! For the record, Monica, I agree with you and Philip Pullman – there is no right or wrong way to read a book. But I do love hearing about people who read books in ways I wouldn’t dream of doing!

  11. Meredith

    I haven’t done this for years, but I used when I was younger and read slower: for the reassurance that things would get resolved, when I was bogged down in tough bits. And also perhaps for the fun of the guessing game (what does *that* mean? How do we get *there*?) I had my own rules, though — I could only read the very last page, even if it was just a single sentence.


    I usually don’t peek and don’t want to know the ending before I get there in the straightforward reading method. But there are a few books in which I get so invested in the characters and I can tell that bad things are going to happen, and then I will look at the last page or two to find out — will they survive? will they die? The only books I’ve done this with recently were Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” (a near future, and emotionally very scary novel) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun” (about the Biafran civil war). In both cases, the anxiety of not knowing who would still be alive at the end was too much –the stories were so real that the characters felt like my own friends and family. I could only break that tension by “confirming” that this was only a story, not real life, by looking at the end. I’d say that’s a real tribute to the writer’s storytelling power.


    Don’t peek, you guys (gals)! As publicist for an author I can tell you that his novel #3 to be released in March has an ending that closes not only the novel but the entire series. What a shame if it were to lose its punch.

  14. MaryCatherine

    Peeker and proud of it. Let’s face it. Popular fiction is usually based on a formula–that doesn’t take away from talented writers who do wonderful things within those parameters–but as a reader and book buyer I always peek. I peek to assure myself that: a) the writing is a style I know I will enjoy; and b) to see if the ending is one that will satisfy me in terms of the reading experience. Have read too many disappointing novels NOT to peek. Peeking in no way detracts from my respect or appreciation of those authors whose works I buy. Peeking does not spoil the book for me. For me the enjoyment of the book is in the journey—working through the plot–delectable detail by detail–there is nothing worse than having a book start out well and fizzle at the end with a convoluted resolution of the conflict or a pat ending. Peeking is my quality assurance technique. Do not fear the Peeker. Anticipate the Peeker and make sure you have a resolution to your plot that leaves the Peeker rushing to the checkout with your book in anticipation of a great literary journey.

  15. Amazonmom

    I always peek in romance novels. I just want to read the mushy endings because they are the best part and make sure the heroine ends up with the right guy(the guy I want. I never peek in suspense because that would ruin it. Regular literature–maybe just to see where things are going and to check on the characters and see how they turn out or if the story rather slow, to see if its worth continuing.

  16. Debbie

    I peek only when the suspense is killing me. I just go to the end to see if a character is still around. If so, I can read the book without having my stomach tied in knots. I don’t look for the entire outcome….just make sure a character lives till the end. It works for me!


    I definitely peek! If I’m not interested in finishing the book or simply think the writing is awful I may still want to find out what happens in the end. And if I like it? Well, knowing the ending lets me take a leisurely stroll . . .

  18. Emily Wallace

    A whole-hearted peeker when it’s a suspenseful story. I am a happy-ending addict so I don’t want to have read through the whole book only to have it end on a down note.


    As a librarian the books often are in my hands several times but I don’t have time to read them all. I may read them the same way I read Jane Eyre as an early teen: ending, then middle to ending then beginning to middle or end. Or I may jump all over the place. I rarely peek at the ones I check out for my own but I’m pleased to see that Phillip Pullman is o.k. with non-linear reading. So must be Louis Sachar because he wrote a whole wayside story end to beginning once!

  20. Julie

    I do not generally peak, but I went through a phase of peaking when I was a kid. The funny thing is, I had never even thought to peak until I heard someone talking about why you shouldn’t. Suddenly, whenever I read I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t concentrate. Finally, I had to give in and take a look. That went on for a few months or a year, I guess. Then I forgot all about it. I hope I’m not going to have the same problem now after reading all this! I would like to say that we linear readers should go easier on non-linear readers. Not everyone’s brain is wired the same way and just because we wouldn’t get much out of a book if we read it out of order, doesn’t mean that they don’t.

  21. Pam

    For those of you who DON’T peek — like Abby Gaines, who said “I personally wouldn’t read a book whose ending I already knew” — what about rereading? I reread constantly, even though I know how the story will turn out.

  22. LISA YEE

    I am not a peeker. At least, not anymore. Though it is true that when I was a kid sometimes I read the end of my Nancy Drews when I was midway through the books. It was the only way I could get my heart to stop racing when it was time for bed.

  23. Heath

    I should point out that, as a guy, I don’t tend to choose fiction for pleasure-reading as often as nonfiction. Because of that, if I read a work of fiction, I’d better enjoy it, and I’d better have a reason to actually push through to the end. 🙂 Overwhelmingly, it seems, folks don’t peek. And that’s alright; my own reasons for doing so come from my experience as a writer and reader. I have found “endings” to be one of the most often dissatisfying elements in a story’s structure. Life doesn’t have endings; even when individual lives end, circumstances go on and on, and that’s what makes real life feel whole. When a tale wraps up in a neat bundle, to me it feels less satisfying. Modern fiction makes a nod to this fact, often, by making the last chapter some sort of coda or musing; “10 years later…” “Standing by the sea, Colette mused on…” and so on. So, I read the last chapter first, almost always. This sets up in my mind a constellation of characters I don’t know, impressions of themes, snippets of phrases (often the last chapter contains allusions to prior chapters and dialogue). In most modern works, that’s almost all that reading the last chapter gives me. I then go back and start from the beginning; characters appear, themes emerge, and because of havign read that coda, I can feel a pulling-together of themes and events, drawing me on and on towards the ending. Once in awhile I’ll read something thatmakes me think “Aha; so that’s where that’s headed.” This feeling is even more enjoyable, for me, than it would have been had that ‘Aha’ come during a linear reading to the coda. By the time I reach the end, it’s as though the tale has wrapped in on itself, and the present scene (ending) is as if a memory being replayed, now fully clear. This, to me, feels much more like real life, and is much more satisfying for it. I doubt that many peekers read for these reasons. But those are mine. 🙂 – Heath

  24. Liz

    I am a peeker through and through. I can’t help myself! There are just too many books to be read and not enough time. I have to know that the book in my hands is worth spending four or five hours reading. The only book I read that I consciously chose not to peek at was the final Harry Potter installment. I couldn’t ruin that for myself after six years of enjoying the books (I caught on a little late). But I had no fear that Ms. Rowling would let me down. Thus, no reason to peek.


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