Monday musings on Australian literature: Trove treasures (4), Impatient readers

Time is short tonight as my downsizing move has hit a little roadblock. In a nutshell, our furniture and some of our goods are sitting on a truck awaiting transfer to our new apartment where the lift went out of service the same time that the truck was being loaded. That was last Thursday. We spent Friday waiting for news about when the repair could be done, and then all day today waiting for the repair to be done. By the end of the day, the new part was installed but the lift was still not working …

All this is to say that for tonight’s post I’m just sharing one little piece that I found during my recent Trove research, because that’s all the time I have.

The reading of novels and curiosity

Such is the title given to the column I found in Perth’s The Daily News of 30 August 1912. It starts with

Woman reading with cushion

This is an age of curiosity, of impatience. We no sooner take up a book than we look at the end to satisfy ourselves as to whether “they shall live happily ever afterward,” or whether the heroine shall marry some other man.

It suggests that “we are so sure of ourselves, so sure of our ability to forecast the termination of a tale that we perchance miss a couple of important chapter [sic], only to find that we had jumped at a wrong conclusion”. And then it gives what seemed to me to be a strange “concrete example of this spirit”:

we may cite the cases of dozens of people who, the instant they begin to read an interesting short article in the paper, immediately look to see whether The Commercial Tailoring Company, 794 Hay-street (upstairs), have had anything to do with it. Very often they are right, but sometimes they are quite wrong. Even when they are right, they have deprived themselves of a vast amount of pleasure and profit. For the article was designed, even as the clothes of the Company are designed, for their pleasure and well-being. It pays to read right through to the end.

What the? So, of course, I did some research, and it seems that The Commercial Tailoring Company advertised itself through little circa 250-word “stories” in the paper, stories which they twist at some point to refer to their clothing. Stories which, our columnist tells us, are designed for the reader’s “pleasure and well-being”. Stories of which, indeed, this very article is one. Here are some others: The stranger’s mistake (2 August), The North Pole (16 August), The art of the funny man (17 August), and The gentle rain (31 August). Do read a couple, but I dare you to not peek at the end!

I wonder how effective their stories were. Anyhow, you probably know what I am going to ask:

Do you ever peek at the end of a story you are reading? Why or why not?

36 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Trove treasures (4), Impatient readers

  1. Oh, sorry to hear that – hope things get fixed soon!

    I never peek at endings, but my wife often does. She hates the anxiety that comes with not knowing what will happen, especially when she cares about the characters. When she knows what will happen, she feels reassured and is ready to start reading. (It also reassures her that the ending will not be a big disappointment, which we all know can happen!)

    I don’t usually find that knowing the ending spoils a story (I often forget it even when I’ve discovered it or even read it before!), but I just prefer to let things unfold as they’re intended. Peeking at the ending sort of takes away from the reading experience for me.

    But, for some reason, when I’m reading something like a magazine or menu, I always start from the back page and work my way back to the front…

    • Easy to grasp why, that last bit: your tastebuds want to know all about the dessert before even thinking about the entrée or main. But the magazines ? – why are you even bothering ?!

      • Ha ha, dessert analogy is a good one, M-R.

        As for magazines, do you mean why is he bothering to read any at all? I don’t read many these days, but , for example, what about, her, The Monthly, or a literary magazine, or Choice , or… ?

      • Yes, meals are one time when it’s definitely good to skip to the end and see what dessert has in store! There are a few magazines I’ve read for years, e.g. New Internationalist, Amnesty Magazine, London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, etc. And some literary magazines. I agree that most are a waste of time, but I enjoy the few that I do read.

    • Thanks Andrew. Another morning, fingers crossed!

      Thanks for sharing yours and your wife’s reading behaviour. Your wife’s reasons are interesting and I understand them. I wonder though what happens if the ending isn’t what she would like for the characters she cares about. Does she give up on the book?

      I’m more like you in that I don’t think knowing the ending is a big spoiler – otherwise I’d never re-read Austen for example- but on the first read I do like to see how it unfolds. It’s not unusual for me to forget the ending later, and I think this is because the experience of the reading is what I most remember long term, not what happens.

      Magazines, haha love it.

      • Sometimes she does give up on a book or not even bother to start it if she’s very turned off by the ending. Or sometimes she’ll continue but at least be happy knowing what’s coming.

        Yes, that’s very well put – I think that’s why I forget endings. Or at least that sounds like a good excuse for me to use from now on 😉

        • Love that I’ve provided you with an excuse Andrew – and re your wife, that makes sense. Otherwise why would you check the ending to see if it’s disappointing or not. Each to their own eh?

  2. Ah, The Daily News .. Grew up with it.
    Happy to relate that by the time I hove into view there were no more little stories about the tailoring company. But for all I know I may’ve swallowed other rubbish of the kind (for my well-being).
    The only times I skip to the end are when I am about to return an audiobook as being unworthy of my listening, and to demand a credit. Which I do frequently, for one reason or another ..

      • (a) Narrator’s voice isn’t as good as I’d thought
        (b) Storyline turns out poor
        (c) Foolishly believed reviews
        (d) Narrator I’ve really liked, but his voices for characters are the same as previously – a very confusing listen
        Those are some of ’em, ST: can’t think of the rest without my breakfast !! [grin]

        • I think those 4 reasons show impressive before-breakfast thinking. (d) is interesting. I haven’t listened to enough audio books to build up such knowledge. I’m impressed.

  3. Actually no, I don’t. I enjoy reading whodunits, and that would spoil the pleasure of watching the puzzle unfold. And I rarely try to second guess who the culprit is. The British Library is producing a long series of reprints of detective fiction from the 1930s – books that have been long out of print – and while some are better than others they are fascinating social documents. Country House murders are plentiful, and everybody who is anybody has a retinue of domestic servants. Class distinction is rife, and everyone dresses for dinner, of course. The plots are usually ingenious. There were many other good authors besides Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.

    • Thanks Ray … makes sense for whodunits in particular. I think I’ve read about those reprints from some of the English book bloggers. A great thing for the library to be doing I think. As you say, the social history aspects of older books can make them worthwhile even when their literary quality doesn’t hold up.

  4. Nope, never have, in all my years of reading.
    I can’t see the point. The author has constructed the book the way it is and presumably knows what s/he is doing.

  5. I did think the advertisement could have been inserted more artfully (I wonder if Kimbofo does product placement in that way). The Daily News, our afternoon paper, continued until 1990 but I don’t remember ever reading it. I checked 794 Hay St as well, but a new building is there now. I feel sorry for your trucky and offsider (or for you and Mr Gums if you’ve had to pay two days’ hire).
    I check the ending of a novel sometimes if it is annoying me and I’ve decided to DNF (in which case I suppose, technically, I did not middle).

    • Thanks Bill, I thought the advertisements were entertaining – even if sometimes a bit clunky. They made me laugh.

      I think the removalist is not going to charge us. (The lift was fixed today so the move is happening tomorrow). Our job was a small truck so I understand they’ve been able to work around it but if it had gone past tomorrow we would have had to pay for storage as they wouldn’t have been able to tie up the truck any longer.

      I suppose checking the end IS OK if you don’t plan to ”middle”. We did that with a tv series recently – watched eps. 1-3 and then 8-10, as the middle was getting repetitive. We missed a bit but nothing we couldn’t work out. I enjoyed the series , whereas otherwise it was starting to annoy me.

  6. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I found those advertorial stories delightful! It smacks to me of a woman’s hand in the narrative style, and I would like to think that there was a regular income for the anonymous author. Something akin to penning the social page or agony aunt column.

    I rarely skip to the end unless I am fanning through pages to decide whether to go on with a read. But I also rarely DNF from the knowledge of how much effort it has taken the author to complete and entire book regardless of whether it has satisfied my reading want.

    Which brings me to MR and audio books. I wonder if I understood correctly? That if an audio book has been purchased and it is not to your liking (for various reasons) you can return it for a credit? How come? If you purchase a paperback and you don’t like the content, you can’t return it, can you?

    • Thanks Gwendoline: I like your response to the advertorials. I thought they were a bit of a hoot, and enjoyed seeing how they twisted the ideas to suit the product.

      I don’t peek at the end, and like you I almost never DNFS. I try to choose books I think I’ll get something out of to avoid that issue and it seems to work.

      Re the audiobooks, hopefully M-R will reply but my guess is she gets e-audiobooks from a service like Audible which probably has a credit arrangement.

      • I like to learn from reading. I was speaking to author friend today, Carmel Bendon, and her book “The Mystics Who Came to Dinner” opened my eyes to who/what were mystics and their beliefs. However, I had to stay alert and engage in active reading. Some of the concepts went over my head.

        On the other hand, her quirky, imaginative, off-beat book, Grasping at Water, had me hooked and wondering where it was going. A book to read slowly and savour. Also made me suspect there was a part of me inside Carmel’s head.

        Each to their own about audiobooks, and MR has not yet picked up on this conversation. All I can offer in defence is that I recorded mine, and it was incredibly difficult! Apparently, it takes four hours of recording to get one hour of usable material. In my case, I think that dropped to 3 to 1, but I was reading my own story. But four non-consecutive days, attempting to sit at the exact same projection to the microphone each day, and turn physical pages (some are done on an iPad or equal) without allowing the microphone to pick up the sound was gruelling. I could go on…

        • I like to learn from reading too Gwendoline … I like to be moved and inspired too, but I love to learn.

          I do often like it when authors read their own books, but I also appreciate that reading aloud is a skill that not all have. I can imagine that it is gruelling too!

  7. I often peek, although not when reading a mystery story. My book blogger friend Jenny at Reading the End makes a habit of reading the end before she reads the middle!

    • Ha Jeanne seems like you’re not time only one who might have a peek but not when the book is a mystery. Says something about why we read different things doesn’t it?

      Reading the End! I guess her blog title says it all.

  8. We already know the endings of an awful lot of the works we read. Somewhere, some student reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time does not know that named characters end up dead; but how that student has managed it, I don’t know. I have the notion that I already knew the ending of A Farewell to Arms when I first read it–though no idea how this could be so–but not the ending of The Great Gatsby which I first read at about the same time.

    • Interesting point George, and true. I remember reading Persuasion back in the 70s while watching an adaptation. I saw the last episode before I read the end, and sat up that night to read how Austen did it. Knowing the ending didn’t spoil my enthusiasm at all, I now remember.

  9. I have never ever thought about reading the end first. The only time I flick ahead is when I’m undecided whether to continue with a book that hasn’t really got going. I jump ahead a few chapters to see if suddenly finds it rhythm (it rarely does).

    Rereading is a different matter. I know the ending (although am often a bit vague about it) and enjoy watching how the author leads us to it. I used to avoid introductions in classics to avoid any spoilers, but I have changed that during my reading of Zola. There is so much going on in his novels, I like to have the insights in most introductions with me. They enhance my reading experience, even if I also learn that the main character is going to die at the end (it is Zola though, so you can generally take that as a given anyway!!)

    Hope you can get your furniture into its new home soon.

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