By January 23, 2009 1 Comments Read More →

Fighting over Spoils: The Etiquette of Giving Away the Ending

Rosebud is a sled, Darth Vadar is Luke’s father, and Bruce Willis is one of the dead people. And the caretaker Mr. MacGillicuddy would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you crazy kids and your mangy mutt Scooby Doo.

If you’ve been around book groups for long, you’ve encountered two awkward scenarios. The first is the reader, lacking experience in talking about books, who insists on slowly recounting the entire plot of the book, including spoiling the ending to such an extreme degree that it’s guaranteed that nobody else in the group will want to read it. The second converse challenge occurs when one or two recalcitrant readers have not finished the book and insist that the ending MUST NOT be revealed, thus creating awkward pauses, circuitous explanations, and a meeting shortened by all the aspects of the book that cannot be discussed. Neither of these events is pleasant. Just what is the etiquette for revealing endings?

The answer, as it is for so many good questions, is this: It Depends.

If everyone in the group is reading the same book, members should come to the meeting expecting the ending to be revealed, evaluated, and debated. It is not fair to expect other readers to curtail their discussion because they did not finish. If the book is particularly suspenseful and you didn’t get done, ask the group to save discussion of the ending until later in the meeting and either vacate the premises or retire to an isolation booth (lacking an isolation booth, I’ve found a refreshment table to be a good alternative.) But don’t ruin the discussion for others. If you care that much, go home early and read another chapter.

If the group is tackling a theme, or is reading any book by an author, but not necessarily the same book, the rules change. Here, proper etiquette is not to give away endings, spoil too many plot points, or bore other attendees with too much detail. Think of your goal as selling the book to other readers (or if you didn’t like the book, analyzing why and perhaps identifying readers who might find it enjoyable.) Tease other readers with a bit of the plot, then talk briefly about the books strengths. You might discuss a favorite character, make connections between it and other books, or discuss a basic conflict in the book that you found interesting. If you can, tie the book to discussion of the theme or author. There are many ways to approach a book in this situation, but don’t ruin it for others by giving away the ending, even if you think most of the other attendees already read it. If a fellow reader seems about to give a spoiler in a thematic meeting, it isn’t bad form to jump in with “It sounds like I might want to read this book. Please don’t give away the ending.”

Of course standards for spoilers can vary from group to group. If your group has other strategies for dealing with spoiled endings, please share them in the comments below.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Fighting over Spoils: The Etiquette of Giving Away the Ending"

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  1. I have been leading a crime and mystery book discussion for over a dozen years now and we have this cardinal rule: we are revealing the end of the novel–get over it.

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