Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Stanley Fish wrote a piece that spoke favorably of THE HUNGER GAMES but it also contained spoilers.

When this was brought to his attention, he defended it by saying only genre needs a surprise at the end to hold the reader's interest. This debate has been raging over at Mulholland Books this week and was picked up by THE GUARDIAN.

I think any book can be spoiled by giving too much away. Not just so-called genre books. If I read history, I expect (sometimes) to know how it turns out. But with fiction, there might be a certain inevitability inherent in the story but that should only go so far. The more I know about how a book ends, the less pleasurable it is. I want the author, not the reviewer, to tell the story. What do you think?


Deb said...

I think it's so unfair of reviewers to give away essential elements of a book. Let each reader enjoy (or dislike) those things in their own way. Especially in the mystery genre (or any book where there's an interesting or unexpected twist), spoilers should be avoided. It's hard sometimes to discuss a book without making reference to certain events, so whenever I'm posting about something that might spoil it for someone hasn't already read it, I put SPOILER in big letters irst.

On the other hand, I think it also depends on how "known" a spoiler is in the world at large. I don't think I need a spoiler to write "Rosebud is a sled" or "To serve man is--a cookbook" because those are so widely known. But I would never write something about the twist in, say, A KISS BEFORE DYING, without a spoiler alert.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course I agree with you. If you're going to give spoilers you should put a WARNING in first. Case closed.

I see Deb said the same thing.

A KISS BEFORE DYING had one of the best surprise twists I can remember, and it came halfway through the book.

Jeff M.

Dana King said...

Absolutely agree with you. I think too many reviewers shirk their tasks and write glorified book reports nowadats, plot summaries with a little note of what they thought of the writing. I suppose that's understandable from an amateur on Amazon or Goodreads, but inexcusable for an alleged professional.

Has anyone asked Mr. Fish how he'd feel if he was routinely told how every book he's about to read turns out?

pattinase (abbott) said...

A KISS knocked my socks off. A topic for another day-the best twist ever.

Gerard said...

My comment off the GUARDIAN site:

I dislike hearing spoilers. I will oftentimes avoid all reviews or advertisements for books and movies I am eager to read or see.

What aggravates me even more is the dismissal of young adult of kids literature as less important than "adult" novels.. The simplest argument I can give is one I heard by a children's book author who was speaking to her physician father when he asked "When are you going to start writing real books?"
The author responded to the father, a pediatrician, "When are you going to start treating real patients?"

pattinase (abbott) said...

So funny, Gerard!

Anonymous said...

I agree that some of the best written books being published are so-called "young adult" books. I've been reading a lot more of them in the last few years and have enjoyed them as much as, and in some cases more than, "adult" fiction. Authors like Scott Westerfeld, John Marsden, Pete Hautman (who started out writing adult mysteries), Suzanne Collins are just a few who come to mind.

Jeff M.

Ron Scheer said...

I once got nailed in a film review for saying "three graves wait at the end for the deserving recipients." How much is that giving away? I thought of it as a teaser. Apparently not.

Thomas Pluck said...

So Ulysses isn't ruined if you know that Molly ****** her husband at the end?

And the Great Gatsby doesn't have a reveal?

Hamlet has a predictably ending and offers no surprises?

Mr Fish is taking potshots at genre and making an ass of himself.

Charles Gramlich said...

When I do a scholarly review I consider it required that I 'give away' the primary points of the book. I think this is understood in scholarly publications. When I do a public review, like on Amazon or Goodreads, I either don't include any spoilers, or I indicate that the review contains them.

Loren Eaton said...

A reviewer is obligated to put in a spoiler warning when needed. To fail to do so is simply lazy.

Cap'n Bob said...

I usually avoid reviews because of this problem. And thanks, Deb, for ruining two endings for me. ;8[>

pattinase (abbott) said...

Reviews are best read later. Although with me, I seldom seem to take plotting in. I can watch a trailer for a movie a dozen times and never remember it.

Deb said...

Oh, Cap'n, I'm so sorry. I guess I shouldn't tell you (SPOILER)that the girl in "The Crying Game" turns out to be a guy either, huh?

Cap'n Bob said...

Deb: Arrrrggghh!
Seriously, National Lampoon did a piece in which they gave away the endings to a bunch of books; perhaps movies, too. I read it without a qualm.
Finally, The Speckled Band is a...

Todd Mason said...

Captain Robert: "The speckled band is it's own mother!"

Thomas Pluck: In answer to your similar question, Yes, ohyes, ohyes.

Deb: But who wrote "To Serve Man"? You can bet Ed Gorman knows.

Patti: Well, there's that idiotic binary distinction between "genre" and "non-genre" again, and what a surprise Fish would attempt to hide behind it. Because such tried and true Genre Yarns, I mean (whoops) Serious Literature Instead of That as Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" aren't at all affected as reading experiences if you know their outcome in advance...no sirree. THEY AREN'T, and I'm stamping my little foot that they aren't, because I must be right, because They Is Art, and Genre Is Mere Craft.

I'm sorry, but this is aggressively stupid, and has always been. No other word more just for it. But received wisdom so often is.

Notable what SIGHT AND SOUND, the British Film Institute magazine, does with their reviews...bifurcates all of them into plot synopses and then analyses. That's one sensible approach. Another is simply to do the actual job of a reviewer, and tease as Ron does or do even less to reveal the writer's design, unless it's so amateurish or stupidly cheating as to require comment in that regard. (Hello, THE WASP FACTORY by Iain Banks.)