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How To Forget Book Spoilers

A photograph of a graveyard with text superimposed that reads 'spoiler: everybody dies'

I was taking a look through my stats recently and saw a keyword phrase that caught my attention. After almost six years and Google’s move to ‘not provided’ mean I don’t tend to see new data from search visitors so this was rather novel.

I’ve used the phrase as the title of this post because it’s spot on. I really felt for this person as I expect many of you will also. Spoilers are something that, as a reader, you’re going to struggle with at some point, whether you like them or not; more often nowadays with the Internet, information more available.

I’ve dealt with the problem a number of times, most recently a couple of years ago when I was reading an unrelated article that, without warning, spoiled the ending of Anna Karenina. Many of the comments on the article thanked the author, sarcastically, for it.

This is where I get to answering my visitor’s question. There are a couple of ways to deal with spoilers you’d prefer you didn’t know. In my Tolstoy case, I knew that the spoiler was so strong I’d likely never forget it; the best way to deal with the situation was to move the book from its then current position, far down my list – I didn’t even have a copy of it – to the top. I was never going to forget the spoiler, I might as well just read the book now. By reading it now I would be making the best of the situation and could possibly turn it into a positive – I likely otherwise would still not have read it to this day. The timely release of the newest film adaptation cemented my decision.

In this case we can say that to a point I embraced the spoiler; this reading was undertaken in a different way to my usual. I was reading the book to see why and how things transpired as they did rather than to enjoy the plot. I did enjoy the plot but from the point of view of pacing and style rather than any thrill or anticipation. Ironically I ended up reading the book in a way more akin to re-reading; whilst I’m still not happy to have had it spoiled I appreciate that my accidental knowledge may have aided the output of Further Thoughts posts I finished my reading with. Knowing the climax meant I could write in context before my time.

If you don’t want to read the book now, if you want to rebel against this unwanted spoiling, there’s really only one other option – don’t read it. Wait until later, see if you can wait long enough, without reminding yourself of the details, that you forget them. Perhaps it helps that I had no immediate nor long-term plans anyway but a crucial element of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was spoiled for me some years ago by someone who used the phrase ‘everybody knows that…’ without thinking that that statement is so rarely true – and I have successfully forgotten it. I have a vague notion of what it pertained to but not the specifics, nothing to lead me to remember unless some other person uses the same statement. (I’m very much against the thinking behind the use of ‘everybody knows that…’ because it’s asking for upset and embarrassment.)

Whilst waiting it may help to read around the book in such a way that the detail you learned becomes blurred. Muddy the waters. It’s easier said than done but sometimes reading something like it but not the same can cause you to become confused – the aim here is to achieve the result of the history lover who goes on to read so many fictional re-tellings that they forget the facts. (Of course the history lover would have to be more fair-weather for this to really happen, hence the difficulty.)

Use the spoiler as a bittersweet nudge towards reading the book or do your best to hamper your memory. That’s really all you can do.

What do you do when you learn of spoilers for books you’re wanting to read?


Laurie C

February 29, 2016, 3:26 pm

I had the same experience with that same book (Anna Karenina). I had never read it but always meant to. I have a notoriously bad memory for many things, but not books, apparently, because I never forgot that spoiler and never read the book!


February 29, 2016, 3:48 pm

Sadly a spoiler for a book, film or TV series usually results in me not reading or watching it :-( Well done for getting past the spoiler to read Anna Karenina.

Tracy Terry

February 29, 2016, 5:54 pm

Oh dear, puts me in mind of the spoiler when the world got to know the outcome of certain characters in the Harry Potter books.

Well done you for taking such a positive stand on spoilers, it really does depend on how much I NEED to read that book at that moment in time as to whether or not I’ll go ahead knowing what I know or decide to leave the book until later or give up on it altogether.

April Munday

February 29, 2016, 8:44 pm

When I was a teenager someone told me what the very clever plot twist was in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. I waited for thirty years before I read it and still remembered the twist. Since I might not have another thirty years in which to try to forget, I’d probably just read the book, if it was a book I wanted to read.

Literary Feline

February 29, 2016, 10:13 pm

I knew about the Anna Karenina spoiler long before I read the book. That was one I couldn’t forget easily. It didn’t bother me though as it didn’t take away anything from my enjoyment of the book. Sometimes spoilers don’t. It depends on the type of spoiler and the book.

If I think a spoiler might be an issue, I will distance myself from the book. It’s one of the reasons I try not to read reviews of books I will be reading in the immediate future–not only to avoid spoilers, but also to avoid my opinion being tainted by someone else’s. It generally works.

I don’t especially like spoilers. Sometimes knowing bothers me and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes knowing helps me mentally prepare—especially if it involves a topic that I find difficult to read about. Other times, like with Girl on the Train, it can hurt my overall enjoyment of a novel.


March 2, 2016, 12:48 am

I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible. I find that even book covers give too much away…


March 2, 2016, 3:11 pm

I do the same thing you do, I either embrace the spoiler and decide, ok now I know what will happen the fun becomes seeing how the story gets there. Or I wait long enough until I forget it completely.


March 7, 2016, 12:08 pm

Laurie: That is frustrating, if it’s something you’d like to forget. Do you think you’ll watch the film? (Or have you.)

Jessica: I can emphasise with that. This is the only one I’ve decided to work ‘against’ so swiftly, though I’ll be trying others in the future.

Tracy: Oh gosh, yes!

That’s a good point; need comes into it. A spoiler for a book you’re nonplussed about could be an all right thing, deciding for you.

April: True, if you’ve waited that long you’d just have to read it or decide to give it up. A clever plot twist would be particularly frustrating to know.

Literary Feline: Yes; it’d be difficult to forget, wouldn’t it? That’s true, it does depend on the type.

Yes; reviews have to be avoided sometimes. One of the things I like about our community is the way we’re all very open about often reading reviews after we’ve read the book, and that’s accepted (and makes for more conversation). Tainted opinion – good point. It’s interesting to read a book in that context, but as a re-read. I’ve never found myself able to read a book entirely by myself, so to speak, when I’ve read detailed thoughts beforehand.

When it prepares you that can be good, and it’s a positive point of reviews (I suppose trigger warnings come under that, too, and those are detailed by default).

Kailana: They can, can’t they? And some summaries on the back go too far.

Stefanie: Yes, the fun changes but if you can make it work it’s okay.

Laurie C

March 7, 2016, 11:54 pm

No, I haven’t watched the movie of Anna Karenina yet!



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