Spoiler Alert: Books Are Better When You Don’t Read the Jacket

Spoiler Alert: Books Are Better When You Don’t Read the Jacket

I stopped reading book jackets about two years ago. I had just finished reading Gone Girl and, while it blew me away, I felt frustrated by the reading experience. From page one I was on the hunt for clues about the “twist ending” and constantly concocting increasingly bizarre theories about what it might be.

After expressing my thoughts to my coworkers, they agreed that some books would be much more satisfying if you went in with no expectations. I began to wonder if all books would be.

I didn’t intend to revolutionize my entire reading process. I simply wanted to experiment a bit and see if it would be possible to stop reading jacket copy. The same words that help to hype a book to readers too often reveal the most important plot points. I thought if I read books without having the plot already mapped out in my mind, I might enjoy the experience even more.

I started slowly. I read books that had been on my TBR long enough that I knew I wanted to read them, but didn’t necessarily recall the plot. I took recommendations from friends I trusted. When a publicist recommended Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse, knowing that I loved fantasy and young adult literature, I picked it up without peeking at the press materials. When another friend lent me Tana French’s first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, only saying it was a thriller set in modern Ireland, I dove in and trusted his judgement. Spoiler alert: I loved both books.

My friends began to learn that I didn’t want to know what these books were about and that there were other ways to convince me to read them. “It’s very intelligent writing.” “I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading this.” “This is the best book I read all year.” There are countless ways to express a book’s greatness without mentioning the plot at all. I found quickly that the most important factor to me was the genre. If a book fell into a genre I typically enjoyed and was being recommended, I couldn’t go wrong.

Next, I learned to take only what I needed from book reviews. Books given starred reviews by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly are almost always guaranteed good reads. Kirkus even has a helpful preview before you click through to a review on their site. It’s usually a single sentence that tells you very little about the plot but expresses whether or not they’d recommend the book. For V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Kirkus’ single line is “Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.” This tells me all I need to know: fantasy, magic, great characters, and adventure. I’m sold!

My reading experience has changed completely thanks to these tricks. Books genuinely surprise me in ways that they didn’t before. If I had read the jacket for Sarah J. MaasThrone of Glass, I would’ve been tipped off to the fact that (spoiler alert) competitors in a tournament are murdered. Instead, when it became clear that someone was killing them off, I was shocked and fearful for the safety of competitor and protagonist Celaena Sardothien.

Writers work so hard to craft a compelling narrative for readers, and by going into their stories without any expectations about where the plot and characters will take me, I feel as though I’m experiencing their writing in the best way possible. My emotional journey and reactions to the plot are completely organic, driven solely by the author’s ability to write and not by expectations that jacket copy sets up for me. Impossible as it may seem, reading is now even more exciting because I truly go into books without knowing what will happen when I turn the page.

This won’t work for everyone. I have friends who need to know the ending of a story before beginning it, or others who have specific tastes and really do want to read the description to know if a book matches what they’re looking for. But for people who flinch at the slightest hint of spoilers, this is a route I’d wholeheartedly recommend. If you find what works for you then you too can change your reading experience and leave the jacket copy spoilers in the past.

Kelly Gallucci
Far too busy rereading the Harry Potter series, Kelly finds that her greatest literary sin is that she neglected to read classics like The Shining and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In between overseeing the editorial content for Bookish, holding interviews with authors like Isaac Marion and Lauren Beukes, and creating book recommendations for Kanye West—Kelly’s trying to catch up on the books she missed out on. She just finished The Great Gatsby and might be in love with Fitzg. Kelly received her B.A. in English Writing from Marist College and her M.A. in Screenwriting from National University of Ireland, Galway.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What I find equally as frustrating is when readers post a review on a book they’ve read and the review is so long you could have read the first few pages of the book instead. Not to mention the spoilers they include. I am going to try your suggestion in not reading the jacket…..great idea. Thanks !

  2. I often go in blind, just based on recommendation or cover love. I really like it! You know absolutely nothing about what the story is going to be when you starts, so you get to discover it along the way. :)

  3. Hi there,

    I actually read Gone Girl with the full intention of being surprised and was very intrigued by the hype of the movie release that everyone seemed to be talking about. But low and behold, someone saw me reading it in a coffee shop one morning and told me EXACTLY who the culprit was. The book was ruined for me.

    I agree, no expectations makes for a great read.

  4. I sometimes read book jackets, but I usually pick up the book because it is written by someone who’s other books I have enjoyed.
    I have my own system that I have used for over 30 years: if the book has a total of 140 to 300 pages in it, I read page 43 — and if the book has 300 to 500 pages, I read page 186. If those pages are boring or confusing, then I don’t bother with the book. By that point in the book, if the author hasn’t lost his/her mojo, then the rest of the book is usually great. This has never failed me and I am a ‘rabid’ reader.
    If there is an animal in the book — dog, cat, horse, etc. — I glance over the last few pages to make sure that it is still alive and well. I have a soft spot for animals and generally like them better than I do people.

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