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. “The writing is gorgeous.” “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. Maas’ Throne 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.