I was talking to our old friend Joanna this weekend about Mark Twain, sparked by a documentary I’d been watching on the man last week in the middle of the afternoon on PBS. He’s always been one of my favorite figures. His nonfiction works and essays are gorgeous to me, deep splashes of light onto the human condition, always dappled with darkness. And every time I learn more about his life, more about the man, the more he rings true. The more he feels like a familiar old friend, the sort whose temperament and humor mirror mine in ways that would make him one of the first few invited to any dinner of the dead if I could arrange one (Solzhenitsyn and Churchill round out the table, if you’re curious).
But here’s the thing. I’ve read only a scattering of his fiction, which is generally what you have read in spades if you say that you like a novelist. The usual suspects are on the list of course: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee. But that’s it, and those were all for junior high or high school assignments anyway. I’ve even got a giant volume here that has several more of his novels bundled in there, but I just don’t enjoy them enough to read them. So it sits. I occasionally pull it out and make an effort since it seems like I really should, but the will just isn’t there. I like the idea of reading his novels, but I don’t actually like reading them all that much.
I know, judge me, judge me with all your concentrated judginess. I can take it.
There are more books than I can possibly read in my entire life. There are more fantastic, blow your mind, seriously this will change your life, you are missing out if you haven’t read this, books than I can read either. And I’m one of those people who reads insanely fast, so that my clicking to the next page on my Kindle could practically be use as a metronome. As a teenager, I read the county library’s entire World War II collection of books, about six shelves tall and twenty feet long, over the course of a year or so. Then I started on the Civil War.
My point isn’t that I’m awesome, but to emphasize the limitations of us humans. Because the first time I walked into a big university library and found that there were entire floors for certain subjects, I felt both awed and lost as to what to do. The brute force approach simply was not applicable in a world with so much to read. No more just starting at the first book on the shelf and plowing through like an automated scanner.
So we come to spoilers, and why I love them.
Just because there are not enough hours in the day doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t get to know how stories go and why they’re so good or loved. I love when a friend sits down and tells me their favorite scenes from a novel I haven’t read, spoils the twist ending. And I love doing the same. It’s like telling stories of places you’ve been, and listening to the stories of where others have been. It’s a way of getting to have more stories, even when there isn’t a moment more reading that you could do.
The bottom line is that a story can’t be spoiled that you were never going to read in the first place, and insisting on avoiding them is akin to refusing to listen to anyone tell you about Moscow, or Rio, or Kinshasha, because you don’t want the experience of seeing them yourself spoiled. And more importantly: a spoiled book is one that I’m more likely to read than one that I’ve been simply told was “good” no matter how effusively and hyperbolically that review was offered.
So in the comments below? Describe to me in your own words, as if we’re sitting down at coffee and talking animatedly, eyes gazing at fictional horizons in the distance. Tell me the best scenes from the best books and movies that you love, spoil me.