Yep, that’s me.  I’m one of those.  I peek.  I look at the end of books before I finish them.  Sometimes I look at the end of chapters.  I skip around all the time.

Often my excuse is simple: I look ahead to see how many pages are left before I finish the chapter, the section, the entire bloody book.  I glance forward to see how many pages there are, period.

I consider those legitimate glances.  Anyone, in the right circumstances, would do the same.

But the peeking.  Oh, the peeking.  Now that’s a nasty little habit.

Writers complain about peekers all the time.  Peekers ruin endings.  Peekers ruin the experience of reading the book.  Occasionally I—in my role as writer—warn people not to look ahead.

Look at the hypocrite.  Do as she says, not as she does.

Not that I peek all the time.  I usually read in chronological order.  But if the book is an unexpected child-in-jeopardy novel, I peek.  Because I never read child-in-jeopardy novels—at least, not on purpose.  Hence the word unexpected before child-in-jeopardy.  The new Dresden Files novel is an unexpected child-in-jeopardy book and yes, once I figured out what it was, I peeked.  I skipped ahead to see if the kid survived.

If the kid isn’t around by the end, I don’t finish the book.  I won’t tell you whether or not I finished the Jim Butcher novel. That’s not fair to you non-peekers.  And the kid shows up right at the beginning, so I’m not issuing any spoilers.

But, jeez, as a child-in-jeopardy avoider, I was annoyed.

(Once again, hypocrite that I am, I occasionally write child-in-jeopardy stories.  Yep, can’t help myself.  Wish I could peek to the end when I write those as well.  It just doesn’t work that way. And honestly, I often don’t know if the kid will survive as I open the file to page one.  Wish I did.)

Other cases where I peek? TSTL characters. For those of you who don’t read romance, TSTL is a romance term for “too stupid to live.”  SF usually avoids TSTL types (for some reason, they abound in romance), but if there are TSTL types, they’re usually secondary characters, who often have a point of view section.  I want to scan those sections.  If the TSTL character gets too annoying, I peek to see how much of the book is devoted to this idiot. And if too much is devoted to TSTL types, I abandon the book.

I have no qualms about abandoning books.  Life’s too short to read everything word for word all the way to the end.  Especially with a TSTL character or some poor kid who’s gonna die anyway.

I probably should stop the peeking. At least, that’s what all my writer friends would say.  But I’ll bet, if you sneak a look into their house as they’re reading, you’ll catch them peeking at the end of a novel before they legitimately get there.  Sure, sure.  They’ll tell you they’re checking the page count or looking at the author bio. But don’t believe them.

They’re peeking.

Just like everybody else.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch


  1. And here I thought I was the only one who does that.

    I usually peek to make sure the ending won’t be depressing, though. Or that the two characters I want to end up together end up together. Sometimes I even do it right in the bookstore if it’s a series I’m reading. How’s that for bad? 🙂

  2. I never peek– and I want to write for a living. If I succeed in getting published, I will promise you an ARC– if you will promise me NO PEEKING! 😀

  3. For what it’s worth, e-readers make it harder to peek ahead. My nook shows my current place as page “71/401” so I know how far I still have to go. (That was really depressing when I read Pillars of the Earth at almost 900 pages.) But navigating to the end of the chapter takes work: you need to use a menu to set a bookmark, use a menu to go to the start of the next chapter, page back a couple of clicks, then use a menu to return to your bookmark. And page updates are still slow enough that flipping forward quickly and scanning for keywords like “child died” is frustrating. And you still need to set a bookmark to get back to where you started.

    Technology! (snort)

    • E-readers do make skipping ahead hard. I have a Kindle, and have found that I prefer to read nonfiction and short stories on it for that reason (I don’t skip ahead there). But novels–unless I can’t wait and need it this instant–I buy the dead tree copy.

  4. Personally, I peek all the time. It’s a horrible habit.

    Here’s the reason: I often get bogged down somewhere about four chapters in (why, I’ll come back to in a sec). Sometimes later in the book, I ask, “okay, is this book going somewhere I care about?” Then I skip to the last page or last chapter.

    If the answer is “yes, I care about what happened,” then I go back and read it through. In most books, I can figure out about 90% of what happened between the beginning and the end. If it’s interesting, I’ll go back and read the whole thing. If it’s obvious and annoying, I may well put the book down. If it’s so obscure that I have no idea what’s going on, it depends on whether I’m annoyed by the obscurity or not.

    Here’s what is happening (and you might be interested in this, if you’re a writer). Often writers send in the first few chapters as part of the proposal to sell the book. Those are usually great. Often, the rest isn’t written until the publisher has bought the book. I’m beginning to suspect that the point where the story flags is where we’ve stepped off the highly polished proposal and into the part where the novelist feels the need to fill in the background, bring in more supporting characters and otherwise slow down for that long, drawn-out novel.

    Not that I’m against information-dense books. Far from it. I read scientific papers and books routinely, in fields that I’m not expert on, just to learn more. These days, many sciences are changing so fast that it’s often more interesting to read the science directly than to read what some SF author did with it.

    But if it’s a story, I really want to get sucked in by good story-telling. Slowing down in chapter 4 is not a good way to do this!

    What I’m seeing too much of looks like stories that were good enough to sell the manuscript, plus another 80,000 predictable words to get paid for. For authors, this is a great way to pay the mortgage. I understand. I may even buy a copy, especially if I know and like you. But you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t spend six hours reading your acceptable opus.

    Now, if you can suck me in so that I read 50 or 500 pages when I meant to read 10, then you’ve got a fan. And if you can do that to me when I open the book at random, then it’s a great book.

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