Stanley Fish’s “What do Spoilers Spoil?”

I’ve been sitting on Stanley Fish’s article, “What do Spoilers Spoil” since it was published, but it’s still a bit tricky in my mind. However, I’m tired of looking at it on my desktop, so you get what I’ve got.

In case you don’t know, last week Fish wrote a piece for The New York Times Opinion pages. Essentially, his argument was this: If spoiling a work ruins it, then the work couldn’t have been that great to begin with, because the human mind is capable of willfully suppressing knowledge and maintaining that suspense, while still being able to focus on the larger picture. Fish argues:

First-time readers or viewers, because they don’t know what’s going to happen, have access to the pleasures of suspense — going down the wrong path, guessing at the identity of the killer, wondering about the fate of the hero. Repeaters who do know what is going to happen cannot experience those pleasures, but they can recognize significances they missed the first time around, see ironies that emerge only in hindsight and savor the skill with which a plot is constructed. If suspense is taken away by certainty, certainty offers other compensations, and those compensations, rather than being undermined by a spoiler, require one.

While I see his point that in knowing what is going to happen the reader can take note of more buried aspects of the story, I still think it’s bullshit. There’s something to be said for the slow unfolding of a plot, for the uncovering of sentences and hidden meanings that you missed the first time around. That’s what makes rewatching movies so fun. That’s what makes a book someone’s favorite: the knowledge that each subsequent watch/read will bring something new to light. Or that even if it doesn’t, there can be pleasure in rereading and re-absorbing something that you already know. But to take away the suspense of a first read? That’s just kind of mean.

So although Fish believes that being spoiled “confirms the experience I have had many times of immersing myself completely in the uncertainties of a narrative whose conclusion I know, but may not actively know at the moment,” I’ll thank you not to spoil my movies/books/TV shows/etc. I’d rather find out at my own pace.

Read Fish’s original article

Read responses to Fish’s article

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J.D. Robb’s “in Death” series

Seriously. Why doesn’t WordPress have an autosave feature for new posts? Livejournal does. This shouldn’t be so hard. I also probably need to stop accidentally hitting buttons; I imagine that could help with this problem.

Take Three.

Today’s post is about J.D. Robb’s in Death series, which has been a part of my customary summer reading for years now. You may see some Jennifer Crusie or Janet Evanovich up in here in the upcoming weeks. They’re perfect for summer: cheesy, easy to read while I’m baking my brains outside, and a strong female protagonist. Yeah, sometimes they feel a little (or a lot) like Mary Sues, but sue me. It’s summer. I’m allowed to read less than highbrow literature.

First let me give a little background of the in Death series. I’m pretty sure Robb (Nora Roberts) churns at least one out a year, maybe two. They’re formulaic, melodramatic, and I love them. Lady cop Lieutenant Eve Dallas is mostly antisocial, has a troubled past, and is amazing at her job. She catches the attention of Roarke (no last name), a hideously, but through dubious means, wealthy Irishman, who has piercing blue eyes and a mane of black hair. He sounds like Fabio, but in my head he’s ridiculously good looking. They end up being kind of perfect for each other, there’s some sex, drama, etc.  And did I mention it takes place in the future? Something like 2060 or so, but still. The future. Gliders, credit chips, Sober Up, etc. A little hokey, but I appreciate the stunners that they use.

The reason I got into this series is actually a little lame, but I’ll tell you the truth, or at least what I remember of it. I first started this series when I was in middle school, so I was either hoping this was a romance novel, or the “in Death” part of the title really appealed to my inner angst. Probably the latter, but the sporadic sex scenes helped with the former. But while I started the series under angst and false pretenses, I grew to really enjoy Eve Dallas. She was kind of a sensitive hard-ass, incredibly competent, AND she got the guy in the end.

And so, yes. This series is incredibly melodramatic, repetitive, and something you’d buy in an airport, but I love it just the same. I like that Eve and Roarke fight, and sometimes she’s right and sometimes he’s right. I like that there’s always a happy ending. I’m not saying this is great literature, the next Sherlock Holmes, but these books are fun and a bit mindless, perfect for summer.

So maybe tomorrow I’ll write about Nine Horses by Billy Collins , which I also read today and also loved, but for now, I’m going to go and pick up the next in Death book that I haven’t read.

T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”

Just to be upfront, it took me six months to finish The Once and Future King. Not because I found it dull, but because I went back to college from Winter Break and fell into my thesis and only recently dragged myself back out. I finished on the plane ride home, and I’ve got to say, I really, really enjoyed reading this book.

I like how Merlin is out of sync, how he’s always a little bit off, never remembering what to say or when to say it. He brings a certain humor to the text that offsets the utter sense of resignation that Arthur brings in later.

I like how Arthur clings to this sense of justice and learns to think beyond the moment and into the future, thinks of the ramifications of his actions. I like how even though the people he rules aren’t quite ready for justice as Arthur envisions it, he still does what he believes is right, because he wants to lead by example, wants to be different from his ancestors and contemporaries.

And Pellinore and the Questing Beast. A close second favorite, for sure.

But I think I enjoyed Arthur’s animal “lessons” best. I wrote a section about the animal body in my thesis, in which I looked at how Elizabeth Bishop re-frames the inherently strange and yet familiar animal body as a way to approach identity and subject-formation from a new angle. And I think there’s a bit of that in Merlin’s lessons for Arthur. Arthur engages with these animals who have different values and different customs, and he comes to these sessions with his own human beliefs and then must readjust as necessary. He learns humans aren’t always right, aren’t always just, and it’s an important lesson that I want to remember.

In which I discover that having free time and no job lets me read

The thing no one tells you about being in college is that there is no time to read. Or well, there is some time, you just have to carve it in the time before falling asleep, that ten minute study break when you’re trying to write an essay, the fifteen minutes when your roommate takes forever to get ready to head out for brunch. And I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really make time to read for fun. I didn’t really crack a book that wasn’t for class.

Good news is, I’ve graduated and am unemployed, so I can start catching up on the books I’ve bought but haven’t read, of which there are many. Let me tell you a “secret”: I hoard books. I buy them and put them on my bookshelf and say, Jessika, you’ll read this book soon, honest. And then promptly lose myself to that ten-page paper I haven’t written or Tumblr. I have about 75 books on my shelf, and if I’m honest, I probably haven’t read about 30 of them, and that’s a little sad for me.

So my goal is simple: Read the books I’ve collected over the years–did you know I’ve never read 1984? Or The Scarlet Letter? Shameful–and review them. We’ll see how it goes.