Down With Spoiler Alerts

Raise your hand if you find that the concept of the spoiler ruins any real conversation about the craft of writing. I sometimes tell my students that if they flip to the end of the book all they will get is information. Information is not going to spoil the wonder of the journey. Get over the concept of spoilers, I tell them. I don’t know if they really listen.

Jonathan Russell Clark puts it well:

As a participant in a story, the most practical thing to do is ignore what you “know” and let the narrative plunder you for all your spoils, strip your skin off your bones, and let it, in every way it can, spoil you rotten.

Spoil you rotten. Exactly.

The spoiler alert (Caution: read at your own risk, etc.) implies that once you know a fact about the story it’s all over. But it’s not, is it?

charlottesweb_coverCharlotte (gulp) died.

Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

Rosebud was a sled.

Some spoilers are more emotionally loaded than others, I’ll admit. A seven- or eight-year-old needs to be delivered that particular arachnid demise most tenderly.

But I’m talking about writers here, people who want to understand what makes a story tick. If you’re a writer, the facts in a spoiler shouldn’t mean a thing unless you’ve read the pages in between or watched the entire movie. Facts are not what a novel is made up of (or a film). If that were the case, a bulleted list of scenes would do the trick and none of us need ever reread anything.  For the seven-year-old who first encounters Charlotte, rereading is everything. Rereading unpacks the beauty of friendship, of life, of loss and healing and regeneration. At that point, the child reader has gone beyond spoilers.


The Case for Rereading

Remember when you were little and every book demanded to be read and then reread? A million times? What was that all about? Margaret Hunsberger writes about rereading as holding repeated conversations with a text.

IMG_0320Here’s what I’m rereading now.

I first read Diane Ackerman’s book more than ten years ago, and every time I return to it I get something new. I have changed, after all, since that last read, so the text takes on new meanings each time. Take a look at Ackerman’s wonderful books for young readers as well.

Sue Silverman’s marvelous guide to writing memoir is worth rereading many times even if you have no intention of ever writing in this genre. All writers dig into the past, after all. It’s the stuff we have to work with. The emotions we once felt, the experiences we can remember, the memories that haunt us–they offer us windows on everything else. On this third read, Sue speaks to me more clearly than she did before. I am in a kind of sisterhood with her because she has spoken to me before and I have chosen to return to continue that conversation.

Emily Carr’s a relatively new find for me. A year ago, Sarah Ellis gave me a beautiful little book written by this spunky Victoria, BC woman, an intense and passionate artist, writer, a border-crosser if ever there was one. In The Book of Small, Carr looks back upon her childhood in what was once a frontier town. It’s like taking historical maps and laying them out over present-day spaces. The past glimmers through and illuminates the here and now.

I will never be able to read everything on my list. Not if I live to be a hundred, not even assuming that I’ll retain enough brain to keep on reading. But rereading…that grounds me in who I am and promises new understandings that I can’t yet imagine, much in the way that revision sheds new light on a murky early draft. First reads are a different kind of delight, but save some time to revisit old friends.