[Bookish Discussion] When Reading A Book, When Are Spoiler Alerts Necessary?

Some quick thoughts today for a discussion! Last month I read a fun young adult book called Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee. It tells the story of Tash who is in love with a young Leo Tolstoy. She writes a web series based on his book Anna Karenina and suddenly the series gets super famous and the story takes off from there.

As I was reading this book, I was wanting more and more to read the Tolstoy classic but then the story was completely spoiled as a BIG part of the ending of Anna Karenina was talked about in the book. I mean, I know that Tolstoy’s books are classics and loads of people have read them and spoilers aren’t exactly unavoidable, but it made me wonder if spoilers like this are necessary in books, or if there should be some kind of spoiler alert in the book. It made me think of this one episode of The Big Bang Theory I watched a few years back, where parts of Harry Potter were spoiled – namely, the death of a certain character. I remember reading comments from people saying that it was wrong for the show to spoil Harry Potter, whereas other people said that the books and movies for Harry Potter have been out for a long time and you can’t keep spoilers away forever.

I was also reading a biography by Jane Dunn on Daphne du Maurier and her sisters. I enjoyed the book very much, but came across a few parts where Dunn talked about books that du Maurier had written and would give a brief synopsis on the book followed by “and ultimately, the story ended …” giving away the ending of whatever book she was talking about. I would skim over these parts in the biography because I have a huge pile of du Maurier books that I want to read and I don’t want to be spoiled on the endings. But in that case, should there be some kind of spoiler alert? Is it necessary?

ALSO, can we talk about book introductions? This isn’t something you’d usually find in more modern books, but I’ve found with reading classics that there tends to be introductions by other authors and that they INEVITABLY CONTAIN SPOILERS! For example, I was reading a short story collection by Daphne du Maurier, and the first sentence of the introduction talks about the ending of the second story. WHAT?? Why are these even introductions? Do publishers think that people reading these books will of course know to skip these until after reading the story? Why not put these at the end of the book so the reader can get more insight afterwards? I’m all for people talking about the book I’m about to read but for god’s sake, don’t ruin it for people before they get to enjoy the story!

Now obviously I’m not losing sleep over this, but part of me thinks that had I known there would be spoilers for Anna Karenina in Tash Hearts Tolstoy, that maybe I would’ve read the classic first. Or should it have been a given that a person reading a book about a love of Tolstoy would inevitably talk about the classic and ultimately ruin the ending?

I’d love to know your thoughts! Should we assume that if we read a book on a certain author, or a book based on another book, that we’ll ultimately be spoiled if we haven’t consumed the books that are talked about? Do you think it’s totally necessary to spoil classics in modern fiction, non-fiction, or in TV shows – or are classics fair game since they’ve been out forever?


18 thoughts on “[Bookish Discussion] When Reading A Book, When Are Spoiler Alerts Necessary?

  1. Spoiler warnings for books that reference other books is such an interesting idea! I think that actually could be useful, but maybe publishers wouldn’t do it because they would dissuade some people from buying/reading the book, and that’s bad business. 😦

    Someone spoiled the ending of Anna Karenina after I specifically asked them not to because “everyone knows.” I didn’t know. I said I didn’t know, and I said I didn’t want to know. Spoiling it for me just makes you a jerk.

  2. I think there comes a point when something like Harry Potter or Star Wars reaches such a point of cultural saturation- and age- that if TV shows, movies, or books should be able to reference them without fear of an uprising about spoilers. With Harry Potter, for example, there are nine films and multiple books that have been out for years at this point. If you haven’t read the books or watched the movies by now, then Big Bang Theory can’t be at fault for spoiling it. It’s a show about geek culture. It can’t not reference pop culture, and Harry Potter is very much a part of modern pop culture.

    And with classics, the stories have been around long enough, and have been referenced often enough that spoilers are just going to happen. I mean, do we need spoiler alerts when talking about the end of Romeo and Juliet, even if we haven’t read the play yet?

    That said, people don’t need to be jerks about spoilers, or go out of their way to ruin the ending of a classic that someone is reading. That’s just rude.

    I know I’ve had several endings spoiled for me, Anna Karenina included, but it often made we want to read the book (or see the movie) even more, just to find out what circumstances led to that event.

    • That’s so good! I have one popular book series ruined for me but then I learned that the thing I thought happened might not have happened? lol. At any rate, I always hope that enough time passes that I’ll forget the spoilers.

  3. I am generally against all spoiler warnings/trigger warning etc (mostly, not always). What pisses me off is spoilers in book reviews, like of current books. That’s uncalled for.

    For the examples you gave, I don’t think a warning was needed. Anna Karenina’s ending is pretty well known. I mean, Evgenia Medvedeva (Russian figure skater) referenced it in her silver medal winning routine (SHE SHOULDA WON GOLD, but I digress). And even if you didn’t know (I don’t think I did, before reading the book) it doesn’t take away from the experience. At least for me 🙂

    Spoilers in biographies – that happened to me once, in a bio of David Foster Wallace, it references a lot of stuff in Infinite Jest, which I hadn’t read. Maybe it’s because IJ is so complicated, it’s kind of impossible to spoil. I remember thinking it was a bit odd, but also undrestanding that the target audience for such a bio is probably *mostly* people who’ve read the author’s work. So I’ll allow it.

    Classic intros- definitely read after!! I have been burned too 🙂

    • This is definitely why I don’t read reviews for books I want to read prior to reading them – there’s always something that spoils me! Plus I like to just go in without any information at all.

  4. Oh, those intros! They all sound like the person who wrote them kinda expects us to already have read the book. Pfft.

    Sometimes even the official synopsis contains spoilers. Or maybe not spoiler, but something that would have been better left unsaid and discovered while reading.

    I got Sunburn by Laura Lippman spoiled in a review… 😦 was really looking forward to reading it, but now i keep putting it off.

    I usually hide the spoilers, so whoever wants to read it, can just do so but others can skip.

    • This is why I try and not read reviews before reading a book – I’ve been spoiled way too many times! And yes, synopsis of books have waaaaay too much information sometimes. It’s annoying!

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  6. I haven’t read Anna Karenina and have been spoiled. Hausfrau, a novel that came out a few years back, is clearly based on Anna K and spoils the ending. I also had Beartown spoiled for me by Modern Mrs. Darcy who compared it to a nonfiction book that gave away the big twist. I was really upset about that one.
    But, in general, I have strong feelings about spoilers. For many new books, I think the publishers reveal way too much of the plot in their blurbs. And, some reviewers reveal way too much in their reviews. I also listen to Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and Liberty, in particular, reveals far too much of the plot for the books she talks about. Rebecca is much better on that front. I always fast forward if Liberty starts talking about a book I’m interested in reading.
    Great post!

    • YES – Publishers reveal way too much in blurbs lately! I’ve read some books where there’s something in the blurb that doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. This is why I don’t read blurbs before reading books – I like to be surprised!

  7. I hate those intros! I always want to skip them but feel like I shouldn’t. So I usually read them and am a little bored and confused because I haven’t read the book yet. It’s really irritating when they spoil a major plot point–even for classics that everyone supposedly knows.

    I expect to get a little spoiled if I’m reading a book about books, but I was annoyed earlier this year to be spoiled unexpectedly. I think it was in Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, and it was just a one-off reference to a book I hadn’t read yet. And now I can’t remember the book (so obviously it’s super important), but it bugged me at the time.

    • Ha ha … I think there are a few classics that have had spoilers in other books I read, but also my memory is so horrible that I’m sure I’ll forget.

  8. Haha, I don’t have strong feelings about books about books, but intros to classics are the worst. They always have spoilers, which I think would make them much better afterwords.

  9. I am with you. I don’t read intros until the end anymore. Even blurbs. I am reading Inverted World, I was 20 pages down, looked at the back cover, and the blurb anticipated me something still to come, arghhhh.
    Books on books, I usually know they will have spoilers, so I need to be careful and know what I am getting into.

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