Sunday, November 04, 2007

Great Book Endings

This one is fun. The Associated Press has turned the old standby about favorite first lines from books on its head by coming up with a list of favorite book endings.

When some readers start a new book, they turn to the end to read the last page (As the quote from "When Harry Met Sally . . ." goes, so in case they die before they finish, they know how it ends). Others use self-control and discipline and plod slowly through the book until they finish with satisfaction. Some can't bear something awful happening to their favorite characters, so they skip to the back to make sure all is well.

And, of course, there are a few who just read the back to pretend like they covered the entire book.

Any way you slice it, book endings are, well, the big bang. They are a reward after pages and pages of mystery, plot and sometimes sorrow, or they are cause for anger when they leave us hanging.
To give you a feel for what the list is like, here are a few of the chosen endings.
• Best ending line: "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White. "It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

• Best happy ending: "A Room With A View," by E.M. Forster. Boy meets girl in Florence, kisses her wildly, then they have troubles upon return to stuffy England. Boy eventually gets girl and they live happily ever after in Florence.

• Best tragic ending: "Anna Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy. Beautiful, smart and enchanting Anna has an affair and ends up throwing herself under a train, all because Victorian society said it was OK for a man to cheat, but not a woman.

• Best end to a whodunit: "The Killer Inside Me," by Jim Thompson. This thriller works in reverse; we know who the killer is, but the characters have to figure it out. The ending is not only chilling but oddly remorseful in a way that makes you uncomfortable.

• Best Western ending: "No Country for Old Men," by Cormac McCarthy. This bleak novel - about a truck full of dead people, some cash and a manhunt - is spare at best. But McCarthy's ability to tell a story using as few words as possible is impressive, and it has an end that just kicks you in the gut.

• Best relief ending after scary book: "It," by Stephen King. A huge clown-devil-spider thing named Pennywise scares the living daylights out of misfit kids and, later, adults until finally they stand up and show It what they're made of.
The whole list is interesting and it has started me thinking about a similar list of my own favorite endings. Just what I need...another project.


  1. I never read the last page first; even if I abandon the book, I don't usually go to the last page.

    I like the ones in the list that quote the final sentences. Unlike first lines, this must be more difficult to achieve in a sentence or two, but E.B. White certainly did.

  2. I'm with you, Jenclair. I never read the last page before I come to it. That's mostly because I don't want to know how the story ends before I've come to it as the author intended me to reach it. I think that knowing the end early would most likely result in me losing interest in the book and not finishing it at all.

    I've been thinking this morning exactly about what you said about actual last sentences or two that end books. That would be an interesting thing to research...and maybe I'll get around to checking out the last lines in some of my old favorites.

  3. I'm of the opinion that if knowing how the book ends makes me lose interest then it's probably not a very good book!

  4. I, too, am not one of the people who looks at the last page first. In my opinion, it must take great effort and talent on the author's part to find the perfect words to end a really great book. Why would I want to ruin my possible enjoyment of that by reading it first? I just finished a book today that would have lost much of its punch had I read its last line first. It was so great to have that satisfied feeling at the end, and I'm so glad I didn't ruin it for myself by looking ahead!

    P.S. - Thanks for linking me! I love your blog - it's doing horrible things to the length of my bookish wish list! =)

  5. What a fun article. In general I don't read the end first, but I have been known, when the book is really tense and I am worried about a particular character, to turn to the end to see how it will all turn out. Otherwise I am just too distracted with worry to concentrate!

  6. Sylvia, the impact of most books, especially those of a certain type, can be lessened by a "spoiler," such as knowing the ending...doesn't mean the book is bad. It means it wasn't read properly.

  7. I agree, Meagan. If I'm going to bother with a book, I just feel that I need to give it a fair chance and read it in the order in which the author intended it to be read. I want to be surprised, feel the suspense, etc. just as intended so that I can properly judge the work.

    Your welcome...about the link. :-)

  8. I hear you, Stefanie. I've been tempted in some of those thrillers or horror novels over the years but, so far, I've managed not to give in and go to the end to relieve the pressure. :-)

  9. I don't look at the ending before I reach it; I feel like that's betraying the author!

    However, the 'ending' they describe for Anna Karenina doesn't occur anywhere near the end. I think there's something like a hundred pages *after* that event. Silly AP.

  10. I disagree. One thing that separates great books from the rest is that they get better with each reading.

  11. Most of those were just a quick summary of the end, but the idea of coming up with the best ending line sounds fun. That's the challenge, in my opinion. People discuss the best opening lines because it's an appreciation of the author's craft and talent. To discuss the same with the ending line(s), instead of just the general ending, would be a lot of fun.

    And for the record, I'd never read the end a book first. What would be the point of reading the beginning and middle if you already knew the end? I don't like knowing the end of movies, I hate being told the final score of games, or who won the Olympics or anything like that. There's no suspense, interest, drama, etc. if you know the ending.

  12. That's true, Sylvia, but the first time a book is read is a unique experience, no matter how great it is. Knowing the details of the ending before I finish it for the first time will diminish the impact of a book for me no matter how many times I will eventually read it.

    I love Great Expectations, for instance, and have read it several times. It's ending is a climactic one and I would have hated to know how the relationship that is key to the book would turn out before I had read the book for the first time.

    The second time I read any particular book it is not as much for the plot as it is for me to see what details I missed the first time around and to admire the writing skills involved. It's a different book for me on the second pass.

  13. Excellent point, Eva. I think that the AP people did take the easy way out in their descriptions.

  14. True, Annie, and I am going to start looking through some of my favorites to see what the last line actually was in them.

    I never thought of that approach before, so this AP list has served its purpose for me regardless of the fact that they compiled it in a less challenging way. This could turn out to be interesting if I can find some time...

  15. E.B. White was such a beautiful writer. I love her work, and that is a really good line.

    I was expecting less summary, more great quotes in that article.

  16. Looks like it's up to us, Nyssaneala, to put together a proper list that uses quotes. I'm hoping to have a list of my favorites in a few days.

  17. I must confess to shamelessly reading the end of books. I began doing this years ago when I absolutely refused to read anything that had an unhappy ending (I'm incredibly sappy and hate crying). I've since stopped the habit of reading only happily-ever after novels, but I haven't been able to stop peeking at the end of many (if not most) of the books I read.

    I won't read an entire chapter or anything, but I may read the final few lines. And it has rarely, if ever, destroyed my pleasure in reading the story. If the novel is good enough - and most of the time it is - how the story gets to the end is just as important (if not more) as the end itself. I'm not advocating peeking ahead in the novel, but I'm just saying that doing so isn't as detrimental (to this reader, anyway) as it seems.

  18. I understand what you're saying, J.S. In fact, it seems to be pretty much what Sylvia has said, too. I suppose that it depends on the reader more than anything else as to how knowing the ending on a "first reading" will affect them. It doesn't work for me at all...but I do tend to re-read a few of my favorites from time to time without losing any appreciation for the book despite knowing its plot rather intimately. Go figure...