No one reads in a vacuum anymore, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thanks to the Internet, movie and TV adaptations, and particularly fervent social media statuses, more than ever we inevitably know something about the books we’re reading before we crack any spines.
But there are many reading experiences that are undeniably richer when the reader has no expectations going in. Muggles everywhere might have enjoyed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire more had J.K. Rowling not insisted on publicizing the fact that a major character was going to die. The jacket copy for Chris Cleave’s Little Bee even warns, “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book.”
Knowledge may be power, but too much knowledge can just be a buzzkill when it comes to reading. Sometimes, it’s best to let books speak for themselves. Here are the novels we wish we’d read in a vacuum—and at the bottom, find a list of books that you should read without the hype.
Late to the party, I read this 2012 thriller just last week. Having heard about how spectacular and amazing the twist was, I went into the book knowing that, contrary to the mounting evidence, Amy likely wasn’t killed by her husband Nick. As a result, I spent the first half of the book concocting insane theories about Amy and the circumstances surrounding her death, all while attempting to stop myself from reading chapters over two or three times to look for clues.
If I didn’t know a twist was coming, I would’ve 100% believed that Nick killed Amy, and probably would’ve started screaming on a crowded subway upon organically reaching the reveal. I still immensely enjoyed Gone Girl, and have a possibly alarming level of love and admiration for Amy. Yet I wish I could’ve read it without having the existence of a twist looming over my experience. —Kelly Gallucci, Editor
Probably the most famous case of male frenemies in literature, John Knowles’ World War II novel was one of the first more “adult” YA novels we read in junior high. Problem is, when trying to teach a slightly more complex novel than, say, The BFG, my 7th grade teacher would stress all the stuff we should be on the lookout for: “See where it says that the steps are really slippery? Remember that.” By the time Gene’s friend/rival/object of homoerotic affection Finny falls down the stairs, in what will ultimately be a fatal accident, I wasn’t even surprised. —Natalie Zutter, Editor
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Jodi Picoult, and you likely also know some people are really unhappy with the ending of My Sister’s Keeper. After I finished the book, my junior high self wrote Picoult an impassioned email demanding an explanation.
If you haven’t read this book, I’d strongly encourage you to do so without spoiling it for yourself by looking up reviews or consulting a friend who has already read it. Sure, it won’t change the outcome, but it will let you read the book with fresh eyes instead of anticipating the point where Picoult makes what many of her fans have deemed a considerable error in execution. The less you know, the more rewarding this reading experience will be. —Elizabeth Rowe, Editorial Intern
As with Jodi Picoult, you know what you’re getting into with a Nicholas Sparks novel. But what if that weren’t the case? We could enjoy The Notebook without knowing it’ll make us break down sobbing, and A Walk to Remember without predicting Jamie’s death. Then there’s A Bend in the Road, the worst offender. In typical Sparks fashion, two damaged souls connect over the possibility of new love. But when you’ve got his dead wife, her fuck-up brother, and the fact that they’re bound together by a shocking secret… well, it’s not that difficult to figure out the twist around the corner. I would’ve liked to experience the characters’ slow-growing love without knowing their happiness would be dashed—or at least, when the reveal came, to be just as devastated as they were. —Natalie Zutter, Editor
This harrowing nonfiction book is a work of journalism, so it’s not really in Charles Graeber’s job description to build suspense for the reader. Going by the jacket copy, you know that you’ll be reading the gripping true tale of nurse Charlie Cullen, who killed as many as 300 patients in 9 different hospitals over the course of 16 years, until his arrest in 2003. People go to hospitals to get better, and Graeber’s chilling narrative subverts this understanding in a shocking way.
I have to wonder if the reading experience might be a little more dynamic and satisfying if the reader didn’t know just what s/he was in for. Graeber’s victims and peers didn’t see it coming, and maybe the reader shouldn’t, either. —Elizabeth Rowe, Editorial Intern
This is a case of the title revealing everything—Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It says it all right there! She eats in Italy, prays in India, and falls in love in Indonesia. Why am I reading this book?
While the jacket gives away the details of the life Gibert was escaping (husband, career, etc), it’s the intelligent, funny, and self-aware journey that she takes across the world that captures the reader. To explore this book without knowing where she may have gone next, what she would’ve found there, would’ve been exhilarating; to not know the ending would’ve been a thrill.
The title ends with the word “love,” and we are left to automatically assume that Gilbert’s life nicely wraps up in Indonesia. A blind read of this book would’ve added an element of tension that’s absent when the title and jacket copy lead you to believe everything is fine. Can this woman truly leave her entire life behind without consequences? Will she find herself? Will she survive this journey? Not knowing completely changes the reading experience. —Kelly Gallucci, Editor
It’s really difficult to read a classic without any outside influence, especially when it’s a cornerstone of a genre—you can’t talk cyberpunk without referencing even the bare-bones premise of Snow Crash. In a perfect world, I would’ve opened Stephenson’s seminal book without knowing Hiro Protagonist or YT’s names (though the latter is due to having an Internet friend with the same moniker), or the delightfully dark levels of expletives, sex, and gore contained therein. —Natalie Zutter, Editor
Here are several new and recent titles that you should pick up immediately. Do not pass Go, do not read the reviews or jacket copy, and just open the damn book:
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