In the past year, a Would-You-Rather tag has been making rounds around the bookish blogosphere (and especially the vlogosphere). You may h...


In the past year, a Would-You-Rather tag has been making rounds around the bookish blogosphere (and especially the vlogosphere). You may have heard of it. You may have seen it. You may have tried to film yourself answering it, only to find that you're fifty-seven kinds of awkward in front of a camera, then promptly deleted the recording and vowed to never face a lens again.

If you had come across it in any capacity, you'll have noticed this particular question:

Would your rather read a good book with a 'meh' ending, or a 'meh' book with a good ending?

As with all things bookish, there wasn't much of a consensus. As a community, we are many things, but agreeable isn't one of them. (Wait, no, we are agreeable. We just don't agree. We aren't unanimous. The concept of the status quo utterly eludes us.)

Which is a good thing, for the most part. But it does beg the question:

Since we're so utterly disagreeable, the concept of a 'good ending' and a 'bad ending' is also elusive. As all things, it depends on the reader's perspective. At times, a tragic ending is unnecessary and we feel it's only there for the shock value. Other times, a happy ending is gratuitous and overly idealistic. (Consensus? What consensus?)

But here are two universal kinds of endings which we've all experienced:
  • a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious mind explosion
  • an underwhelming sigh of wasted potential.

So, because we deal in extremes around these part, the question becomes: would we rather read a terrific story with a monstrously underwhelming ending, or a monstrously underwhelming story with a terrific ending?

Group A, to the right. Group B, gather on the left. The undecided - gather awkwardly around the Swiss flag and shrug occasionally. (I'm with you. Team indecisiveness!)

·  Structure! The traditional story structure (which, yes, most books tend to follow) has the stakes, the tension and the hysteria progressively rise until the explosive climax. The climax tends to be very near an ending. In some cases, it is the ending (and then we are treated to a humongous cliffhanger of agony and tears). You know the graph. You've seen the graph.

If the ending is underwhelming, the graph is more of a...

Who wants to read that story? NOT US IN CAMP ENDING-MATTERS, THAT'S FOR SURE!

·  A poorly-executed ending can ruin a story in retrospect. It's been known to happen - in bookish community more than perhaps anywhere else. We've all experienced that sinking realization of "Oh, so that's where this was headed. How completely disappointing. It was all for nothing." This is a book/series that's never getting re-read or mentioned again. (Unless it's in a rant-capacity.)

·  Some genres are contingent upon good endings. Mystery. Thriller. Crime. And basically any genre which shapes the plot as a giant question mark and promises an ending in the shape of an exclamation point. Fail to deliver the ! and you've reneged on a promise! You've broken a binding agreement! You've let down Gondor and the Orcs have taken over!

·  Good hype. Some ending-fiends will gladly delve into a story of ANY kind and stick with it for as long as it takes if they're promised an explosive conclusion. And not all the dragging in the middle will stop them from plowing through to get to the masterful ending of mastery.

·  Simple math! If all but the ending is good, it means a larger percentage of the book is really good. Math doesn't lie! (Except on tests, where it routinely lies and cheats us out of A-grades.)

·  The DNF danger. If a book is underwhelming for a large portion, many DNF-prone readers will just... put it down. Thereby never reaching said ending. One minute they're reading and the next they've spent fifty-six hours on Tumblr. If a story is good, however, chances are very good that the whole book will be devoured - right along with its mediocre ending. A good beginning/middle means better incentive to continue.

·  Bad hype. Nothing ruins a mindblowing ending quite like a promise of a mindblowing ending. (Fact.) For one, a reader speeds through the story in their eagerness to reach it. For another, they've built it up in their head enormously and the real thing often can't measure. If a reader is promised a good story, on the other hand, they will pay attention from the start. The hype may still lift expectations to the top of the Hype Mountain where hope goes to die, but at the very least it's the kind of expectation that depends on the entire book and not just its conclusion.

But decisions are hard. I don't know about you, but I spend a greater portion of my time making decisions than actually executing them. One camp? The other camp? GOLDEN MIDDLE, PLEASE? (Team Switzerland!) Many of us are nomads, drifting from one to the other. For some, the ending matters more. For some, it's all relative. (Team Einstein!)

Which way do you lean? Are you more decision-prone and you've chosen a side? Would you rather read a mediocre ending to a fantabulous book, or a fantabulous ending to an otherwise mediocre book? How much does an ending matter to you? And has there ever been an ending that drastically changed your perspective on the entire story? Leave us a comment below and let us know! (Or spend an hour or two deciding whether you should leave a comment to relate how indecisive you are on this matter. Trust me, we relate.)

A massive thanks and virtual Nutella for my friends Dennis and Stefan for their input on this matter. And bonus Nutella brownies for being in opposite camps! May you never agree on anything again, guys. It helps me out enormously.

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  1. I will ALWAYS choose a good ending!! Because that's definitely what sticks with me after the book is done. xD And lik ea book that is 80% awesome and then the last 20% sucks??? I rate it soooo low anyway because my last feelings with it are disappointment. *nods* But omg the Danger of The DNF is a real struggle. Although this is partially why I never DNF because I'm always hoping it'll have a grand ending. XD

    And omg yes we bookworms are all disagreeable creatures. But why agree when we can have 9284938 opinions AMIRITE?!?!

    1. This was a MONSTROUSLY HARD DISCUSSION to write (and probably why I wound up consulting many a friend in exchange for Nutella), because I AM DEFINITELY CAMP-ENDING. I grew up on mysteries and thrillers! A SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS ENDING IS MANDATORY! Aaaaand I think you've also just solved the mystery on why our camp so rarely DNFs! (I base this scientific estimate based on my observation of a sample of two - Cait and Lexie.) But really - can't DNF when an ending might yet wow me and convert me into a believer (in said book)!

      TOO MANY OPTIONS TO JUST AGREE! AGREED! (Is this a kind of self-negating contrast?)

      - Lexie

  2. Middle, but slightly closer to a good ending.

    1. Heeeeey, Team Indecisiveness! Welcome aboard! (And yes. Good endings are of great importance. *nods*)

      - Lexie

  3. This made me chuckle. I enjoy the visuals of Team Indecisiveness wandering aimlessly bwhahaha. Anyway, I DO have a team, and that is Team Ending. Because if the LAST thing I read in the book makes me mad that I wasted my time on the first however many hundreds of pages... you can be sure that I am going to be plenty angry with that book! And it is the last impression we have of the book- so if it leaves me with a bad taste, that's how the whole book will probably feel when I look back on it- even if it wasn't all bad. Actually- I'd rather it all just be bad than giving me false hopes and crushing my dreams ;)

    1. I'm Team Indecisiveness about one too many things in life, I must confess. *dons a halo* But when it comes to this matter, I'm trotting in your wake over to Team Ending and raging at dissatisfactory endings to promising series. SUCH POTENTIAL! WASTED! I WANT THOSE HOURS OF MY LIFE BACK! (At least books that suck throughout are honest about their suckage. You're sooooo right about that.)

      - Lexie

  4. I have a 50 page DNF rule, so if the beginning of the book doesn't grab me then I ditch the book. However, for the books I do read all the way through, the ending comes into play as it relates to series continuation. I won't continue a series if the previous book has a crappy ending. The ending sets the tone moving forward and the author better make it solid, or I move onto something else!

    1. My co-blogger shares your philosophy COMPLETELY. And I've come to do the same when it comes to series. I mean, what incentivizes us to continue if the ending of the previous book in said series was bad (other than, in some cases, sheer dogged determination and a questionable dose of masochism)?

      - Lexie


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