I have a confession to make. I’m one of those people who have a weird habit and don’t want anyone to know about it. But today I’m going to let you in on my strange ritual, so next time, when you see me at the bookstore, you’ll think twice before shooting me a nasty glare, which I got from someone at Barnes and Noble yesterday (it wasn’t the first and probably not the last, either).
So, this is what I do before I buy/read a book. I leaf through it and read the last sentence. Yup, it’s one of those “Bruce Willis is a ghost” moments. Don’t get it? Let me explain. Some years ago, my husband and I were just about to leave for the movie theater to see The Sixth Sense, when his friend, Alfredo Melendez, pulled up in our driveway, asked where we were headed, and when he received the answer, he said, “Oh, yeah, I saw that movie. Bruce Willis is a ghost.” So much for our movie-going that day. You get the picture. So, from that day on, anytime someone spoils the ending of anything, we say “Bruce Willis is a ghost.” Thank you, Fredo!
You must wonder why I would do it to myself; why would I have a “Bruce Willis is a ghost” moment each time I open a new book. Shouldn’t the hook be the first sentence, not the last? The first sentence of any book may hook you, but will it reel you in? You have to read on to see whether the story is worth your time. And pretty soon you’re through with the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter, and you’re still not sure whether you’re interested enough to continue. Then you realize that the book is pretty thick, say three, four hundred pages, and so far you’re iffy with continuing to read. You sigh, close it, and put it back on the shelf. You’ve just wasted your precious time and energy.
I have very little of both, so I try to conserve as much as I can. I start at the end. I read the last sentence first. If I find it intriguing, I read the sentence before it. And then I wonder, jeez what could have possibly happened that the book ended this way? I have a bazillion antecedent scenarios playing out in my head, and yes, you’ve guessed it—I’m hooked, reeled in, and hanging on the line like a fish out of water.
Here are some great last words. And let’s play a game. Can you guess to which book they belong?
1. They said that of all the kings upon earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.
2. Big words are always punished, and proud men in old age learn to be wise.
3. With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla? With gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?
4. Honi soit qui mal y pense. “Evil to him who thinks evil.”
5. The creatures outside look from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
6. And no one can help me. Not even you.
7. He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in the darkness and distance.
8. Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.
9. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
10. I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the Valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.
A. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
B. The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles
C. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
D. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
E. Animal Farm by George Orwell
F. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
G. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
J. Life of Pi by Yann Martel