8 votes

Researching a book before you read it?

Tags: wikipedia

I'm reading The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre and looking in Wikipedia for date of publication (2001) ran across the fact that it was loosely based on a true story. Now, it turns out I'm a frequent fan of such 'maybe almost true life books' and especially movies. Usually the extent of the 'trueness' of the movie is revealed at the end of the story.

It's often rewarding and adds to the emphasis of the story, which in itself interesting. But do any readers here avoid getting background on a story before reading? Do you think this is a type of spoiler? And does knowledge of a book being based on real events affect your opinion of the book in any way?

And finally, does anyone else often turn to Wikipedia, before or after reading a story to gain insight on its background?

17 comments

  1. [10]
    Pilgrim
    Link
    I do this. Most recently with Don Quixote (which is sort of ironic I guess given your username) which I haven't read for some time but was thinking about reading it to my kids and got to wondering...

    And finally, does anyone else often turn to Wikipedia, before or after reading a story to gain insight on its background?

    I do this. Most recently with Don Quixote (which is sort of ironic I guess given your username) which I haven't read for some time but was thinking about reading it to my kids and got to wondering about Cervantes' life.

    On a side note, I had very different expectations for your post based on the title.

    4 votes
    1. [9]
      DonQuixote
      Link Parent
      Yeah, it was hard to figure out what I was thinking about. This year I read a relatively unknown and intriguing, book, Tiger Rag. When I finished, I looked up the mysterious secondary character...

      Yeah, it was hard to figure out what I was thinking about. This year I read a relatively unknown and intriguing, book, Tiger Rag. When I finished, I looked up the mysterious secondary character and found out he really existed. Somehow it put the book into a special category, because this figure was almost legendary.

      And I read Beartown which I thought was surprisingly good, and found out it was based in a completely different country from what I expected. Really I don't usually care about backstories, but in these cases it was interesting.

      1. Pilgrim
        Link Parent
        So I have a bit of a thing where I really get satisfaction by finding some connection between what seem like disparate works of art. For example there is an 80s song about a lovers meeting in a...

        So I have a bit of a thing where I really get satisfaction by finding some connection between what seem like disparate works of art. For example there is an 80s song about a lovers meeting in a French coffee shop that almost seems to exactly mirror a scene in Kerouac’s Desolation Angels - it’s like an Eureka moment but no one else cares

        1 vote
      2. [7]
        Algernon_Asimov
        Link Parent
        Would you be okay with a different title for your topic? What about something like this? "Researching a book before you read it."

        On a side note, I had very different expectations for your post based on the title.

        Yeah, it was hard to figure out what I was thinking about.

        Would you be okay with a different title for your topic? What about something like this? "Researching a book before you read it."

        2 votes
        1. [6]
          DonQuixote
          Link Parent
          can this be done?

          can this be done?

          1. [2]
            apoctr
            Link Parent
            By a few users granted permission by Deimos, yes. Eventually the plan is for a trust-based system where users with more "trust" in given communities will automatically gain permissions such as...

            By a few users granted permission by Deimos, yes. Eventually the plan is for a trust-based system where users with more "trust" in given communities will automatically gain permissions such as editing tags, titles, etc.

            1 vote
          2. [3]
            Algernon_Asimov
            Link Parent
            Yes. I, and a couple of other people, can edit titles. Do you want your title edited to something more explanatory? I could just go ahead and change it, but I thought I'd ask first as this would...

            Yes. I, and a couple of other people, can edit titles.

            Do you want your title edited to something more explanatory? I could just go ahead and change it, but I thought I'd ask first as this would be a significant revision, unlilke the minor tweaks I usually do.

            1. [2]
              DonQuixote
              Link Parent
              You have my go ahead. Do your best to keep it simple if possible. Thanks for asking.

              You have my go ahead. Do your best to keep it simple if possible. Thanks for asking.

  2. dwightwalters
    Link
    First, I absolutely love The Constant Gardener and nearly every word Le Carre ever wrote. He was such a worthy successor to the Graham Greene tradition. To answer your question, I generally don't...

    First, I absolutely love The Constant Gardener and nearly every word Le Carre ever wrote. He was such a worthy successor to the Graham Greene tradition.

    To answer your question, I generally don't prepare my reading with research. If, in the course of reading, I find a fact that leads me down a rabbit hole, then so be it. I'm a novelist myself and very often I use novels to point me toward primary research for my own stories. They're generally well-organized to allow for subject-specific focus. Actually, one of the reasons I'm a writer is that it's how I engage with the world around me, kicking around issues and ideas on the page and discovering how I truly feel about an issue by arguing out the various positions.

    Certain fascinating tidbits I've read have set me off on tangents that become projects of 3+ years. I'm sure I'm not the only one who works this way. What other passion projects have people created based on novels they've read?

    3 votes
  3. unknown user
    Link
    It depends on what's being read for me. When I was reading Homer's works, I really appreciated the 80-page forewords for each book, which gave a lot of context, contained a discussion of the work...

    It depends on what's being read for me. When I was reading Homer's works, I really appreciated the 80-page forewords for each book, which gave a lot of context, contained a discussion of the work at hand, and even had summaries of the chapters. Similarly, when I started reading the Bible, I studied a lot beforehand, and my edition (Italian CEI Bible, IIRC 1952 ed.) is nicely annotated with archeological and cultural remarks (not totally dependable for an irreligious reading, but still), which I love.

    Also, as reading becomes the central activity of my life (I'm going to shoot for a research career in linguistics), I come to appreciate reading critiques and summaries in order to select what to read.

    But still, I like being adventurous and just grabbing a book because I like the alliteration of the author's name, or that the title sounds "cool", or a combination thereof. So I try to find a sweet balance between "professional"-ish reading and enjoying unrestricted exploration.

    2 votes
  4. masochist
    Link
    I tend to actively avoid it for recent fiction, because there are cases like The Book of Strange New Things (which I've commented about here several times) where there are significant spoilers...

    I tend to actively avoid it for recent fiction, because there are cases like The Book of Strange New Things (which I've commented about here several times) where there are significant spoilers tied to the story that researching the book reveals.

    @cadadr has a lovely point about researching older works with significant cultural context, though. You can learn a lot and get a lot more enjoyment out of classics if you have more context. This kind of context certainly exists for recent works, but we're waiting for the history to be written for that.

    2 votes
  5. aymm
    Link
    I don't actively avoid getting background on a store before reading it, but I don't actively seek it either. It could be seen as a type of spoiler, but generally I wouldn't classify it as such....

    I don't actively avoid getting background on a store before reading it, but I don't actively seek it either. It could be seen as a type of spoiler, but generally I wouldn't classify it as such. It's more of a transition though, depending on the amount of background given. Sometimes I do turn to wikipedia for additional background info, but not always

    1 vote
  6. Grand0rbiter
    Link
    Not exactly, but i do read some reviews before. It's a good and bad thing because i think bad reviews have more power than good ones so i avoid some books that could be awesome because one person...

    Not exactly, but i do read some reviews before.

    It's a good and bad thing because i think bad reviews have more power than good ones so i avoid some books that could be awesome because one person hated it.

    1 vote
  7. Atvelonis
    Link
    I try not to read up on the background of a book beforehand. If I do, it inevitably clouds my perception of the work somewhat, predisposing me to certain judgments of the author, characters,...

    I try not to read up on the background of a book beforehand. If I do, it inevitably clouds my perception of the work somewhat, predisposing me to certain judgments of the author, characters, story, etc. There are a lot of books whose meanings are enhanced by the reader having an understanding of their origin, but I think it acceptable to learn such things after finishing the book. With this system I have the ability to form a unique opinion on the book while also retaining the ability to seriously reevaluate that opinion afterward.

  8. ivy
    Link
    If I know I like the author or I've heard high praise for the book I'll usually go in completely blind. It's way more fun to be surprised by the story.

    If I know I like the author or I've heard high praise for the book I'll usually go in completely blind. It's way more fun to be surprised by the story.