I want to take a moment to talk about something that makes me rather uncomfortable when I stumble upon it in books: secondhand embarrassment. I have a massive secondhand embarrassment squick; it makes me uneasy and unnecessarily nervous, considering the people causing it aren’t even real. But, when those moments happen in books – and they happen in pretty much every single book ever – it can actually be bad enough to make me set the book aside for a while because I just feel so BAD for the character dealing with whatever caused said embarrassment. My reaction towards their embarrassment is actually a physical response, and it’s hard for me to turn that off.
Which ties directly into today’s musing topic: I am a peek-er. As in, I will actually go ahead to the next chapter (and yes, sometimes even the end of the book!) to make sure things are going to ease up before I can bring myself to continue reading. It’s like I just HAVE to know that things for this (nonexistent, imaginary) character are going to get better before I can bring myself to continue reading their story. I actually did it in the book I just finished (Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff, if you’re curious), although it was mild and just necessitated me going ahead a few paragraphs and not, you know, an entire section of the book.
Am I the only one who does this?
I mean, I know I’m not. I’ve seen others talk about this. I’m just kind of curious as to WHY I do this, and maybe see why you all might (or might not) have this habit as well.
Personally speaking, I think it’s because reading is such a visceral, gripping thing, and I get so caught up in the story (which is a testament to the author’s writing, let’s be real) that, when something happens to upset or embarrass the character I’ve become emotionally invested in, I can’t help but to feel what they’re “feeling”. And sometimes, if the feelings are strong enough, it just makes me such a nervous, anxious wreck that I just can’t help myself. I have to know, right then, that things will sort themselves out, and the only way I can do that is to skip ahead a bit. Usually I don’t skip ahead that much – just to the next chapter or so, but sometimes – particularly if we’re in the climax of the book and it’s almost over – I’ll skip to the last page. Sometimes this habit has come back to bite me in the butt and I’ve been spoiled for some big plot twist or whatever, but I’ve actually never minded that because the peace of mind of knowing that whatever it was that embarrassed them or whatever was gone was such a relief that I didn’t even care that something else may have been revealed before it was time. Knowing how a book ends has never actually impacted my enjoyment of the story, which might also be strange, I guess, but that’s how I roll. For me, the pros just far outweigh the cons.
So now I want to ask you: Are you a peek-er? If you’re not, how do you get through those moments when the secondhand embarrassment – because that’s generally what triggers me – is just ratcheted up so high that it’s physically uncomfortable? Or am I just weird to have such a physical response? Inquiring minds would like to know, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!