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It is several hours past midnight, and you are still reading the novel you began some days ago. At first you read it slowly, picking it up now and then as time permitted. But by now, you've passed the halfway mark and have become engrossed in the characters, the plot, the very world of the novel. You know you must wake up early, but still you cannot stop reading. You are impelled forward by an overwhelming desire to reach the end of the book; you must know how it ends, even if you get no sleep at all.

This obsession is not wholly logical. There is no reason why you cannot finish the book tomorrow night. The characters will not run away, nor will the ink on the pages disappear. Besides, in your present state of fatigue you will surely miss out on subtleties and nuances that you would more easily pick up on after a full night's rest. Still, you read on.

What exactly is it, this mania to reach the end of the book? Merely to say that we are eager to find out "whodunit" is not enough, for this same phenomenon often occurs with nonfiction books or with books we have read before. It even happens to people who are not particularly fond of reading, and who would do anything to avoid having to take a literature class.

I think if we sat down and really thought hard about why we do it, the reason would become quickly apparent. We feel that if we can only reach the end of the book, we will be greeted by some great revelation: a light-bulb flash, a thrill of enlightenment, a brief but luminous moment of clarity. If we can only reach the end, then everything will make sense; we will receive answers to those persistent, nagging questions, some of which we have never been able to articulate.

What we hope to encounter at the end of the book is ...

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In the Magazine

June 2005

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