Why I Read the Last Line of a Book Before I Finish It, and Why You Should Too

A new and fun challenge to spice up your reading and writing habit.

When you pick up a book at the store, the first thing you probably do is read the first few lines to get a feel of the story. Your mind does not even consider reading the last line because it probably contains spoilers, right?

But what if I told you there is more to it than that, and how reading the last line of a book can actually transform your reading and writing habit?

Usually, books tend to be praised for their introductory lines rather than the last. This is because they hold the most power to ensure readers are hooked on to the rest of the story. As a result, more attention goes into crafting a killer first line, as is with every other book, article, or prose.

“First sentences are doors to worlds.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

But for me, the last sentences are the doors to the soul of the book.

The last line is the last line for a reason. It was written to be read at the end of a book. So why do I disrupt this fixed reading pattern and potentially expose myself to spoilers?

Well, if the first line hooks you into the story, then the last one proves if it’s going to live up to it. 

During the beginning stage of a book, I flick through to the final page to peek at the very last line. For me, it is this sentence that always leaves a lasting impression on me. This sentence usually determines my overall experience of the book and will guide me to the end.

This impression is comprised of three elements:

  1. The line of poetry that makes you swoon;
  2. The line generally alludes to the main theme of the book, and;
  3. A spoiler that will encourage me to read on if it starts to bore me at some point.

I’ve found that the final lines will contain either two or three aspects from this criteria.

When I realised I developed a love for last lines, I started incorporating it within my own writing wherever possible, mainly done when writing my poems.

1. The use of poetic writing

I’ve realised that the last sentence of a book holds as much weight, if not more, than the first. After all, it is the final remark of the story that will stay with us forever, as it wraps up the whole show and walks off into the sunset.

This is why the last line should be crafted as well as the first line of a book. As a reader, I’m a fool for poetic writing. I love it when a story can captivate me with its rich imagery and immersive language.

In particular, when the last sentence can incorporate a poetic essence, then the deliverance tends to be more impactful.

An example of this is from one of my favourite books, Memoirs of a Geisha.

“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.” — Arthur Golden

Uh oh, here come the waterworks again. *sniffles*

Comparing one’s actions to a metaphor is impactful because it makes it much easier for readers to understand and empathise with the underlying message. It has the ability to translate a feeling to the reader beyond words. In a way, an inexpressible thought is expressed through the use of imagery.

Luckily, while not giving any spoilers away, this line also applies to the second criterion from the list by alluding to the book’s main message.

As a book that depicts the life of fictional geisha, the focal premise of the story is the main character’s trials and tribulations throughout the course of her life. The tale portrays the majestic yet crippling reality of one’s determination to withstand the setbacks of life to reach one seemingly impossible destiny.

This last line emphasises that despite all of this, everything fades away to tragic but perfect impermanence.

2. The main theme of the book

As the author is coming to a final close, the final line is the last chance to assure that the readers have grasped the book’s message. I like to read ahead to find it because I can find the whole point of the story in its most compact form. This helps me acknowledge it throughout the entire book rather than be reminded of it in the very end.

An example of this is within The Forty Rules of Love.

“Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire!

The universe turns differently when fire loves water.” — Elif Şafak

These final thoughts are weighted with the overall significant message of the book. In its quest to explore the rules of love, this last line concludes the key aspect of what it truly is — the source of all life.

It is expressing the meaning of love as succinctly as possible while also emphasising its capability.

By applying to the first criterion, it is also encompassing poetic language to deliver a resonating message. It is through its use of imagery that this message is best understood.

It is one thing to say “love is the source of life,” and another to say “love is the water of life.” For when one reads water, they understand the importance of it because of our innate thirst. It is water that hydrates nourishes, and maintains the cycle of life.

3. Sometimes, spoilers are good

This practice is not suitable for the faint-hearted. There is a chance the last line may contain a spoiler and an even higher chance for the preceding lines to contain spoilers.

To read the last line, I dart my eyes to the end of the paragraph and cover the rest of the page with my hand, ensuring my only focus is on the last line. At times, despite my efforts, the last line will be a spoiler of some sort. However, I don’t particularly mind this. After all, the point is the journey and not the destination.

An example of this is from my current read, Pachinko.

“She picked up her bags. Kyunghee would be waiting for her at home.” — Lee Minjin

This last line tells me that by making it to the end of the book, the main character has survived all her troubles, and her sister-in-law is waiting for her at home. I have some sense of relief by knowing that despite her troubles at the moment, she is going to pull them through.

While not necessarily a poetical ending, this line also applies to the second criterion.

The story is about the struggles of a Korean family trying to make ends meet when Korea was annexed to Japan. In particular, it follows the life of our heroine, Sunja, whose life is especially difficult because of her gender.

Despite the limits set before her as a woman, Sunja must transcend these expectations for her and her family to survive the brutal reality of living under imperialism and discrimination.

These last two lines reaffirm the endurance and resilience depicted by this character, who withstands the troubles set before her.

In conclusion

It can be seen that the last line of a book holds more significance than people give it credit for. It is so significant that it can be an injustice to defer it to the very end. To read it prematurely can help guide us to the end and ensure we have understood the moral of the story. 

It also shows that it is useful to read, but it can improve the overall impact of your piece of writing more than you think. A lasting line is a lasting thought a reader will have for your content thereafter.

To summarise, the last line evokes:

  1. Poetry that makes you swoon,
  2. Alludes to the main theme of the book,
  3. May contain a spoiler of encouragement.

Well, here I am, getting closer to the end of the article.

I’ve dug my own grave at this point because of my emphasis on the power of the last lines. You may be wondering at this point, unless the thought occurred to you sooner, whether this article lives up to its premise and contains a killer last line that’s going to make you think of my article forever…

In all honesty, as is with every writer, I hope every single word I’ve written was able to have a significant impact on you. Still, since most of us can’t remember entire lengths of books or articles, I will also have the resort to a final lasting line:

Do not fear endings. It may be the end on paper, but the resonance will echo within your mind. And if you’re lucky, it will be reborn in the form of inspiration.

Words by Gulistan Elidemir

Further reading:

9 Questions To Ask Yourself Whilst Reading

Why Book Burning Destroys the Most Vital Tool Of Humanity

Published by A Thousand Lives

A new online publication all about books - launched December 2020 📚 ✨ A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one ✨

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