In a comment to my post on not being able to understand the mentality of people who deliberately spoil things for others by going out of their way to reveal the endings of stories, I was focusing more on films but also mentioned books.
In a comment reader estrevan mentioned that a fellow classmate in a graduate class took him/her to task for revealing the ending of Madame Bovary during a class discussion. estrevan had assumed that people, at least those enrolled in a graduate literature course, knew at least the basic outlines of classic novels.
Well-known classic works, are a bit different from films. For one thing, they have been around for much longer and many of their stories and themes are deeply and widely embedded in our culture so revealing the ending, as long as it is not done gratuitously to spoil the enjoyment of others, is not reprehensible. In addition, the endings of most of those stories are often not meant to be twists that take the reader by surprise. Rather the endings are often foreshadowed, even if slightly unexpected. So one may feel joy or sadness but rarely surprise or shock.
My own education was narrowly focused on science and math and thus I reached adulthood pretty much ignorant of almost all the literature classics. I only started reading them in my thirties and so would have been like estrevan’s classmate, quite clueless. But at the same time, if one reads widely one becomes aware of the main ideas of great books because they are alluded to in so many places. So when I finally got around to reading Anna Karenina, for example, I already knew the main story and how it ended but it did not spoil it for me.
However one thing I have learned in reading classic novels is to never, ever read the introduction to them. These are often written by scholars who try to explain why these novels are highly regarded and what the author was seeking to convey, and in the process they almost always tell you the whole story. That is a bit much. I now know to skip right over the introduction and only read it after I have finished the book.