Tuesday, February 28, 2012


When you read a book do you read the whole book?  Do you read introductions, forewords, dedications, afterwords, and acknowledgements?  I do.  Part of it the reason is that I'm just a yenta at heart: did the author thank her parents/spouse/children/pet?  Does she have a spouse/children/pet?  Did she thank other authors?  Just as people feel they "know" celebrities and their children, these details make me feel like I know the author. 

But more importantly, when an author you like writes the introduction to a book by another author, it's like getting a recommendation from a trusted friend.  When the author of a book you are about to read pays homage to other books you enjoy, you know you are in good hands. 

And so as I wrote here, I specifically sought out the edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the introduction by Anna Quindlen, one of my favorite authors (if you are a mother, you must read her Life in the 30s columns, collected in the volume Living Out Loud).  And now, I have to seek out the edition of A Wrinkle in Time that she introduced as well, as I learned in a fascinating article about trends in girls' reading over time by New York Times children's book reviewer Pamela Paul.

In an earlier post I discussed original and derivative works and a reader commented that Laurel Snyder's books are a clear homage to Edgar Eager's which in turn pay their respects to E. Nesbit's.  Sure enough, I picked up Five Children and It to reread and the introduction was by none other than Laurel Snyder.  Moreover, in Edward Eager's Half Magic, he explicitly pays tribute to E. Nesbit's work.  Wendy Mass thanks Judy Blume for her help in several of her books.  And I wonder if Rebecca Stead acknowledged her debt to Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time in the acknowledgements or elsewhere in When You Reach Me  (I read it but don't have a copy to check right now).  And, on the adult side, in 11/22/63, Stephen King thanks Jack Finney for the quintessential time travel novel and one of my favorites, Time and Again.  These acknowledgements provide insight, recommendations and books to look for (if I haven't read them).  They also reaffirm my own good taste and lend credence to my fantasy that all my favorite authors hang out together.

Finally, these parts of the book are directed to the reader in a way that the narrative is not.  In this vein, I particularly love Grace Lin's dedication in The Year of the Rat (I think): "If you are reading this book, then it is dedicated to YOU" for its overt acknowledgement of the reader. 

Do you read introductions, forewords, afterwords, acknowledgements and dedications?  Do you care who wrote these items if not the author herself?  Do you seek out a particular edition of a book just to read the introduction?

1 comment:

  1. Someone should do a chart linking books connected by references or thanks to prior authors, or prior works. It would show influence, or personal connections between authors.