Prefaces. Introductions. Forewords. They’re helpful, aren’t they, when they’re designed to give you an inkling of what’s in store, to whet your appetite for what’s to come. A bit like a extended blurb, maybe to give a bit of context to the work, or a potted history of the author. Useful stuff.
Except when they’re not. When they prove to be dull as ditchwater with extraneous material, or when you’re faced with egregious spoilers, or — if written by a third party — they prove to be principally about … the third party.
Above all, I hate it when introductions basically tell you what to think, to get you to form an opinion of a text which you haven’t yet read. Is there anything more annoying than arriving at a novel with a prejudice formed before the very first sentence, even if planted there with good intentions?
I also extend my dislike to the opening pages of paperback editions of works previously published in hardback, filled with glowing endorsements from fellow authors, selected passages from reviewers, even praises for earlier works by the writer in question. I feel browbeaten by the weight of these laudatory quotes; in fact I become so resentful that I’m tempted to be on the look-out for false steps in the prose, armed to shoot down the faintest hint of faulty plotting, ready to criticise any inconsistent characterisation.
I don’t mind a few words by way of preamble. The author saying, Look, I wrote this many years ago but on the whole I think it still stands up as a piece of literature. A biographer or academic giving a little bit of historical context to a classic or a work by a late author. (The emphasis is on a little bit.) A friend or editor givng a brief explanation about the circumstances surrounding the manuscript’s transcription to the print medium.
I baulk however at long essays which are best consigned, along with any scholarly annotations, extended bibliography, acknowledgements or even index, to the end of the work. (Yes, even some works of fiction have some or all of this apparatus.) Instead of a Foreword I’d prefer an Afterword, I’d like to see a Postface in place of a Preface, and a Postscript or Envoi as opposed to an Introduction.
Here, at the end, is where I’d like to compare and contrast my experience of reading the work with the considered opinions of somebody knowledgeable, not be told before the main event what my responses should be.
Is it too much to ask?
Tell me what you think. Am I making too much of a song and dance about this? I know I could leave reading intros till the end, but by the time I’ve started an intro to work out its nature it’s too late, I’m effectively drawn into its content.
Or maybe you too find effusive crits and extended essays too much? I’d love to hear your opinions!