Maggie Moore is a marketing intern at UNP and is slowly drowning in her pile of to-be-read books.
Who reads the acknowledgements, anyway? A lot of people skip them, and I get it. But I highly encourage you to give it a try—acknowledgements, introductions, all that front and back matter. Taking the time to read those sections can add new dimension to the reading experience and make it even more impactful.
For example, consider the introduction to Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. First of all, how cool that a straightforward retelling of mythology could become such a smash-hit book in 2017!—but that’s no surprise considering Gaiman’s superb storytelling chops. It’s clearly a labor of love for him, and he says as much in his introduction. He writes about the collaborative nature of myth, the joy he felt when he read the stories as a kid, and the books that inspired him as he wrote his own version.
“The fun comes in telling [myths] yourself—something I warmly encourage you to do, you person reading this. Read the stories in this book, then make them your own, and on some dark and icy winter’s evening, or on a summer night when the sun will not set, tell your friends what happened when Thor’s hammer was stolen, or how Odin obtained the mead of poetry for the gods…”
As I worked my way through the book, I pictured myself sitting across a campfire from Gaiman, exchanging versions of the stories, and I thought about how I might retell the stories to my own friends and family. Reading the introduction made the rest of the book feel like an active reading experience, and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I read the book—my friends are starting to get irritated.
Acknowledgements sections are usually less narrative but can be equally eye-opening. It was because of these sections that I first decided to pursue a career in book publishing. I was about twelve years old when I started reading acknowledgements, and it wasn’t because I was interested in them—it was out of sheer boredom. I didn’t pack enough books for a road trip, so I read all the words I could find, including the car’s owner’s manual, the booklets for my brother’s GameBoy games, and yes, the acknowledgements.
At that age, I mostly read fantasy, and I noticed that the same names popped up in my favorite books in the genre. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling were the major players, and all my favorite authors were thanking them. I began to wonder why. What did editors even do, anyway? I started “following” these two women’s literary careers. The two together edited The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for sixteen years, from 1987 to 2003. In their introductions to these volumes (at least the ones I could get my hands on) they wrote about the current state of the fantasy and horror genres, recent events, awards, deaths. They wrote about their editing process, their philosophy, the vision that guided each volume. This, I thought, is what I want to do.
Now, when I pick up a new book, I cherish the introductions, the prefaces, and even the acknowledgements. They add a layer or two or three or more to my reading experience. I think about how the author felt while writing, and I think of all the people behind the scenes who helped guide the book on its path from idea to print. So, if you don’t already, I highly recommend taking the time to read the front and back matter of your new books and your old favorites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do—and I think you will.