Friday, August 30, 2013

The Classics Club: Forewords

It's been a while since I've done a meme from The Classics Club. Why, you ask? Um...I plead the fifth.

This month's question is:

Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics? Does it help you or hurt you in your understanding/enjoyment of the work? 

When I was younger, I felt a strange obligation to read forewords and introductions. I'm not sure why. I guess I felt like if I didn't read them, then I didn't really read the book. Nowadays, I usually skip the forewords, notes, introductions, etc...anything that wasn't written by the author him/herself.

The main reason I skip them is because they're often boring. I'll admit it. Especially if I haven't read the book yet. I honestly don't think those things are written for new readers to the book (which begs the question, why do they put them before the content instead of after?). I rarely care about the author's life or the themes in the book until I've actually read the work.

But I have another, better reason for not reading forewords: They usually try to lay down the law for what the book means. If I read someone else's opinion before reading the work, it will always color my own reading. Even if I disagree, I'll be forever disagreeing whenever I think about the book. (For instance, I can't think of Wuthering Heights without thinking about my disagreement with all the people who say that it's a story about redeeming love. I just can't.) I prefer to go into a classic without an interpretation all laid out for me.


  1. I tend to read forwards IF I've read the book before and IF they're interesting. If I'm bored, I move on. Sometimes I read them after I've read the book. I find them usually instructive, often interesting, and occasionally enlightening.

    1. I always think, when I read a new book, that I'll go back and read the introduction afterwards. And then I never do. (See reason #1). But I do think I would benefit from it. So, maybe someday. (Maybe after I've spent four years of college reading literary criticism, I'll come to really enjoy it...)

  2. This just reminded me that I want to read the introduction to Ender's Game! I checked the "Author's Definitive Edition" out of the library, and I tried to read the introduction, but it wasn't interesting to me since I hadn't read the book. The funny thing is that Orson Scott Card didn't want to write the introduction. You know, I can't paraphrase any better than the way he said it, so I'm going to quote most of the first paragraph of the introduction.

    "It makes me a little uncomfortable, writing an introduction to Ender's Game. After all, the book has been in print for six years now, and in all that time, nobody has ever written to me to say, 'You know, Ender's Game was a pretty good book, but you know what it really needs? An introduction!' And yet when a novel goes back to print for a new hardcover edition, there ought to be something in it to mark the occasion... So be assured - the novel stands on its own, and if you skip this intro and go straight to the story, I not only won't stand in your way, I'll even agree with you!"

    So anyway, after reading that, I felt free to skip the introduction. But now that I've read the book, I want to go back and read it. You're right, they should put it at the end! At least this introduction was actually written by the author.

    1. That's great! I actually usually read forewords when they're by the author; they're often entertaining or at least fascinating. One great example is The Scarlet Letter. The preface (or whatever it's called) is almost essential to the book itself. It's this intricate story about how Hawthorne found discovered an historical account about Hester and everything...but of course, the book is a novel. Kind of funny.