Saturday, October 8, 2011

Spoiler warnings please!

<reader rant>

Writing a "good" book introduction is a difficult thing--not least because of the fact that readers do not agree among themselves on exactly what it is they are looking for in an introduction. Some readers are looking for information about the life and career(s) of the author(s) while others are hoping that the introduction will place the book into a larger context. Some readers think that the larger context the book should be placed into is that of the author(s) thematic and stylistic growth (and perhaps decline.) Other readers think that books should be placed within the context of the time and culture in which they were initially written and/or published. Yet other readers would prefer that books were placed within the context of other books written/published at the same time and/or same genre.

I, myself, am open to many types of introduction. However no reader should stumble across spoilers in an introduction. If the writer of the introduction cannot discuss the book without spoilers then they, or the editors, should do the reader the courtesy of marking them plainly and unmistakably.

And yes, I did just have that happen to me. I curled up in a chair with a book I had not read before and glancing at the introduction hoping for insight into the placement of this book in the development of the author's style and choice of topic(s) I came across a massive spoiler. Yes, I will forge on and read the book but (warning to any editor who happens to come across this entry) I have made a note of the author of the introduction, will avoid reading any by the same author and will, if possible, avoid buying editions that include introductions by that author.

Avoiding spoilers and/or clearly marking them is an act of respect to the reader.

</reader rant>


  1. Which is one reason why I usually read the Introduction last. Experience has shown that most of them work better as Afterwords.

    Lois McMaster Bujold says something like that in the Afterword to Cordelia's Honor, which is a republished collection of two of her novels. She was asked to write an introduction for the new edition, but decided that it's much more helpful to talk about the book after the reader has read it.

  2. Actually, that's probably the point, in the case of a new or omnibus addition. The introduction is for old readers, trying to get them to buy the omnibus in addition to the original prints, so it talks about edits and changes, and can include a spoilery discussion of the book/series because its target audience has already read everything.

    Ah, capitalism...

  3. BenR -- since the first thing most introductions to modern day Benson's mention that that his works are out of print and few people have had a chance to read them their target market is people who haven't read him.

    That is one of the things that make it particularly frustrating -- they KNOW that most of the people who pick up these books have never even had the chance to read them.

  4. Like Amaryllis, I've taken to reading introductions last. All too often they're written for and by people who have no interest in the novel as story. Storytelling, in fact, is not a valued art these days.


  5. Trig -- I agreed with you about people not having an interest in the novel as a story. Since I am reading books written nearly (or more than) 100 years ago I would really appreciate a short contextualization (for example: This was Benson's second novel. It was written before the success of his first and so before he got critical feedback......that sort of thing.)

    Instead I get unnecessary spoilers without any warning -- often talking away from the narrative tension of the book.

    So, like you two, I am basically giving up on reading introductions first.


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