This first post was just going to be a hello, but I realised that I had recently written about introductions for issue five of the magazine, and so (with apologies to Jerry Seinfeld): what’s the deal with book introductions?
Maybe Paul Auster thinks that the plot of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is so familiar that everyone should know the ending by now, but you know what? I didn’t. Call me shallow, but I’m less likely to read the rest of the book now I know that – and I quote page vii in Auster’s introduction to Hunger directly here, talking about the protagonist: ‘In the end, for no apparent reason, he […]’. The paragraph then proceeds to summarise the book’s major plot points. Quite a feat of compression for a book of 222 pages. Then again, if you ever need to write an essay on Hunger, I’d recommend digging out this edition. It’s fairly easy to recognise, as it has the words, ‘With an introduction by Paul Auster’ emblazoned on the cover.
The practice seems to be restricted to classics and translated works. Avoid the introduction to the wonderful Moscow Stations by Venedikt Yerofeev for example, unless you want the translator – of all people – to completely and unambiguously ruin the ending for you. Do these introduction writers (do they have their own collective noun?) think that these types of novels are simply vessels for transmitting a metaphor to the reader, that the story itself doesn’t matter? I can’t think of any other reason why my edition of Albert Camus’ The Plague has its story spoiled, while the copy of American Gods by Neil Gaiman which sits on the shelf next to it doesn’t.
If publishers really want to include these no doubt thoughtful and well-constructed pieces of literary criticism in their books, why not print them at the end? Until then, I’ll be skipping over those dozen pages between me and the story, and hopefully staying a little less bitter in the process.