Anyone for Forewords?

The Classic Club’s monthly meme for August poses an interesting question:  Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics?  Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?

Right off the bat, I will have to say that I usually do not read forewords or notes.  I’d rather get right to the story and read it for myself.  In the case of many books, I tell myself that I will read the foreword or the notes after I’m finished; however, I typically am ready to move on to the next book by then.

I’m more likely to read a foreword if I recognize the author.  In a rare instance, I’ve actually read a foreword by Vladamir Nabakov for Charles Dicken’s Bleak House but still have not read Bleak House.  Here’s the beginning paragraph:

We are now ready to tackle Dickens.  We are now ready to embrace Dickens.  We are now ready to bask in Dickens.  In our dealings with Jane Austen we had to make a certain effort in order to join the ladies in the drawing room.  In the case of Dickens we remain at table with our tawny port.

After reading this, I couldn’t help but read the rest of it.  Maybe someday I will actually read Bleak House.

This year, I’ve read two books in which I have read the forewords/notes in small pieces as I was reading the book.  The first one was for Gone With The Wind (it was actually a preface – I’m sure there’s a difference).  It was written by South Carolina novelist, Pat Conroy.  I’ve enjoyed Conroy’s novels and his insights into Gone With The Wind were worth reading. The afterword to my editon of Moby-Dick by Denham Sutcliffe of Kenyon College helped immensely as I read what is shaping up to be my favorite book of 2013.

What is your opinion on notes and forewords for classic novels?  Have you read any that are especially memorable?

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6 responses to “Anyone for Forewords?

  1. I like reading forewards,unless they’re so dry and unreasonably long that it takes half a century to make it through before I actually get to the story. In those cases, I’ve skipped.

    I’ve also noticed it seems to be somewhat popular to give away plot details in forewards, and I really wish there would either be spoiler warnings or that these types of articles would be made afterwards. When I remember, I try to read forewards after reading the book because of this. On one level, the editors might assume “everyone knows the plot because the book is a classic” but that’s hardly true.

    Great question!

    • Briana,
      Yeah, I get the idea sometimes that forewords and notes in general assume that you are reading a classic only for academic reasons instead of personal enjoyment (not that you can’t have both). I think I’m going to try to start reading more of them – but probably after I read the book itself.

      -Dale

  2. Interesting topic. I was glad that I read the forward to “The Call of the Wild” because Jack London was a very interesting dude and it was describing his life and writing in a nutshell. However, the forward to “Up from Slavery” seemed to detract from Booker T. Washington’s thoughts by attempting to add commentary. The forward by the author to “The Pillars of the Earth” was interesting, describing the author’s long process of working on the story and researching Cathedrals, and his insight into the subsequent popularity of the book. Anyway, I tend to read forwards because they often add interesting info, but it can be hit and miss. By the way, I am not sure what criteria determines what makes an introduction as compared to a forward, so I may have mixed them a bit in my memory. Feel free to educate me on this.
    -Ben

    • Ben,
      Thanks for mentioning Jack London! It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by him. I need to remedy that.

      I don’t know what makes a foreword different from a preface or from an introduction; however, it might be worth looking into. I’ll see what I can find out.

      -Dale

  3. Hi Dale,
    I’m not in the Classics Club, but will answer anyway… 🙂 I’m a loyal reader of forwards. I read my books from front to back, and if there’s a forward in there I feel duty-bound to read it. As discussed above, forwards are more often found in “literature” than, say, recently published work.

    I think I’ve heard that forwards are written by someone other than the author while prefaces are generally written by the author. Maybe Jen Follett’s POTE is a preface. Anyway, I read them almost without fail. 🙂
    -Jay

    • Jay, I’m impressed! The ones that I have read have been beneficial. Like I said, I may start reading them more often. I think you are right about the differences. Also, from my limited observation, forewords tend to be more literary analysis and prefaces and introductions seem to be how the book affected somebody personally. Or how it affected the author.
      -Dale

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