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?