I must admit that I rarely read the introductions to books, especially if it’s a book I’m reading for the first time. Introductions tend to give away too much about the story, or they provide a level of history or criticism that is simply unhelpful for first-timers. In fact, when the students in my Rediscovering the Classics classes ask about introductions I almost always tell them to skip it, and come back to it after they have finished the book, and see if it catches their interest at that point.
There are, however, a couple of books that have exceedingly good introductory material, which should not be missed under any circumstances. I am listing them below, in no particular order.
- The introduction by Susan Shillinglaw to Cannery Row , found in the Penguin Classics edition. Susan Shillinglaw is the most engaging and interesting Steinbeck scholar I’ve found. She has also written a short biography of Steinbeck which is well worth reading.
- The introduction to The Magician’s Book, A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller. I loved the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis when I was a kid, and when I read them as a non-Christian teen and found all the Christian symbolism I felt almost as if I was betraying my beliefs to continue loving them. Laura Miller’s introduction took me right back to that time, to the emotions and angst surrounding it.
- The preface (sorry, this is the only one that isn’t an introduction, but it’s still there in the front, let’s let it go for argument’s sake, shall we?) to The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter. I think this one can be summed up with the following sentences, “Let there be no mistake about this–I am not setting out to write a history book… all too often historybooks are dull, and that in my eyes is a crime. How anyone can make history dull and boring is beyond my conception.” Amen, brother!
- The introduction by A.S. Byatt to Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Byatt’s prose is lovely, so lovely that I can lose myself in her introduction as easily as I lose myself in her novel. The novel was so engrossing I actually had to put it down and take deep breaths at times while reading it. Her introduction describes the conception of the book, and is a delightful peek into the inner workings of a brilliant writer.
- The introduction to ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income, by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett. I admire these two men very much, and am a subscriber to the ProBlogger blog, but to be honest, I had no intention of buying the book. It was the way the introduction immediately grabbed my attention that changed my mind. It’s a revelation, not in the light bulb above the head way, but in that it reveals the history and humanity of these people who have an almost rock-star status in the blogging world. It was so personal that it made me feel almost as if I was sitting down next to them, becoming friends.
If there is a book that I’ve missed, with an introduction that knocked your socks off, please comment and share!