Reading Introductions–or Not

When I was younger, I never read the Introductions to books. I’d skip right to the beginning of the text itself, whether it was a story or non-fiction. Somewhere along the way, however, I decided that the Introduction was part of the book, and needed to be read before reading the book in order to understand the book as the author intended. I suspect this transition was somewhere around when I started college, and I needed all the help I could get in understanding many of the books I was reading.

It only just occurred to me, some 20 years later, that maybe I don’t need to read the introductions to books. Maybe I can just start in on the book itself. After all, if I find myself needing greater clarity, there’s always the option to go back and read the introduction (read the book out of order? That’s heresy). Often, I find, introductions are the least interesting part of the book. Often, they are an expanded in table of contents (“in chapters 1 & 2 we will discuss the evolution of the idea of left-handed knitting; chapter 3 will explore the early innovators of left-handed knitting, with particular attention to the social pressures they felt to knit right handed; chapter 4 chronicles the acceptance of left handed knitting, while chapter 5 gives examples of patterns especially developed for left handed knitters; finally, chapter 6 lays out a plan for world domination by left handed knitters”). At other times, the introductions explains why the author felt the need to write the book (“as  I was learning to knit, I sought out resources on left handed knitting–as I have been a leftie all the days of my life–and was shocked and dismayed to find that all the books seem to regard left handed knitting as an inferior cousin to right handed knitting. In this book, I set out to show that all true knitters are left handed, and all who knit with their right hands are to be executed–or at least locked away.”). Frankly, at this point, by the time I’ve picked up a book to read it, I probably don’t care why the author felt the need to write it, and it’s rare that knowing the structure of the book will improve my appreciation of it.

Therefore, I am giving myself permission to skip introductions. From now on, I can go right to the text itself. I might even skip the dedication page .

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One Response to “Reading Introductions–or Not”

  1. Emily Says:

    You know what else is freaking annoying about book introductions? In novels, the author of the introduction often assumes you’re already familiar with the plot, and drops BIG OLD SPOILERS about what’s going to happen. WHY is that appropriate for an introduction, which the reader is supposedly perusing BEFORE the rest of the book? I mean, sure, Vanity Fair was written a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean everybody’s already read it! Come ON, people! I never read them. Harper Lee was right on the money in refusing to allow anyone to write an introduction for To Kill a Mockingbird.

    The exception for me is intros by literary translators, which I often find totally fascinating.


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