The Art of the Introduction

Call me a book nerd, but I love reading book prefaces and introductions. There I said it. Glad I got that off my chest.

Authors and reviewers often leave gold nuggets in these notes to the reader. Breaking out of the structure of the story, they spend a few moments with us like a friend enjoying coffee at the kitchen table. At least the good ones feel that way. Take for instance the introduction to Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle.

Hugh Walpole wrote that the book is the work of a genius, and he gives a compelling argument. But he also said something universal. Something that speaks to good literature as a whole, and it is something I hope to emulate here at Good Soil:

Don’t be afraid to dive into these books. There is poetry here. Fantasy, humor, and a bit of sadness. You’ll find friends here that you won’t find anywhere else, not only in the characters living inside the classic works but in the authors themselves.

Understand, also, that the art of the introduction is a true art form, though generally disregarded by all but the most assiduous souls. It need not be so. As one who considers himself a lifelong student of the good books, I generally take joy at reading introductions, prefaces, afterwords, and even marginalia that accompany the digitally scanned copies of these works that have entered the public domain and been uploaded by Project Gutenberg, The Internet Archive, Google Books, and the like.

You’ll find plenty of that here, like a child’s macaroni necklace around its mother’s neck. Some versions of the books archived here are so heavily marked that they must be taken “as is” though for the most part I do my best to “clean them up” and make them presentable in public.

One such case you’ll soon notice in the Nursery section is the case of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, in which some bad child applied his crayons to many of the drawings. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but it continues to make me chuckle.

And so the book continues down history’s lane clad in hues of Crayola blue and green from some unknown artist. I’ll take it that way. It adds humor to history.

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