Classics, in particular, seem to abound in these two phenomena.
Do you read them before or after you’ve read the main text?
Do you read them at all?
Do they add or detract from the reading experience?
A quick glance at the Introduction told me that it contained spoilers, so I chose not to read it upfront.
I usually save the Introduction until I’ve finished reading. Although this depends on how much I loved the book (or not). The more love I feel, the more likely I am to read all the extra bits.
Sometimes this backfires if the introduction or afterword is uninspiring or reveals some major character flaw on behalf of the author. But there are times when it just makes you love the book and the author even more.
That happened for me with Crossing to Safety.
To learn in the Afterword about Stegner’s harsh childhood and all he did to rise above it was truly inspiring. It added depth and meaning to the character and relationship details within the story. Reading about Stegner’s “hunger for place” and his own devotion to “what was good and just” simply highlights what he was trying to achieve in Crossing to Safety.
The Introduction was a more academic treatment. These can be off-putting at times, but Williams hit the right note by focusing on the main theme of the book “what does it mean to love”. He covers the types of love to be found with family and with friends, the push-me pull-me desire for security and risk, the universal and the personal and the “geography of hope”.
In this case, reading about Stegner’s life, beliefs, aims and hopes only added to the pleasure I found in reading his story.
Crossing to Safety is a novel to relish and savour. The language glides and meanders with sudden insights to light the way. The characters are sympathetically drawn, they are people we all know, their hopes and disappointments are ours.
This book just sneaks into my modern classic definition by being published in 1987. For such a modern book it has a wonderful old-world charm that makes you yearn for this time gone by. I wanted to read it thanks to the unanimous rave review it got on The First Tuesday Bookclub a few months ago.
I’m glad I have another Stegner on my Classics Club TBR list – one is definitely not enough!