I have taken a week away from blogging, but now I am back with a new discussion post which I am excited to share with you!
When we read a book, we naturally place almost all of the emphasis on the story contained within it, along with the occasional gush about the cover art. But what about everything else? The little bits at the very beginning and the very end that are sometimes overlooked or skimmed over without much thought, but in reality, provide us with so much to gain.
The academic term for these features is paratext, and in this post I shall be investigating why they should not be taken for granted.
The acknowledgements section can vary in length, but they all follow the same basic framework – it is where the author gives thanks to all the people involved in helping them write and publish the book. These people usually include their agent; publishers; the marketing team; cover designers; family members, and spouses. Sometimes we get heartfelt gratitude to the readers, and I must admit that I always feel pride when book bloggers get a mention!
In between all of that, we often get fun little insights into the author’s writing process. For example, they could refer to their research sources and which parts of the book were the most exciting or difficult to write, or what inspired them to use a particular literary device. When the author really goes into detail, this information can be fascinating.
We often see an author’s note when a book deals with a certain topic and/or a chosen historical time period. Some can be quite lengthy as they place the story into very clear context, giving the reader an understanding of the facts and how they were used to create a work of fiction.
As well as providing educational value, they can tell of how the author became inspired to write the book, and give details of significant people or places that were central to the story.
Praise for the Book
Either on the front cover, the back cover, or the opening pages of a book, we almost always see quotes from reviewers giving praise. They generally contain eye-catching adjectives that attempt to reflect the atmosphere of the story and its genre – for example on a thriller we would see words such as ‘tense’ or ‘gripping’, while a historical fiction is more likely to be adorned with terms like ‘vivid’ or ‘captivating’.
The reviewers comprise of other authors, online journalists, print journalists, and occasionally book bloggers. Of course, we could end up disagreeing with all of that acclaim and not liking the book, but they can be a factor in us deciding a read it in the first place.
In many books, quotes from other works of literature are included, usually taken from a classic or a well-known poetry collection. Appearing as either a preface to the story or before the start of each chapter, they add an extra degree of relevance or meaning to what is being told.
The beauty of these quotes lies not just in the words, but also who and what inspired the author. For me, it shows how knowledgeable and bookish they really are!
Everybody loves it when a book contains a map! They help us to visualise the setting and piece certain aspects of the story together in our minds, giving us a tangible grasp of a fictional world. There is something rather gorgeous and mystical about them, and they also act as a useful point of reference.
About The Author
Mostly found at the very back of the book is a biography of the author, often accompanied by a photograph. This section is informative as it helps us learn about the other books they have published, any awards they have won, and sometimes their writing journey.
The things that interest me the most are when I read about an authors who also has a day job, and the subjects in which they have qualifications. There is also a nice personal touch to them, such as where they were born and raised, the things they enjoy outside of writing, and whether they have any pets.
Book Club/Reading Group Questions
This is a super interesting feature! At the end of certain editions of books, we have a list of questions about the story for the purpose of being discussed by book clubs and reading groups.
In most cases, these questions are immensely thought-provoking and really make us reflect on the story in detail. They can provide moral dilemmas, and the possibility to weigh up both sides of an argument regarding a topic the story explores or the actions of a particular character.
Although I am not a member of a book club, when I come across these questions at the end of a story I always try to answer them in my head.
The blurb is perhaps the obvious item of paratext there is. Almost everybody reads them unless they are either buying the book based on the cover, or have made a conscious decision to go into the book completely blind and see where it leads.
As we all know, the blurb is a short piece of text on the back or on the inside of the front cover, that provides a short description of the plot in order to entice us to read it. They are extremely critical to us deciding whether to read the book, and some of them can tick all our boxes and guide us to an outstanding read. However, some can be misleading and promise things that do not materialise in the story.
Books are often dedicated to a friend, partner, or family member. They may only be a few words long, but they represent a lovely, thoughtful touch on behalf of the author.
At the end of the book we sometimes see pages devoted to the author’s other books, with an image of the cover as well as a tagline or a line of praise. We even get the occasional instance where an extract or the entire first chapter of the author’s next upcoming release is included, in order to whet the appetite.
I must confess that I never read these extracts; I prefer to wait until the next book is actually released before finding out anything. Still, as a marketing tool they can be extremely effective!
Do you read the acknowledgements section and author’s notes? What are your favourite items of paratext and how do you consume them? Let me know in the comments!
Happy reading 🙂