I can't help myself. I read prefaces and acknowledgments in books. It fascinates me when the author thanks the people who helped him dredge up the arcana that enriched his writing or when he cites source material that might reward further reading. I want to know where the amazing detail or fascinating inside information came from.
Of course, sometimes it's fake. One of my old college chums pointed out a passage in a bestselling novel that described in loving detail the wardroom of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. The minutiae gave weight and verisimilitude to the scene set therein. But my friend scoffed.
“I've been there. It's nothing like that! The author just made it up.”
I guess it was even more a work of fiction than I realized at the time.
On another occasion I asked a bestselling author about his use of apparently real California neighborhoods. I asked him if he was depicting real-world venues or products of his imagination. He stated that every scene was set in a place he knew personally, and that he either scouted out locales in person or used neighborhoods in which he had lived or often visited.
This question came up as my publisher obtained pre-publication reviews of my manuscript. One reviewer sent in a single-spaced three-page commentary that warmed the cockles of my heart with its praise. Of course, the reviewer also suggested some judicious cuts in the manuscript, which I dutifully embraced, but most of my attention was focused on his more positive observations:
One suspects the author's encyclopedic knowledge of dairy farming comes not only from personal experience, but even more of it must come from serious research.Um ... no. Research? What's that?
Every tool or machine employed in the sowing, raising or harvesting of crops is described in loving, complex detail, as is the nurture, handling and transportation of the cows themselves. One chapter entitled “Green Cotton,” for example, could be used as a primer for anyone interested in the cultivation of that particular crop.This may astonish you, but my editors and I did not choose to quote this on the cover of the book. Nor did we use the line where he praised my “abstruse knowledge.” Hey, bookstore browsers! Want to read a rapturous ode to farm equipment, crop rotation, and animal husbandry?
The movie rights are as good as sold!
Still, the reviewer was exceedingly kind in his comments about my grasp of farm arcana, which I tell you in all honesty is nothing remarkable. Here's the “abstruse knowledge” comment in context, where you can see the reviewer's generous and kind appraisal:
The author’s abstruse knowledge, however, is never employed gratuitously, but invariably to establish some point of character (as in the above instance, the incompetent Candido’s attempts to “cut corners” which invariably end in disaster) or to advance the plot, as is the case of the elaborate description of the marvelously complicated—and dangerous—machine used to harvest alfalfa which causes the young Trey’s life-changing accident. This information is presented with such consummate authority the reader never for an instance questions its accuracy.So there! I is an expert!
The reviewer shares my Portuguese heritage, which is certainly one of the reasons he was asked to review my novel in manuscript form. He appreciated my efforts to capture and convey the cultural tangles that arose as the novel's immigrant protagonists put down new roots in the New World and are gradually transformed into Americans. He also thought that I was mostly successful in presenting the travails of the main characters.
The plot is long and complex, the cast of characters large, and since one of the joys of reading is to meet them on one’s own terms, they are best left for readers themselves to discover. They are a lively and varied bunch and the author delineates them with considerable verve, humor and intelligence. You will enjoy getting to know them.
Your style is generally clean, straightforward, simple and direct, not much given to metaphor, which, unless it comes naturally, should generally be avoided. Nor do you, fortunately, attempt to wax lyrical. [You are, however, occasionally given to showing off your vocabulary.]Yep, no waxing lyrical here! But as for showing off vocabulary? Indubitably!
And he finished by calling my book “excellent”! Coming to a bookstore near you this summer.