Tuesday 27 July 2010


First things first... yesterday I made this:

Mmmm... Apricot Meringue Gateau. With fancy caramelised shapes on top. Let me know if you want me to blog the recipe... it's usually book-chat here, but I'm happy to diversify if you want to feast on this! I took it to a dinner party, and we demolished it... and it was rather nice, though I says it as shouldn't. (Oh, and whilst I'm on the topic of baking - I made a chocolate sponge cake the other day, but used muscovado and demerara sugar instead of caster or granulated - can I recommend it? So yummy.)

Back to bakig matters... I mentioned, in the midst of my review yesterday, that John Carey's introduction to Wish Her Safe At Home was very good. It made me realise that it is probably the first critical introduction I've ever read that actually added something to the book. I've read lots from children or spouses or similar which enhance the work for personal or sentimental reasons, and some (like E.M. Delafield's introduction to Pont's The British Character) which are deliciously funny, but I can't remember any other more learned introductions which truly succeeded.

Of course - I doubt I'm alone here - I never read introductions or prefaces until I've finished the novel. Quite why publishers think it's acceptable to call something an 'introduction' which gives away the entire plot, I can't imagine. But once I've got to that last page, and flick back to the beginning... so often I'm left unmoved by what's written.

The usual seems to be a quick history of the author's life, and then a summary of the plot, with apposite quotations. Well, I don't need a summary of the plot, I've just read the book... I'd like to unveil things I might have missed, perhaps give a new angle on something. Of course, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't - the worst introduction I've ever read was Elaine Hedges' to The Yellow Wallpaper, which was nothing if not, ahem, 'original'. I.e. totally unsupported by the brilliant book. Check through the archives if you want to see me having an uncharacteristic rant (!!)

So... what are your thoughts on introductions? Do you read them first or last or not at all? Any really great ones which stick in your mind, or do you - like me - tend to be a bit disappointed? And are there any books you really wish *had* had an introduction, and didn't? (I wish the film Inception had an introduction...!)


  1. I always read introductions. If the book is "a classic" and I vaguely know the story already, I'll read the introduction first and hope that it adds to my experience. Usually it does, I think. But I've had a few plot spoilers in intros recently, and have decided to start reading them afterward.

  2. Yes, please, let us know your cake and gâteau recipes !

    I always read introductions first, especially if the book is a classic. As Emily Jane says, it's disappointing when the end of the story is told, but it usually doesn't "prevent" me to enjoy the book (sorry for my bad English).

  3. Depends. I would read the intro. first if the book was a classic but so many introductions do act as "spoilers" if you haven't previously read the book.

  4. I can well imagine that eyes popped at the sight of your meringue! I haven't attempted one of these yet but did save the recipe to book snob's chocolate pavlova to try at some point.

    Introductions are something I only started paying attention to in the last few years...too anxious to get into the book itself and then on to something else. Most of the time I like them and usually learn a thing or two!

  5. I read the introductions last, unless it is an introduction by the author. I typically find, like you, that I'm disappointed, but I almost never skip them -- it's some quirky hang-up I have about reading the "whole" book. :)

  6. Grrrr, this is my sixth attempt at commenting... lol.

    Now introductions... I don't read them very often it has to be said as they can spoil a book for me. I read them after when my opinions and thoughts on the book have formed rather than letting the be formed before I have even gotten to chapter one. A Hesperus book taught me that.

    Your gateau looks amazing!

  7. I must admit to never reading them ... perhaps I am just very lazy? Although in the days when I was using texts to create essays they were very handy!

  8. PS - could very much do with that cake right now ...

  9. Absolutely introductions to reissues of classics seem intent upon spoiling the story, as though the publisher figures you're reading it for a course, and couldn't possibly be reading it for enjoyment.

  10. Yes please to posting your recipe - it does look rather yummy! I do enjoy reading introductions, but only read them after reading the book. I learnt my lession after reading an introduction to Rebecca, which then proceeded to outline the plot (twists and all). I still enjoyed Rebecca, but not the same as if I had read it fresh, so to speak.

  11. Naw. You didn't bake that. You just dreamed you did: it was a vision.

  12. Your pudding looks lovely Simon - what lucky friends you do have. I speak as a woman who has *never* successfully caramelised anything but who has ruined a lot of pots trying.

  13. I, too, read the introductions first but hate when there are super-spoilers. I know I've found some more profound than others, but I can't recall any specifics off the top of my head.

  14. Emily Jane - definitely the way forward (or backward?!)

    Lewerentz - I now take for granted that I'll read introductions last, and am surprised when people read them first, which I realise is irrational!

    books - thanks!

    Alison - Even with a classic, I like to familiarise myself with its nuances before I read someone else's opinion...

    Darlene - glad you've had a better experience with intros than I have, so often I'm indifferent to them!

    Susan - oh yes, however disappointed I've been by them, I wouldn't even consider not reading them!

    Simon - sorry you had problems commenting! I'm wondering which Hesperus that was now...

    Migs - ahha, good idea! And I'll pop some gateau in the post to India... oh, no, sorry we ate it ;-)

    Susan - frustrating, isn't it!

    A Bookish Space - oh gosh, Rebecca is the worst book to spoil, so many twists and turns! When I read it, I *thought* I knew the whole plot, but turns out I didn't know all its twists - so was happily surprised!

    Shelley - heehee! The mess in the kitchen suggested otherwise...

    Hannah - I was lucky in turn, because Sasha made a lovely main course

    Tiffany - give reading them last a go, and see which you prefer...


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