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Bookish Diversions: The Bits We Usually Ignore

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the often overlooked elements of books, such as dedications, acknowledgements, footnotes, and endnotes. It explores the history, purpose, and creative use of these ancillary elements, highlighting how they can provide insights into the writing process and the author's relationships and influences.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Dedications

1. What are some of the questions that dedications prompt in the author's mind?

  • Why this person, how did you decide, was it easy or hard?
  • Are you trying to apologize or right a wrong?
  • Do you worry about fairness?
  • Why dad, not mom?
  • Have you developed rules for dedicating books across the years?
  • Is a book "to" or "for" someone, and why?

2. How have the meaning and length of dedications changed over time?

  • In ancient and medieval times, dedications were often lengthy addresses to patrons or potential patrons, as one's livelihood depended on the work's reception.
  • In the modern era, dedications have mostly morphed into short expressions of gratitude or affection for those who contributed to the work.

3. What are some examples of clever or humorous dedications?

  • Dedications can be used to express a bit of humor, such as the dedications in "Pathology" and "Nice Is Just a Place in France: How to Win at Basically Everything".
  • Some dedications subvert the form by undercutting the objects of their supposed affection with a passive-aggressive swipe, like Tobias Wolff's dedication in "This Boy's Life".
  • Other dedications tease the reader, like P.G. Wodehouse's dedication in "Heart of a Goof" and Joseph Rotman's dedication in "An Introduction to Algebraic Topology".

[02] Acknowledgements

1. What is the purpose of acknowledgements, and how do they differ from dedications?

  • Acknowledgements are designed to give credit where it's due, noting the individuals and institutions who supported the work.
  • Acknowledgements can provide insights into the network of people and influences that helped birth the book, exposing the "real-life intimacies of the literary world and the backdrop of the writing process".

2. What are some considerations in writing effective acknowledgements?

  • There is pressure to strike the right tone, as acknowledgements that are too effusive can seem needy, while those that are too brief can appear cold and dismissive.
  • Well-done acknowledgements can reveal the living, breathing process of writing, with its pleasures, relaxation, drudgery, and challenges.

3. What is an example of a particularly notable acknowledgements page?

  • The acknowledgements page in "Dispensational Modernism" by B.M. Pietsch is cited as perhaps the greatest acknowledgements page of all time.

[03] Footnotes and Endnotes

1. How have the use of footnotes and endnotes evolved over time?

  • Footnotes and endnotes have their origins in the marginal commentary and scholia found in medieval manuscripts.
  • The shift from footnotes (at the bottom of the page) to endnotes (at the end of the book) has been linked to changes in the publishing industry, as books are now packaged to attract a broader audience.

2. What are the pros and cons of footnotes versus endnotes?

  • Footnotes allow for a more seamless reading experience, but can clog the text and slow the reading pace.
  • Endnotes provide a more fluid reading experience, but require the reader to flip to the back of the book, which can be annoying.

3. What are some examples of creative or humorous uses of footnotes?

  • Footnotes can be used for snide asides, as seen in examples from Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and Michael Lewis' "Flash Boys".
  • Nicolas Berdyaev's footnote in "The Divine and the Human" that simply states "This was once revealed to me in a dream" has become a notable and delightful footnote.
  • Giles Slade's endnote in "American Exodus: Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival" acknowledges his inability to find the source for a specific detail.
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