Harper Lee On Book Introductions

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room.

This summer I decidedly drove to Northern California to spend some time with my family and simultaneously tutor my younger sister. Surprisingly, my sister has been excited about studying at home and continues to show eagerness in most of her subjects.

When I arrived, my mother handed me an impressive copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a Barnes and Noble hardcover classic edition with olive and violet images pressed into the leather-like texture with silhouettes of Atticus, Scout, and Jem.

It’s been quite some time since I last read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been a reanimating experience while I annotate and rediscover all the details that make this novel an all-time classic.

While I spend my time rejoicing in my revisit of the novel, there is something in this edition that I have never noticed in my prior experience. Before the first chapter begins, there is a foreword which states:

Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into prints after decades of interment. Although Mockingbird will be 35 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. They only good thing about introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.
Harper Lee, February 12, 1993

Admittedly, as a reader, I wholeheartedly agree with Lee in her assertions of introductions. I often find that introductions serve as a flowery résumé to a novel (and let’s be honest, not many people thoroughly enjoy reading résumés). I believe that it boasts of what is to come and leaves the reader with high expectations that are seldom reached.

I similarly have this belief with movies and reviews. If there is an introduction that marvels at a piece of work or pays homage to the author before I can discover the marvel, it entirely stunts my experience as a reader and causes me to make predispositions before I can get to the supposed “good stuff.”

Okay, so maybe I have a problem in which I can’t re-open my mind and maintain a clean slate post-introduction to a book. Nevertheless, readers, I’d like to read your opinions on introductions. Love ‘em, leave ‘em, or skip them and save them for the end?


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