Thursday, August 27, 2009

Skipping Forward

I received my copy of Kristin Lavransdatter yesterday (I clicked through and bought the copy Otepoti suggested) and started to raise an eyebrow at the thought of reading the whole thing this month while getting anything else done, when I realized that it was a three-in-one volume. Ah, of course!

I opened up the book and there was the intro, and the forward. Now, I'm a sucker for an intro and a forward, and I nearly always read them when provided. But this time I'm going to force myself to start reading the actual text. I don't know nothin' about Kristin Lavransdatter, and I want to preserve my tabula rasa so that I'm chewing on the author's words. Anyone ever read a forward or a summary and developed the wrong impression of a book and read the whole thing looking for some event or theme that didn't turn out to be there? Or had a book turn out to be completely different from the impression you'd formed of it -- while reading the introductory essay?

I read Silence under the impression that somewhere in the book I was going to be subjected to a gory episode of torture because of some passing reference I'd read years ago. And so my reading of the whole was colored because I was constantly on the lookout, and shying away from, this imaginary torture scene. I've heard Kristin Lavransdatter (I've had to go through my post and correct the three different spellings of the last name -- tough stuff!) praised to the skies, so I'm prepared for excellence, and I don't think that the book will let me down. Is it better to go into a book with no preconceived notions? Is that even possible?

Anyone want to share their best (or worse) book misconceptions? Does anyone else impulsively read the forwards of books?


Betty Duffy said...

Well, I must admit that reading The Secret History, since I was the last to get started, I've had the posted comments in mind--whether good or bad. I definitely see the romance of being fresh out of college and all jazzed up on the Classics, and reading a novel about eccentric college kid who are also jazzed up on the Classics. And I think that I, too, would enjoy reading this as a college student.

Now that I have grown into my theories on beauty, I hate to see a group of people ruin their lives over a mistaken concept: beauty is terror? Does anyone want to discuss this? I'm so troubled by this idea of beauty as a complete loss of control.

Anyway, Mrs. D. I'm with you on skipping prologues. I tend to find them more useful AFTER I've read. When I've enjoyed a book and I don't want it to end, I'll sometimes go back to the prologue and intro. Rarely is there information there that I wished I'd had before starting.

Melanie B said...

Yep, I feel the compulsion to read the prologue but have learned to skip them and come back afterwards. I love approaching a book with a clean slate and so heartily approve of skipping over anything which might give away key plot points or create false impressions.

It's interesting too because when I read Kristen last year and wrote it up for my blog, I spent a considerable portion of my commentary reacting to the blurbs on the backs of my books (I had two different translations Books I and II were one version, the Nunnally, which is the one you got Mrs D though not in the handy one volume, and Book III was a different and I thought much inferior translation) which painted a most inaccurate impression of the novel. One tried to interpret Kristen through a distinctly feminist lens. Another simply garbled the order of events in the novel in such a way that I wondered if the author of the blurb had read the same book I had.

I'd love to come back to those points when everyone has read the book, though. It was interesting how badly the feminist reading distorted the character and I really felt that precisely what it missed was the Catholic elements of the novel.

Betty Duffy said...

I loved the Nunnally translation, but I too, read it for the first time in some weird middle-englishy translation. It was clumsy reading, though I don't remember the feminist aspect being played up so much. Is there a third translation?

Otepoti said...

Prologues - hoo boy howdy.

"If [the real war] had inspired or directed [The Lord of the Rings], then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied..."

Try not to read Tolkien's Foreword if you like suspense. If, on the other hand, you are inclined to flip to the end of a lot of books to get the business of the plot over with, the better to enjoy the language and characters, then by all means read it.


mrsdarwin said...

I've been informed that the introduction to the one-volume Nunnally translation I bought gives away every major plot point and key bit of dialogue, so I warn you all now: Don't Read It First!

Melanie B said...

Betty, Sorry that wasn't clear. The feminist aspect was played up in the blurb on the cover, not by the translator. It was the Penguin edition, Nunnally translation: "Defying her parents and stubbornly pursuing her own happiness, Kristin emerges as a woman who not only loves with power and passion but intrepidly confronts her sexuality." Um, I don't think they read the same book I did.

Emily said...

Hmm, I have admit I like introductions, especially those by writerly types instead of by academic historian types, although those are useful too. Mostly I read them, and off hand can't think of a time that the story was ruined for me. We all know what's going to happen to Romeo and Juliet. And most of the time I forget what the introduction said anyway because the meat you've paid for is so much tastier, although every once in awhile you come across some great lines in the introduction, too. I'm thinking of the essay Deal Hudson wrote that Otepoti mentioned which was one of my first introductions to KL and which made me read it. Actually, I don't remember any lines, but I loved the name of the essay: "Reading my way into the Catholic Church." Watch out, Otepoti! Though to be honest, that essay prejudiced me: I wonder if I would've marked KL as explicitly Catholic if it weren't included in that essay and I had read it just as a great piece of historical fiction.