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Thread: Why so long Introductions in Penguin books??

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    Why so long Introductions in Penguin books??

    Penguin Published books are one of the most authentic books in the world (I believe so, even though some of them are pretty costly..) but most of those books have very very long Introductions. Why does this happen with this specific publisher? Is that a way of being, so called, Literary?

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    It's an excuse they can use for charging so much! Or maybe the introduction is written by a friend of the publisher, who then collects a nice fat fee and (in turn) sets the book on his courses. Or am I too cynical? I don't think Penguin is "more authentic", in general, than cheaper publishers like Wordsworth.

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    I'm not sure what you mean by authentic, but of course a good introduction exists to increase the value of the book

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    Eiseabhal
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    Read em afterwards not before.

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    I like introductions, but I read them after to gain increased insight into what I read. I LOVE well written author's preface's though.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Agreed to the reading them afterwords.

    Many of Penguin's introductions (and Barns&Noble classics do the same) are essays written by a scholar - often the editor of the edition, if there is one - and inserted at the opening of the novel. It's a little extra something to enhance the book - again, better if read afterwards so they don't overly influence you - or during if you are struggling with the book.

    It's like, if you go to an opera or symphony - or listen to one on the radio - there is often a talk beforehand, providing some relevant biographic information and insights into the work.

    Some people like to deal just with the work and see nothing beyond it, and ignore any academic opinions on it - that's fine. Others like the added insights: and this is what Penguin caters to.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eiseabhal View Post
    Read em afterwards not before.
    Yes, often they give away the plot. If Penguin really cared they would tell you that! Wordsworth actually do tell you this. But in general, I still avoid "religiously" reading the introduction, as I'm worried about "the end effect". In psychology it's been found that you remember the end of an event much more vividly than the middle. For instance, colonoscopy is a famously painful and uncomfortable experience, but doctors have found that if they go slowly at the end of the procedure, which involves more time but less pain, then patients are much happier about going through the procedure again. I don't want the end of my experience with a great novel to involve swallowing a large chunk of tedious gradgrindery, it might colour my memory of it. Sometimes when I'm reading I may want to know more, like what other novels the author has written, or maybe some background history, so I may skim the introduction, now and again, to see if there's any useful information. I've noticed some recent Penguin editions with no introductions, maybe they have noticed the detrimental effect of inferior writers polluting the pages of the great.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    I think they're great - as Charles points out, they are often in the form of a scholarly essay, the purpose of which is to give the reader an introduction to the key themes and critical context of the work. Even if you already know a great deal about the period/author under discussion, you can still find useful things. The same applies to the useful endnotes that the Penguin editions habitually carry as well.

    The existence of the introductory essays is one of the reasons why most university English courses specify Penguin editions as set texts: as well as their wide availability and relatively inexpensive price, the introductory essays (and the usual further reading bibliography that goes with them) can be very useful for students who are just beginning to research a new text.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    I think Penguin should be producing books for everyone, not just university students. There are university presses that produce scholarly editions, these can be used by students. There is some argument for having an introduction to "difficult" works like The Iliad, but even there Penguin tends to go so far overboard that they're four miles inland. (I'm thinking of the latest edition of Rieu's Iliad.)

    With too many "Victorian novel" Penguins I got so fed up with reading five pages of tedious introduction, and realising that there were still fifty to go, I just gave up, on Penguin as well as the introduction. The "common reader" can just plunge straight into most novels and enjoy them as the author intended, without an initial dissection by a scholar. Novels aren't aimed at rocket scientists, they are aimed at everyone (apart from the obvious exceptions!) If the author thought it necessary to "introduce key themes" and "critical context" then he would put them in the work. Novels are be enjoyed, not made the subject of a gradgrinding locus for facts, facts, and more facts.

    There are signs of Penguin improving, their latest translation of Les Miserables has only 6 pages of introduction by the translator (Norman Denny), and doesn't give away the plot (the author does that!) It indulges in the nasty habit of splurging "Now a Major Motion Picture" on the cover (wish they'd stop doing that), but I think these moves to make a work more immediately accessible to the "man on the Clapham Omnibus" are generally positive.

    I don't think Penguins are "relatively inexpensive", they often sell at around 10 a novel, five times more expensive than Wordsworth.
    Last edited by mal4mac; 10-29-2013 at 07:04 AM.

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    Snowqueen Snowqueen's Avatar
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    I also like the introductions of Penguin editions and never found them tedious. It helps a lot to have the better understanding of the novel. Most of the time I prefer read it afterwards, because it includes a discussion about the plot and the characters of novels.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    When I said they were relatively inexpensive, I meant compared to a lot of other editions. Andy Orchard's translation of the Poetic Edda for Penguin, complete with an introduction and a mini-essay on each poem, retails for 7.69 on Amazon - a hell of a lot more affordable than, say, Ursula Dronke three volume version of the same work that sells for around 130 per volume. Dronke's scholarship might be excellent, but Orchard's is also very good and doesn't require having to remortgage the house to buy.

    If you don't like the introductions, you are of course free to ignore them...
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    When I said they were relatively inexpensive, I meant compared to a lot of other editions. Andy Orchard's translation of the Poetic Edda for Penguin, complete with an introduction and a mini-essay on each poem, retails for 7.69 on Amazon...
    Contact Wordsworth, undercut him

    A quick glance at the notes shows some appealing aspects, and some unappealing.

    I think Penguin should cater for a "bright 14 year old" who's maybe watched "The Vikings" on TV and wants to get straight into reading some original Viking Lore. Looking at Orchard's notes, he starts with a long list of Dates... yawn. Imagine a story teller round a Viking camp fire starting with that. How long would he keep his head?

    If the 14 year old is more persistent than most, perhaps he skips the notes and hits the lore. There's a good point there - the short, in line notes! But a bad point - not enough of them. You're told "corpse father = Odin", but what's Voluspa? The 14 year old may use wikipedia and see that Voluspa means "prophecy of the seeress". Then why stick in the untranslated title when you've translated it? You tell me who Ymir is, but not Heimdall? It's lazy scholarship/editing designed to trip up the novice. Experts and undergrads, with persistance, can navigate through this maze, but Penguin should cater for the 14 year old with a passing interest.

    Think of Rieu reading his translation of the Odyssey to his kids during the height of the London blitz. Do you think he started with a list of unconnected dates and untranslated references? "Quick dad, I don't want to die before you've even started." Then ten pages through dad reading the scholarly introduction,"Come friendly bombs and fall on me!"

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    First, Puffin (last time I checked (a while ago)) is associated with Penguin and caters to the YA crowd: albeit it, if the 14 wants the authentic text, he will have to look elsewhere. But again, you seem to ignore the fact that most books are very easy to navigate and starting at the beginning (the introduction) is by no means a must. Most people here have expressed their preference for reading the Introduction after the work. Is that so wrong?
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    I like how Mortimer J. Adler put it in "How To Read A Book":

    "Hence there is one piece of advice we want to give you about reading commentaries. Indeed, this comes close to being a basic maxim of extrinsic reading. Whereas it is one of the rules of intrinsic reading that you should read an author's preface and introduction before reading the book, the rule in the case of extrinsic reading is that you should not read a commentary by someone else until after you have read the book. This applies particularly to scholarly and critical introductions. They are properly used only if you do your best to read the book first, and then and only then apply to them for answers to questions that still puzzle you. If you read them first they are likely to distort your reading of the book. You will tend to see only the points made by the scholar or critic, and fail to see other points that may be just as important."

    He has alot more to say about this topic. Personally, I find his comments and advice spot on from my own experience. Great book.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Contact Wordsworth, undercut him

    A quick glance at the notes shows some appealing aspects, and some unappealing.

    I think Penguin should cater for a "bright 14 year old" who's maybe watched "The Vikings" on TV and wants to get straight into reading some original Viking Lore. Looking at Orchard's notes, he starts with a long list of Dates... yawn. Imagine a story teller round a Viking camp fire starting with that. How long would he keep his head?

    If the 14 year old is more persistent than most, perhaps he skips the notes and hits the lore. There's a good point there - the short, in line notes! But a bad point - not enough of them. You're told "corpse father = Odin", but what's Voluspa? The 14 year old may use wikipedia and see that Voluspa means "prophecy of the seeress". Then why stick in the untranslated title when you've translated it? You tell me who Ymir is, but not Heimdall? It's lazy scholarship/editing designed to trip up the novice. Experts and undergrads, with persistance, can navigate through this maze, but Penguin should cater for the 14 year old with a passing interest.

    Think of Rieu reading his translation of the Odyssey to his kids during the height of the London blitz. Do you think he started with a list of unconnected dates and untranslated references? "Quick dad, I don't want to die before you've even started." Then ten pages through dad reading the scholarly introduction,"Come friendly bombs and fall on me!"
    Well, to be fair, most ancient storytellers would begin their sagas with long lists of genealogies, which are possibly even more boring than dates... the main purpose of these narrative histories is to preserve the historical traditon. Far from losing his head, our theoretical medieval storyteller would be applauded for the richness of his memory and the expansiveness of his contextual knowledge.

    Glossing is always a tricky art, and generally speaking I think Orchard has done a very reasonable job. Where do we draw the line? Will people immediately know who Odin is? Thor? Loki? Freyja? Baldr? Heimdallr? It is sometimes quite hard to be certain of how obscure these figures are. This is probably one of the reasons why Orchard sticks a full glossary of names at the back of the edition - if you're not sure who a figure is, you can look it up without having to resort to wikipedia. Also, the individual poem-specific essays in the back are very supportive - the one on Voluspa is four pages long, followed by four-and-a-half pages of further notes. That's helpful, but not remotely intrusive if all you want to do is read the poetry.

    ...and I reiterate, nobody can make you read the introduction if you don't want to. Little Rieu and his dad could flip forward a dozen pages quite easily.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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