A good introduction is often the "hook" driving me to read on. If not well written, however, an introduction becomes a detriment. I have encountered quite a few introductions that bored the heck out of me, and others where the editor's theme choice for an anthology or collection turned me off. The result in both cases is unfair to the contributors but always the same: I place the book aside and don't give the stories a chance. Then there are those collections that leave me floundering and wondering what the editor intended when gathering the stories because there is no foreword, introduction, or afterword. In that case curiosity almost always gets the best of me and I read on, but whether I finish the book or not depends on writing, flow, and how well the stories fit together.
Of course I have read introductions that are so memorable they are intrinsically edged in my mind along with the collection's content. Here are some examples:
- Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's introduction to the mammoth collection The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories with its extensive narrative has an educational style covering the history and evolution of 'the weird' beginning with H.P. Lovecraft, Kafka, Borges and others and ending with today's modern version or 'the new weird.' This introduction is worth reading prior to tackling the fantastic content even if the reader is familiar with the history.
- A similar educational style can be found in the fabulous anthology edited by Grace L. Dillon, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction in that it also gives the chronological and evolutionary history of contributions by indigenous writers to science fiction. However, this introduction is presented in the dry, dense format often found in textbooks. This style is not for everyone, but since I was not well-versed on the subject matter it served as the perfect learning tool.
- In Ursula K. LeGuin's introductions to The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories collection and The Left Hand of Darkness, she gives readers such a fantastic personal look into her thoughts, intentions, and writing process that I couldn't help but become fascinated with the writer and her works. Another excellent example of this type of successful, personal, fascinating sort of introduction can be found in Richard Bowes' fantasy, Dust Devil on a Quiet Street.
- And, Tom Cardamone's short, well-written introduction to the speculative fiction anthology The Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! is a perfect example of an editor who hooks the reader with intent and theme. I not only came to understand what Cardamone wanted to achieve with his collection of stories as a final product, but his introduction kept me focused as I read each story. And isn't that the point?
Do you read introductions before or after picking up a book? Do you read introductions at all?