Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'd like to thank all of the little people...

My blog entries have been sketchy lately because I'm running myself ragged researching and writing my fourth book, which will be out in September of 2008. In addition to scouring the internet for the facts I need, I've been peppering two Army guys and a Texas attorney with questions. Until now, I've done all of my research on the internet, but this book has required me to personally interview some experts. So for the first time, I will include an acknowledgements page in my book and publicly thank those who have graciously taken the time to answer my questions.

All three of the individuals I plan to name as having materially contributed to my research seemed tickled when I asked permission to publish their names in this way. But this morning I read something in The Guardian Books Blog that has made me wonder how other readers and writers view acknowledgements pages:

...I just don't like acknowledgements pages in books. They seem superfluous and grandstanding - a place where, as the novelist Alan Hollinghurst wrote recently, "the mumble of humility masks the purr of self-satisfaction".

Nor do I entirely trust them. What exactly are they meant to prove? The very magnanimity of the gesture invites suspicions of ulterior motives - and not without reason. What, after all, is achieved by those lists of authorities, so generous with their time and wisdom, except to attest to the diligence of the author? ("Look!" they cry, "I left no stone unturned!")

Jeepers. And I thought I was a curmudgeon. How is an acknowledgements page "grandstanding" on the author's part? And since when is saying thank you a "magnanimous" gesture? Surely I owe something to these three men who have helped me with my book. And surely my willingness to admit that in public will show them something of the depth of my gratitude. This won't be about impressing readers and "proving" that I researched the book. It will be a private message in a public place--the biggest and best thank-you note I know how to write.

What do you think? In general, do you read the acknowledgements page of a novel? Would you be thrilled to see your name on one? If you are a published author, do you include acknowledgements pages in your books? Why or why not?


mary said...

I always read the acknowledgments of a book. I think it gives me a little perspective of who is important to that author and who helped make the book what it is. As a (yet unpubbed) inspy writer I know the hours my family has sacrificed to let me write in peace. A simple Thank You on an acknowledgment page is the least I could do.

Katie Alender said...

I'm definitely including an acknowledgments page in my upcoming book. I think it partly stems from my days as the lowliest production assistant on set, and the thrill of seeing my name fly by in the credits. A lot of people have helped me in my efforts to write and publish my book; it seems natural to thank them.

Monkling said...

That guy just sounds like a crank who never was listed in anyone's acknowledgment. I always like reading them, especially if the book is by someone I know. Grandstanding? No way.

Shauna said...

I like acknowledgement pages, although I don't read every one. It's a simple show of gratitude to the people who have helped and encouraged an author through the journey of writing their story. What greater way to show others that their kindness, support and aid were appreciated.

Maybe this guy's just bitter he didn't receive the accolades he thought he deserved.

Becky Johnson said...

I love acknowledgement pages and always read them. I think there is a definite place for them, as it's never out of fashion to thank those who have helped you with something or supported your endeavors. It's courteous at the very least. Movies list acknowledgements, CD's list acknowledgements...why not books, too? To NOT list them is grandstanding in my opinion...as though you want every last drop of credit for the book. Most folks would be pretty proud to have their name listed in an acknowledgement...especially if the author sent them a copy as a thank you.

Carolyn Bahm said...

In my opinion, an acknowledgement page is just basic good manners toward the people who've helped you. And it's also encouragement to future helpers to know that you will appreciate what they bring to your future books.

Neal said...

Do you know, I'm not sure where I stand on this one. If I was writing a book, I would feel duty-bound to acknowledge anyone who had helped me materially with the book. Likewise, if I provided that help, I would like to be acknowledged (and, indeed, have been on a couple of occasions). And I usually read the acknowledgement pages of any books I read.

But, I think there is a small set of books in which I think acknowledgement pages can appear to be saying "look at me, see the research I did". I'm thinking, in particular (I won't name him in case he sues me) of a certain thriller writer who has, in the last few years, gained a certain notoriety by writing several thrillers that have been religiously controversial, in one particular case showing certain parts of the Catholic Church in a particularly bad light, and asking one of the big "what if" questions of Christianity. Come on, you all know who I mean. Now, an acknowledgement page in a book like that (I can't, offhand, remember for certain if there was an acknowledgement page in that particular book, but my memory says there was) could come off as self-aggrandizing, and even disingenuous. It might suggest, for instance, that the fictional context of the story is perhaps less fictional than you might like to believe, because of all the research that has been done. You see where I'm coming from.

It's a really tough call. A book like that certainly takes research and requires knowledge that the author doesn't possess. And I think anyone providing that knowledge deserves to be thanked. But in some contexts (and usually after the fact), you can read that acknowledgement as saying "look at me, I really worked at finding the truth here, so there's more truth to this than you think".

The line between truth and fiction is very thin, and, I think, easily crossed.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I always read them, too.

I think it's nice and like to see who helped "behind the scenes".

Brenda Coulter said...

...could come off as self-aggrandizing, and even disingenuous. It might suggest, for instance, that the fictional context of the story is perhaps less fictional than you might like to believe, because of all the research that has been done. You see where I'm coming from.

Yes, Neal, and I hadn't thought of that. Interesting observation.

I'm finding all of these comments fascinating. Thanks, everyone, for speaking up.