Reading a new book or watching a new movie has often been both a tool for comfort and a source of adventure for myself. The energy I get from stories and visuals used to leave me feeling frustrated because from there I felt that I needed other people to validate my interests. As much as it was fun to talk to my friends about some new movie, it was overwhelmingly disappointing to find that sometimes I was alone in my new love. As I developed my own tastes, I found fewer of “my people.” As I gathered my own curriculum of life, I lingered with my movies and books and treasures and fell behind my friends in all things newest and brightest. The things that I loved and should have been inspiring my own art just made me feel guilty for not fitting in. Eventually I found new ways to indulge in just being affected by art through a new medium: forewords.
Book forewords, whether they be about a novel or a book on some other cultural artifact, are a true reflection of the shine that draws people into fiction. The first foreword I really connected with was written by Michael Chabon for The Wes Anderson Collection. The words are so powerful to me that almost every time I read them I have to read out loud because it’s just too much to hold in. Chabon captures all that is beautiful about not just Anderson’s movies but really this world,
“The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits- the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience- is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half-remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models ‘works of art’.”
When I read Chabon’s words I feel like I have the same sheen in my eyes that I do when I’m watching the actual movies or listening to the actual soundtrack. It makes me feel like the loving I do can be just as powerful as the things I love.
Forewords and introductions can be as varied as art itself. Compared to Michael Chabon’s introduction, John Lennon’s introduction to Grapefruit by Yoko Ono can feel like it doesn’t even count. It reads: “Hi! My name is John Lennon/ I’d like you to meet Yoko Ono.” When you look at the context of the works they introduce, it feels perfectly fitting. Chabon is detailed and dreamy and sentimental, preparing the reader to immerse themselves in Anderson’s world. John Lennon prepares the reader for the sparse and often absurd writing to come, that still always manages to connect to my heart. His introduction also reinforces that Grapefruit is about Yoko Ono and it refuses to be overshadowed or spoken for.
The foreword for the book Saturday Night Live starts just like the show: diving right in. It doesn’t explain, it assumes you are on the inside because just like a new viewer of the show you are likely to embrace the oddities or leave rather quickly. As a fan of the show, I would say this is one of the forewords that also just gets it’s readers. The writing is quick but it hits all the right points with lines like, “Every time you see a performer break character, look right at you, and say, ‘Live from New York it’s Saturday Night,” you’re witnessing a minor miracle in the making.” The foreword says to the reader, I understand you, and that means everything.
The foreword that really made me love forewords in their own right was Patti Smith’s introduction to Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. I don’t know how I even found my way to Astragal, but I am so glad this book came quietly into my life. When I started reading, Patti Smith prepared me for the ways that Astragal would impact me. Every word, no matter how insignificant, has an air of adoration. Patti Smith ends her introduction writing, “My Albertine, how I adored her! Her luminous eyes led me through the darkness of my youth. She was my guide through the nights of one hundred sleeps. And now she is yours.” This is especially accurate to Astragal, but what really gets me is how well Smith describes the way we look at the world because of the works we allow to affect us.
An introduction is never really about the thing, it is about the way we feel as a whole. There is often some universal message disguised as commentary just like the lessons we learn are disguised as art. I once convinced myself that what I needed in life was to read Infinite Jest because I thought an extreme length would lead to extreme change. I made it 127 pages into that book before realizing I needed to go back to being myself, not some person I think I might like to be. Out of those 127 pages, Dave Eggers foreword stuck with me the most. He wrote,
“And now, unfortunately, we’re back to the impression that this book is daunting. Which it isn’t really. It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. There is also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns a people who are completely lost, who are lost within their families and lost within their nation, and lost within their time, and who only want some sort of direction or purpose or sense community or love.”
And there we all are, in a nutshell. There is our scale model, our friends, our understanding. In that moment, we are introduced to clarity for what always feels like the first time. A good introduction is a primer for the rest of your life, because once you read that book or see that film or love that openly, you see with a fraction of that beauty forever. The experiences I’ve had alone have been grounded in goodness because of them. Every foreword makes me want to see the world this way forever, crystallized in affection.