Sunday, August 31, 2008

Books: The Stuff in the Back

Over the years I've learned a great deal about evaluating books quickly. One of the best places to start is by looking through the stuff in the back.

If the book has an index, skimming through it is often helpful. I look for topics I'm familiar with and see if they are listed. If they are, I might turn to some of the pages listed and just read those portions. In many cases, I can tell if the author really knows what they're talking about or not.

If there's a bibliography, I also take a look at it. Having an idea of what books influenced the author, were used in the research process, etc., is often helpful.

The endnotes are some of my favorite "stuff in the back" to peruse, particularly if the author adds lengthy notes in them. Sometimes the best material is tucked away in a note.

If there is other back matter, such as appendices, I skim them, too.

So what stuff is in the back of my new book Conversations with C.S. Lewis? Since the book is written as creative fiction, featuring dialogues between C.S. Lewis and a contemporary atheist, I didn't want to bog readers down with notes. But I do have two appendices, a bibliography, an index of names, and a subject index.

The first appendix is called, "Where Does Lewis Say That?" It is meant to document primary sources where material in each chapter is derived from, as well as secondary sources of interest.

The second appendix, "Who's Who?", lists names of real-life characters who appear in my book, along with brief biographical profiles. Both appendices are helpful for readers who would like to dig deeper into topics I cover, such as in an educational setting, but are not necessary to read in order to enjoy the story.

All this to say, don't neglect the stuff in the back of books. A lot of times it's the best place to start if you want to get a quick handle on a book.

By the way, I have the joy of being listed in the "Index of Real Persons" of the latest edition of Paul Ford's classic work Companion to Narnia, thus validating the reality of my existence.

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