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Introduction in Classic Titles

I usually skip introduction until after I finish a classic lest the occasional spoiler ruins my reading pleasure. I also don’t want to be swayed by academic opinion and any literary criticism before I read it. I would like the experience to be untainted. As per White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov’s first novel on the Russian Revolution, I have to dig the introduction in order to brush up on my history. This is my third Bulgakov novel, after my all-time favorite, the comic but morally sublime The Master and Margarita and the sci-fiesque Heart of a Dog. White Guard is actually his first novel, and it is set against the era of chaos, violence, confusion after the Russian Empire collapsed during World War I. Other than the vague sense of who the good guys and bad guys are (red is pro-Communists and white is anti-Bolshevik), I hardly know the gory details of the centers of power that dominate the city of Kiev where Bulgakov sets his novel. After the end of WWI, fighting didn’t stop but in fact aggravate in Kiev, as different vectors of the coups took shape in Kiev. The Reds and Whites, Bolsheviks and anti-Communists, monarchists and democrats, Russian patriots and Ukrainian nationalists, Germans, Poles, forces from Russia’s wartime allies in the Triple Entente, Britain and France—all mix into a cauldron of warfare. The 42-page introduction in this new translation from Yale University Press does me great service in helping me understand the historical background.

Do you read introduction? Do you skip or skim through it?

4 Responses

  1. I usually skip introductions until after I’m done with a book unless I want spoilers. With historical novels the intros can help a lot; sometimes I’ll skim.

  2. I definitely read the intro. I usually need as much information as I can get on the historical period I am getting ready to read about.

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  4. Spoilers aren’t really an issue for me with most the books I read. I tend to only read/skim part of the introduction at the beginning. So if the intro is like twenty pages, I’ll read maybe the first seven pages (section or two), then start skimming a little bit, and then I usually get anxious to start the book. Sometimes after I finish, I’ll return to the intro, but only sometimes.

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