Some time ago I came across an article that caught my eye while preparing for a book club meeting. It was my turn to lead the discussion. The book in question was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I was looking for interviews when a scathing post on back matter popped up. The connection was the author’s comment that the ‘worst back matter offender is Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale.’ For the record, my copy doesn’t have any matter of any kind after the last page so I did not get a first hand look at what the author found so offensive.
What caught my eye were a couple of things-this phrase ‘back matter’, which I’ve never heard before and the possibility that the author was going to write a negative review. I will admit that while I love to read glowing reviews of books I love or adore, I also am a sucker for the ones wherein the authors didn’t love it as much as I did. I am curious about what doesn’t resonate for people.
But back to the back matter.
You, reader, are probably more hip on your book lingo, but in case you are like me and not so hip, back matter is the extra stuff at the end of a book. It could be reader questions, a glossary, a Q&A with the author, or even a sneak peak at the next book.
I was unduly fascinated by the vitriolic tone of this article about back matter. The author thinks that back matter interrupts the after-reading glow, finds it insulting to her intelligence, and is a waste of trees.
I can see how she makes some good points, but in the end I simply don’t agree.
As soon as I read the definition of back matter, I went Ohhhh. And I could feel myself blushing in the face of the author’s strong tone. Because I LOVE the extras at the end of the book. When a book is so good, I feel sad when it is the end. I want more. And sometimes, I get more!! For example when I finished Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Besides a reading guide, there was a conversation with the author, a brief history of the Mennonites complete with Janzen’s wry humor and drawings. There were also recipes of items she mentions in her book. The book is about the Mennonite community, which I know very little about. The extras at the end answered several questions I’d been harboring during my reading. Another book I’ve read with some goodies that I enjoyed was The Book Thief by Mark Zusak. The book is so intense and satisfying and heartbreaking. I liked having a conversation and Q&A at the end. I still do my own research when I am done, but it’s nice when there is a bit to whet the appetite ready for you after the last page. I will also admit that I shamelessly love sneak peeks of the next book if it is part of a series.
But hey, maybe I just like ‘back matter’ because I am greedy and gobble up books like a starving person who has just gotten her hands on a plate of food. I read for pleasure, and yeah, books make me think, but I don’t consider myself an intellectual reader. I do enjoy a good book discussion (that is why I am part of a book club) but I’d rather let most books sink in over time. I like the abstract feelings books give me when I turn the last page. And I want to move on to the next one immediately. Sometimes though, I can’t start another book for a couple of days because the ghost of the last one still clings like a film. That’s okay too.
But this whole matter of the back got me thinking, what do other readers think of the extras at the end? Are you a fan? Not so much? Don’t really care?