It’s a matter of the back

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?

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16 Responses to It’s a matter of the back

  1. Jennygirl says:

    Well I didn’t realize the “back matter” was such a weighty issue! It doesn’t matter (ha) to me either way. Sometimes I read it, sometimes I don’t. With HF books, there are usually interesting tid-bits back there. It probably depends on how much I enjoyed the book, but if I don’t feel like reading it then I don’t. So really what’s big deal with the extras people?
    That article author just needed something to write about I think πŸ™‚ Interesting post Jehara.

    P.S. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale immensely, and would re-read it in a heartbeat!

  2. I’ve never thought about it much either. When a book I read has “back matter” I might skim it, but usually just ignore it. I think it is excellent if the book is going to be read for a book club. Though this is an entirely different thing, I love the Norton critical editions of classic books that include essays, original title pages, etc. I am a rather intellectual reader, so these things work for me.

  3. izzybella says:

    I love back matter-though the term is new to me as well. And I actually liked the back matter in The Thirteenth Tale. I thought it added to the experience. But then I love extras in movie and television DVDs too-always watch them, even the commentaries, because there’s always something interesting that adds depth to the story. Back matter in books is the same for me. I’ve noticed the trend too, especially with book-club edition of novels, but it makes me happy! I am kind of surprised someone feels so against the extras they had to write about it in such vitriolic terms. Relax, dude. Just don’t read it if it’s not your thing.

    • jehara says:

      YES. I LOVE the extras on DVDs. If I love a story I want to know everything I can behind the scenes. I’m just greedy like that. πŸ˜‰

  4. I’m with you, Jehara–if I enjoy the book, I enjoy the extras. I especially like interviews with the author and find them enlightening. For instance, I happened to read the “back matter” in the YA classic “Tuck Everlasting,” where author Natalie Babbitt explained that she chose yellow as the color of the “man’s” suit because she was looking for a two-syllable word that would be a credible suit color. So, after all that speculation of the possible symbolic meaning revolving around the “man in the yellow suit,” it was really just a matter of rhythm. Now we know!
    I enjoyed “The Thirteenth Tale,” by the way. πŸ˜‰

  5. Margot says:

    I’m with you on “back matter.” I’d never heard the term before either but I can take it or leave it. It’s no big deal. The back matter I do enjoy most is author’s notes or interviews with the author. It does add to the enjoyment of the book and helps me stay a little bit longer with a book I’ve loved.

  6. Emma says:

    I hadn’t heard the term back-matter until now. I don’t mind notes at the end of the book. If I enjoyed the story, I like to know more about the author’s thoughts on it.

    • jehara says:

      Exactly. Some books I won’t read the back matter. Other books I will. Some books have extra material that really enhances the story experience, which I am total sucker for, haha.

  7. Ick – I don’t like that term – makes me think of grey matter – which gives me a visual of gross brain bits ;0) I do like the extras at the end though – whatever you want to call them.

    I heard that The Book of Lost Things has an edition with incredible extras at the end that my edition did not. I want to go find it at the library or book store just to check them out – I felt so robbed that I missed out.

    I prefer author interviews/essays if historical in nature/maps/character trees, etc. to discussion questions or sneak peeks. I don’t want MORE questions – I want the answers!!! I have used the questions at the end of The Housekeeper & the Professor to have a mini-discussion through Goodreads with a friend after we both read the book to use as a guide to exchange our thoughts.

    I’m with Izzy – I LOOOOOVE DVD Extras! I get so pissed if the extras are just trailers – boo! Give me bloopers, deleted scenes, commentary and alternate endings! I spend as much time watching those as I do watching the actual film :0)

    • izzybella says:

      Right, bumbles?! Getting just a trailer is a total rip-off. I don’t need the trailer-I just saw the movie!! The best DVDs extras are probably from the LotR extended DVDs. I’m telling you, those people know their nerds and how to make them exquisitely happy.

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    I’ve never heard back matter either! I don’t mind it, but I never read it until a few days after I’ve finished.

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