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Monday, August 27, 2012

Helen DeWitt on Acknowledgments

Some curmudgeon at the New Yorker (Sam Sacks) doesn’t like acknowledgments at the end of books.


In the comments, there’s this one by Helen DeWitt that’s terrific. I’ve never read any of her books – yet – but this comment definitely makes we want to read one:


“I expect writers assume that the vast majority of readers will skip the Acknowledgements. Often enough, after all, these simply satisfy various legal requirements (to credit grants & such which supported the work, to credit sources of quotations for which permission was cleared, to credit publications where pieces have previously appeared). It's pretty dull, but it has to be there - you might as well be annoyed by the inclusion of an ISBN.


“This makes the section the ideal place for a long list of thanks of no interest to anyone but the recipient. It may be, though, that there are purists out there who read every word. And perhaps they are put off by all this sweetness and light. If so, it is probably because, for fairly obvious reasons, readers see only finished, published books. They don't see dead books. Because look. OK. McNally Jackson has an Espresso Book Machine: you can send a book to print and have a bound copy within a day. So fine. Suppose I send every book on my hard drive to the machine, and McNally Jackson obligingly clears shelves, and we fill them up. We then have a solid wall of about 200 books by Helen DeWitt. (The horror.) Some of these books are 300 pages long. Some stop at page 20. Some are coherent; others are scattered chapters, with a lot of notes. They all end the same way. The text breaks off - and then there are Acknowledgements.


“These are not the nice noises we've grown used to if we are dogged enough to plow through Acknowledgements. Some of the dramatis personae are similar to the ones we're used to seeing praised - agents, editors, fellow writers, close personal friends - but there are also readers, stalkers, lawyers, accountants, directors and many more. Some are just inefficient and incompetent, some are downright dishonest. They kill deals. They break contracts. They blunder into accounting errors which generate hideous tax liabilities when there is no money thanks to the accounting errors. The list is not literally interminable, but it feels like it. The reader would never normally see such books. Now the reader sees them the way the author sees them. This is the book I was working on when Andrew Wylie said the agency would coordinate international publishers. This is the book I was working on when Jennifer Rudolph Walsh bulldozed me into accepting representation. These were the books I was working on when Jonathan Burnham offered to publish The Last Samurai and Larry Shire said permissions would not be a problem and the copy editor said no one would do anything I didn't like. This is the book I was working on when Miramax generated a $150,000 accounting error in its own favor.


“And so on. And on. And on. (The point being, it's very hard to concentrate on a book if you're dealing with catastrophes. It's hard to go back to a book after months or years. So there are dead books, and the list of murderers is very long.) If a book actually does get both finished and published, a sufficiently large number of people have been genuinely helpful, and a sufficiently large number of people have refrained from sabotage. Writers know that this is not the publishing norm; they know all the stories that are never seen online, the stories literary journalism won't cover. So they are grateful to a degree that probably does seem excessive to people with no point of comparison. Readers can't change the system, so they should probably just skip the Acknowledgements.

Posted 8/26/2012, 9:18:44am by HelenDeWitt

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/08/against-acknowledgments.html#ixzz24knEoCyS


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:41 PM

    Sacks has some valid points, for most ack's descent into vapid expressions of gratitude without any genuine sense of what magnanimity is, which DeWitt touches upon in her own way, but much of this is such neurotic chatter.