February's Harper's Magazine has an excerpt from an essay by Ian Jack, the current editor of Granta, regarding author acknowledgement. As Sieur Jack points out, back in the day, writers didn't really do acknowledgments. Of course if there was a patron who required a dedication, then a dedication was so provided, but otherwise was Moby Dick prefaced by three pages of thank you's, including one to the bar-maid at the Spouter?
But many of today's authors seem to think that their opus is incomplete if it doesn't begin with several pages of single-spaced gratitude. Sieur Jack isn't the only one who has noticed this trend. I have also recently read several books which devoted multiple pages to thanks yous, mentioning everyone from editors to computer companies, from parents to other authors, now long dead.
Now I certainly think that if an author writes a book that takes a lot of research, and the author has aid in this research, or if the author writes on a topic that perhaps could use a bit of further explaining (a historical novel, for example, and wants to point out what is fictionalized and what is made up), then it seems to me that an afterword is appropriate, for then it conveys information that the reader might actually want to know. But does the reader care to wade through declarations of love, gratitude, and shout-outs just to get to the story? This reader does not. This reader is sure that the writer probably loves his wife/mother/agent/editor, and doesn't need to be told so. This reader cares not if the novel was written on a yellow legal pad, or a stone tablet.
I agree with Sieur Jack that lengthy thank yous does show a quality of graciousness that can be lacking in our hurly burly world. But, I also wonder if he's not correct in surmising that: "Might it be (and this is the most ungenerous thought of all) that (the author) is mighty pleased with his himself--that he thinks his work is so brilliant that its worth needs some explanation?"
Hmm...might it be?
And I won't even get started upon the publisher's front-loading a book with pages and pages of previous reviews, lavish praise and blurbs. I don't buy a book because Norman Mailer loved it, but maybe some people do--anyway, a few blurbs and pull quotes seem fine. But four whole pages? Come on now...