Howlers between the covers

Imagine 'donkey's years' used in the foreword to a book to refer to the author's expertise!

When we take a book in our hand, the first thing we see is the cover or the jacket. It creates the first impression on us. Then we take note of the title and the sub-title, if there is one, and the author(s) or editor(s). Only after that do we turn the cover to look inside, and start reading the book. The book may be one that is unputdownable, or one that is engrossing but worth only one read, or one that we can go to again and again with the same verve or else a complete wash out.

But before we reach the main body of the book there are the preliminary pages – the half-title and title pages, the copyright and contents pages, the preface, foreword, and maybe the introduction, the publisher’s note and acknowledgement, and sections like glossary and bibliography towards the end.

At times, one gets to see howlers creeping into the books and manuscripts in these sections. For instance, I once received a manuscript to go through at the eleventh hour. And just as I flipped through the preliminary pages I found a page titled Epilogue! I went to the end of the manuscript to see if there was a prologue that had got interchanged with the epilogue to be inserted there. No, there was no prologue. Quick action saved the situation. The correction was made post-haste and the book was brought out. 

Sometimes the preface, foreword and introduction to a book do not follow convention. The preface to a book is to be written by the author while the foreword, not by the author. The introduction to a book could also be the author. A foreword is actually a blurb, a write up explaining the merits of the book and the expertise of the author. And it is written by an expert, someone senior to the author, in the area to which the book belongs. One at times encounters a mix-up in these pages of a book. For instance, the preface is erroneously made the foreword and penned by the author.

Besides, what should go into these pieces, that is, the kind of language and expressions used in these pages matters too. Imagine, for instance, ‘donkey’s years’ being used in the foreword to a book to refer to the author’s long years of experience in the particular area!

The main body of the book is what matters most to a reader. But then every little thing that goes into the product called a book is of import. For instance, on one occasion, the running head in a manuscript I received, just before printing, was different from what the title of the book was. Imagine the disaster had it reached the press thus!

So the next time you have a book in your hand, do see what kind of errors are present. And when you get the opportunity to write a book, do make your book howler-free.

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