This is the second piece of a four-part series on the anatomy of books. Most of these observations are taken from my own experience and library of knowledge. The thoughts below are not written from the view of an expert on book structure but from an avid reader who appreciates things like epigraphs and colophons.
Crack open a book, any book, the nearest one, from your friend, from your sibling, from the stack of schoolbooks you’ve contemplated tossing. What is the first thing you pay attention to? The table of contents? The first chapter? The page of acknowledgements? (To be honest, no one pays attention to the acknowledgements unless they themselves are on the page).
Not all books are formatted in the same manner, but generally, the innards of a book are made up of three main organs: front matter, body matter, and end matter. Most people are familiar with the body matter, which of course is the work itself. However, people tend to overlook the other ends that are often loaded with gems of all sorts, from witty dedications to the quirky author biographies.
The Front Matter
The front matter houses several parts: the title page, the copyright/edition page, the dedication, the epigraph, the table of contents, the foreword/preface, and the prologue (speaking in generalities; a translated book may have a translator’s note, an autobiography may have an introduction, and so on). Think of the front matter as a platter of appetizers: it’s there to provide a taste for the main course, yet it still manages to retain its own distinct recipe.
THE ANATOMY OF BOOKS: ORGANS
By Phoebe Pan, published on WordPress
Copyright © Phoebe Pan, all rights reserved
Distributed by the Internet, printed on a screen
First Edition, 2015
For Tiffany, who inspired this mini-series
“To all the English teachers, especially the great ones.” ¹
For you, dear reader
“An epigraph is the swooping omen of eagles and snakes in Greek mythology: it prepares the reader for something immense and prophetic, something large and unknown.” — some scholar or rabbi or monk or poet or friend or bumpkin or dog
Table of Contents
A preface explains how the work came to be. As with any piece of writing, this was the result of a concoction that contains inspiration from friends, libraries, websites, long walks, green tea, etc. This is not a foreword, since a foreword is written by someone other than the author.
You are about to venture into the second organ: the body matter.
The Body Matter
The body matter is the heart of the novel. It can be divided into chapters, sub-books, volumes, and parts. Or it could be one amalgam of a work without any sort of discernible organization (worms have single chambered hearts, fish have two-chambered hearts, humans have four-chambered hearts—take your pick).
You are about to begin reading the body matter of Phoebe Pan’s new post, The Anatomy of Books: Organs. Breathe out. Stretch. Push aside every other thought. Let the world around you fade to shadows. Best to close the door; your family is always waiting to use the computer. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to share!” Raise your voice—they won’t hear you otherwise— “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that arguing over who gets to use the computer next; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read the body matter of Phoebe Pan’s new post!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone. ²
The End Matter
Structured in a similar fashion as the front matter, the end matter of a book may contain the following: an epilogue, an afterword, an appendix, a glossary, an index, a colophon (rarer these days), and the author’s biography. Once you have plowed through the body matter, this final organ serves to add finishing touches to the experience via spoonfuls of lemon mousse and sips of wine.
And so, with tears, this provides closure to the story. Not everyone will find it satisfying, though (ahem, Deathly Hallows).
You may be wondering: what is the difference between an afterword and a foreword, aside from the obvious difference? The foreword usually retells the interactions between the writer of the foreword and the author, and it’s also known as a sales pitch to help give the book “credibility.” The afterword is a part that comes with later editions of a book and describes how the book came into being and perhaps how it has affected its genre.
Glossary of Terms
This text is set in the default serif font of this WordPress theme. The headings are set in Playfair Display Italics. Typed and put together in a bedroom crammed with books and CDs and memorabilia.
This is a short blurb that describes the author’s achievements and where s/he currently resides. My favorite is the entirety of Anne Carson’s bio in her books: “Anne Carson lives in Canada.”
¹ Garrison Keillor and his warm dedication in Good Poems.
² A parody of the first paragraph of If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.