March 17, 2009

Mom, This Is for You! OR Unacknowledging Kent

I did an author presentation at an intermediate school today. During the Q. & A., a fourth-grade girl asked, “What do you think is the funniest thing you’ve ever written?

It was a good question, and astoundingly, I had an answer! While my favorite bit changes from day to day (I keep track on a flow chart) my current pick is the “Acknowledgments” page in The Pocket Guide to Brilliance. To wit:
(What follows is a list of names. It is slightly less amusing.) See, the image of ANYONE writing a book by dint of clutching a crayon in one grubby little fist makes me smile. It also put me in mind of a recent piece by Jonathan Black in the American Spectator in which he mocks “Acknowledgments” pages as self-indulgent blather that run on too long.

In my case, I will thank people who have provided substantive help... but someone who asks how my latest project is going might provide “substantive help” by motivating me to get to work on it. (I also like to thank people who provide me with useless suggestions.) Here’s how I stack up against the types of people Mr. Black objects to seeing:
Research assistants, personal assistants, the upstairs neighbor: NA
Foundations, the literary agent, artists’ colonies: NA (ROTFL)
Editors: Er… why wouldn’t they be thanked?
Librarians: The salt of the earth!
People who read drafts: Invaluable.
Parents, spouse: While this is a default setting, I think we can agree that society functions better with it. (Even so, I dutifully retch at the example of “Writing this book has been wonderful, but building a life with you is a greater joy and accomplishment by far.”)
Acknowledgments should not be confused with dedications, which apparently came into fashion with nonfiction books in the early 1900s. I think most authors would agree that dedications are vastly trickier; after making three consecutive dedications to my parents, editor, and spouse, I’ve started chickening out; the aforementioned Pocket Guide to Brilliance (cha-ching!) has one reading:
As to Acknowledgments, The Big Book of Girl Stuff is my worst offender, with a full two pages of names. I regret nothing.

As to Brilliance, a man named Kent is thanked therein. Kent was also the first person who saw the book. He received his complimentary copy, opened it, and read the “Acknowledgments.” Then Kent closed the book.

“Did you see the part about the crayon?” I asked.

“Yes,” Kent replied.

“I thought it was funny… you know, the idea of someone writing a book with a crayon.”

“Okay.”

Humph! (Maybe on the next printing, I can talk to the publisher about the protocol of un-Acknowledging someone.)

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