I have something to acknowledge: I love acknowledgments. They are the first thing I read in a book. (Often I won’t read an author’s introduction until after I have finished, in case it contains spoilers. Yes, I know.)
Gratitude is one of the most important things. If someone doesn’t say thank you after I hold a door open for them, they might as well be a serial killer. Acknowledgments are the literary equivalent of thanking all the people who made a book possible; who held the door open. (Or gave the writer a key to their cottage by the sea for a writing retreat. Lots of those.)
I am quite a nosy person, so I enjoy scanning the names to see if there is someone I recognise; as though I am spotting two people I did not know were friends dining together in a restaurant. I enjoy the turns of phrase writers come up with to avoid repeating themselves. The in-jokes.
We even get a glimpse into the circumstances of an author’s life and the backdrop against which the book was produced. Those who acknowledge Arts Council grants or thank the NHS, and even food banks and housing charities, as was the case in Anna Burns’s Booker-winning novel Milkman; a mini-political commentary in itself.
I am currently reading Benjamin Dreyer’s brilliant Dreyer’s English, which has eight pages of acknowledgments; a commendable level of generosity (though if this were an Oscars speech, the orchestra would have played him off by page two). I suppose the longer the list, the more likely someone will be miffed if left out; but also the shorter the list, the danger that more people will be miffed. What a minefield.
Dedications are much more likely to be read, so funny or touching ones are often more memorable than something similar tucked away at the back. What a shame, though, if the acknowledgments page at the back of Brendan Pietsch’s Dispensational Modernism, which starts: “I blame all of you”, had gone unnoticed.
But it’s the love coming off the pages that make acknowledgments so special. Knowing that the book I am about to read (for others, usually the book just read) could not have come into being without all the support and advice and friendship and hard work of others. The reiteration that, no matter the trope of the toiling writer in a solitary study, life – in all its glory and achievement – is a team sport.