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Paratext is any additional text or other reference material that is added to an author’s published work. One of the most common ways to think of this type of material is in the form of the various items that publishers include in the average book, such as a book jacket, inside or back cover blurb, and author profile. Other kinds of extraneous additions to the book’s pages are also considered paratext. All of these items are considered paratext because they are external reference materials that help to frame the printed manuscript inside the book, but without directly contributing to the content.
Other examples of this kind of reference text include introductions or prefaces by persons other than the author. Many books include these materials on the beginning pages, where some other writer may reaffirm the work of the author, provide literary criticism, or engage in some other kind of introduction. Editor’s notes can also be considered examples of this kind of reference text.
In terms of their semantic role, paratext-type elements help to orient someone who is reading an authored work. A key feature of these types of external text is that they do not contribute to this single narrative that is a common feature of an authored book. The narrative is the story of the book, which many authors preserve from the first page to the last. Within this narrative or story, the majority of professionally trained authors maintain a particular perspective, either an omniscient perspective in the third person, or the perspective of a character or set of characters. In nonfiction, the narrative is often from the viewpoint of the author, in first-person form.
In contrast to the carefully maintained narrative viewpoint of the author, paratext breaks the narrative, looking at it from the outside. There are many purposes for this kind of additional text, besides the introductory role mentioned above. Other kinds of reference text can provide essential facts and related to narrative, tell the reader about the author’s background or experience, or otherwise set the stage for a fiction or nonfiction book.
These types of reference categories are also closely related to others. One that has become popular in postmodern analysis of author works is hypotext. Hypotext, which is attributed to European writer Gerard Genette, is a more obscure synonym for paratext; both of these words refer to source material, or similar orienting context, for a text, though some academics may establish their own differentiations between these terms.
@Kristee – I find commentaries valuable. If someone sees fit to brag on the author, then this motivates me to read the book.
Also, I like reading introductions. Sometimes, diving right into a book can be daunting, and it is nice to have some warning or direction before taking that step.
I don't feel that reading a review before reading the book shapes my perception of it at all. I have strong opinions, and they are not altered in any way by what someone else thinks.
It can be good to get background information on a story before reading it. Many introductions let you know useful information that actually will add to your enjoyment of the book.
I always read the back cover of a book before buying it or checking it out from the library. It's amazing how many I have put back on the shelf after doing this.
If I am uninterested in the topic, then I don't want to waste my precious time reading the book. I believe that paratext has saved me lots of time in this way.
I generally wait and read the section about the author after I've read the book, though. It's fun to learn about the writer after I have seen what he can do.
If I read about him before, I am just not interested in the information. Afterward, though, I feel a connection to him and want to know more about the person behind the story.
I usually skip over the paratext when reading a book. I especially dislike editor's notes and introductions that seek to tell me how I should view the book.
I like to form my own opinion. I don't like reading reviews or commentaries before I have a chance to see the book from my own perspective.
Sometimes, I will go back and read these things after I have finished the book, and then, I don't feel like they affect my perspective at all. I have already formed an opinion and let the book color my views, so I'm not in any danger of being tainted by someone else and their outlook.
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