I never miss a chance to read the dedication when I start a book and the acknowledgements when I finish it. There is always a glimpse, no matter how brief, of how the book became itself, of its complicated midwifery.
And so I read about supportive spouses, inspirational parents, patient and perceptive editors and agents, the children and colleagues and employers who deserve apologetic thanks, grants and residencies that helped, cottages and office space lent, gratitude and credit given where they have long been due.
I imagine those very personal declarations being tapped into a laptop's grey pool of light late one night in a small second-storey room, under a tidy bulletin board or a haphazard bookshelf. I think a lot about where writers and artists work, and often ask them about that for this blog.
As of finishing a terrific new novel yesterday I have a new favourite acknowledgement. At the close of his very vivid and involving book Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave writes charmingly:
"A very heartfelt thank you to every reader who sent me kind words, or who wrote generously about my novels, while I was working. I was running on fumes for awhile, so if you are someone who gave me a top-up then a line of the novel is yours. Please choose your favourite."
I would not be able to stop at one line.
The saddest I have read? There are two, very different, that spring to mind. The great Calvin Trillin, reporter, memoirist and humourist, dedicated the first book he published following the death of his wife and muse with, "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice."
Henry Watson Fowler began his classic reference work, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, with this elegant tribute to his longtime writing partner, his brother Francis, dead of tuberculosis after serving in the Great War:
"I think of it as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied."
The book "... is the last fruit" of their work together, he wrote; I hear in those words an echo of other potential lost.
I have a couple of bright favourites and they are personal. The first is not from a book, but from the liner notes of a CD made by Gros Morne Summer Music, whose guests and versatile classical players we have put up from time to time in our little guest house at Bonne Bay. We were catching up over breakfast with the director, a brilliant pianist, when our usually genial schnauzer, Hank, bit his shin unexpectedly. And hard.
"Thank you to Stephen and Jeanie and Holly," the acknowledgement reads (the boys were mostly at home that summer.)
"And not Hank."
My other favourite (above) looks splendidly robust in its Italian translation. My father, a writer himself, was very ill when he read most of Facing Ali in a late draft my husband emailed to him, its joined perforated pages spooling from the old-fashioned printer in Dad's pretty, garden-level home office, crunching out line by line, tiny dots grouping themselves into prose, he on the settee one long evening, I in an armchair, reading away some of his last hours.
We passed the chapters between us, saying, "ready," and "done" and, "oh, very good."
He was delighted to know that it would be dedicated to him, as he would have been to know that there were Italian and Japanese editions.
Dad would have loved, also, the anti-dedication to Hank. He would have creased his brow and asked, old reporter that he was, had the dog bitten anyone else recently? Any other concert pianists? (No.)
He had a stiff upper lip and radar for silver linings. "Well," he would have noted, "missed his fingers, thank God!"