On effective introductions
Earlier today, I was in a Barnes & Noble store looking for an interesting book. On trips like these, I usually open dozens of books to read or skim the first paragraph, only to shelve them because the way the writer introduces the story doesn’t seize my long-term attention (visitors to my blog may experience a similar feeling reading these posts). I was surprised today when I found an intriguing book less than a minute after entering the store (in the bargain crates before the main entrance, in fact). It was Alex Kershaw’s The Few: The American “Knights of the Air” Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain.
I have browsed this book on previous visits to B&N, only to put it back on the shelf like many others. This (and other similar experiences) suggests to me that why a book catches a viewer’s attention has a lot to do with when it catches his attention: we see the world through different eyes depending on what state of mind we are in. Today, I was drawn to Kershaw’s story by the beautiful poem, written by a young American fighter pilot, Kershaw had reproduced as an introduction to his book (which reminded me of a famous poem by W.B. Yeats). Here is a copy it:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
—John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Nineteen-year-old American pilot, killed December 11, 1941