I decided to hijack Sausage’s slot this month to bring up a topic that’s been bugging me for the past year. I happily subscribe to JA Konrath’s blog. I find the guy to be informative and forthright and, even if I don’t believe 100% of what he’s saying, I won’t deny the passion with which he says it. Which brings me to something I don’t believe in — Table of Contents pages for novels.
In his otherwise excellent blog post on “Ebook Parts”, Konrath mentions the order of particular pages in an ebook. In particular, he mentions:
4. Hyperlinked table of contents. Links should go to every part of the ebook mentioned here, except the cover art.
Why? Personally, as a reader, I find ToCs at the front of a novel incredibly annoying.
I think it’s because my mindset when reading non-fiction is completely different to that when reading fiction. When I read non-fiction, I am in a more measured frame of mind. I deliberately peruse the Contents page to give me an idea of the structure of a book, and to let me know where it’s beginning, what it’s going to cover and where it will end. I often go back and forth within a non-fiction book but have found, over time, that — after the initial reading of the Contents page — I rarely go back to it. Instead, I rely more heavily on the Index. That’s because a non-fiction book is the equivalent of a reference for me and I want to get to particular places, or hop between them, as fast as I can. Maybe it’s not a good trait, but I’m an impatient non-fiction reader.
Fiction, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. When I open that novel, I want to be entertained. It’s great if the fiction contains some technical knowledge that tickles at my brain (from how to jump off a train without killing yourself, to the different spectral classes of stars), but I don’t consider that mandatory. I don’t find myself hopping from, say, Chapter Ten back to Chapter Three and onward to Chapter Fifteen too often, although I do go back a couple of pages on occasion when I’ve been distracted by something chronic (an argument between the kids being a good example). Interestingly enough, I have never opened an ebook, looked at the Contents page and thought to myself, “Right! I think I’ll start at Chapter Four!”. And, unlike a non-fiction book, I sure as hell don’t want to know how the book ends before I’ve started it!
If I have the mindset of the average reader (and I think I do), I’m not sure why ToCs are considered a standard part of digital novels. The aren’t in print novels. In fact, after perusing some of our home library, the only places I found Contents pages for standalone novels were “Les Miserables” and in a Bicenntenial hardcover set of the complete works of Charles Dickens. You know, “classics”. And the old ones at that. I didn’t find them in any of our Joseph Conrads, Heinrich Bölls or even “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
When Sandal Press first started up, I did what everyone else seemed to be doing and put ToCs at the front of our books. But then, after thinking about my own preferences, I stopped. Konrath suggests that maybe I should start up again but I’m not so sure.
If anyone would care to weigh in, do you think a ToC is essential in a novel?