I confess. I read acknowledgements. Part of it is the vanity of finding someone’s name I know. Or the worse vanity of finding my own name. Acknowledgements, however, reveal quite a lot about the book you’re about to read, or have just read. Not all books have them, of course. Most academic books do. A recurring theme occurs in the acknowledgements I read: privilege. Many academics are feted and pampered and their institutions pour money on their desks. Often they show a nonchalance about it all. ‘Tweren’t nothin’. What seems to be missing to me is the struggle. Anything worth having, in the experience of many, is something for which sacrifice was required. Hard work, long hours, and nobody pouring money on your desk.
Privilege breeds a strange kind of entitlement. Many academics complain of how difficult they’ve got it. (The stories I could tell!) Now, I haven’t walked in their loafers so I can’t say if the personal circumstances of others are trying or not. My own experience at Nashotah House—how good I had it!—wasn’t exactly pristine. Conflicts between dean and faculty. Required chapel twice a day whether you needed it or not. Your every move watched for any indication of heresy or disloyalty (that’s not limited to the Oval Office). And yet, those days were much better than I realized at the time. Once in a while you have to crawl up next to Job on his ash heap to get an idea of what you simply couldn’t see before.
Acknowledgements are often like mini biographies. You try to make sure you don’t leave out anyone that helped you along the way. Books, particularly academic books, are the product of many people, not just the author. Sure, the author’s the star of the show, but if the support staff wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Book making is incredibly complex, which is why self-publishing, while sometimes necessary, often shows in the end results. Editors come in many flavors: acquisitions editors, copyeditors, line editors, production editors, and more. Sometimes there’s overlap between positions, but even books that barely get read have plenty of sets of eyes upon them before they come to the public. Acknowledgments don’t always name everyone. In fact, they simply can’t. It takes a village to publish a book. Instead of feeling entitled, I find acknowledgements always instill a sense of humility. It’s an honor to be part of bringing a book to birth, even if your contribution is hidden away in unread pages.