Chicago Culture Vulture

devouring theatre, film, and food

A Foreword to an Unwritten Book


When an author finishes a book, they sometimes pen a foreword. The author takes a moment to step back and reflect on the oeuvre she, he, or it has created – I included “it” in case a cat were to one day write a book, which would be very popular as humans are very interested in cats – and place that reflection at the front of their work. So the first thing a reader reads is really the last thing the author wrote, which means forewords seem a bit backwards to me.

Authors use forewords to ease readers into their books –to open the door, to take their coat, to give them a little hint as to what they’re in for. Heads up, Chapter 4 is drunk and is hitting on your niece, Chapter 12 hasn’t is on a bath strike and will likely smell, and Chapter 5 brought home Chapter 6 who he’s only been dating for about 2 weeks. TWO WEEKS! But they are also use forewords to apologize and warn.

Authors use forewords to remind you that who you’re about to read at the beginning of the book is someone very different than who you are reading in the foreword. People change, slowly over time. It seems slow because we have a front row seat to our own life and can never leave the theatre (save the final, fatal blackout). But if you were to leave during intermission, or perhaps take a restroom break and miss 5 or 50 minutes of the performance (who am I to judge the length of your relief?), you’d return to see the character of You wholly unrecognizable. In fact, you may think You are an entirely new character, brought in late in the play to forever change the course of the story forever.

If you don’t believe me (I’m not sure I do yet either), look only at your 14-year-old self and your current-day self to realize just how drastically we change, perhaps to the point that considering them the same person helps us make less sense of life than it does. Of course, this thought experiment assumes that you, my beautiful reader, are not currently a 14-years-old boy or girl, or a boy or girl younger than 14 for that matter. If you are, I apologize profusely for you are smarter than I will ever be, and also where are your parents and why are they letting you read this book?

So forewords serve to give us a little taste of where the author ended up, a place that is chronicled by the end of the book, but by hinting at it at the beginning, the author suggests maybe it was there within him all along. Perhaps he didn’t really change and become something new, but perhaps the newness was underneath him all along and life isn’t about putting on new clothes and becoming unrecognizable, but it’s about peeling off layers we always wore, until we removed our trousers, boxers, epidermal layer, bones, until we’re left with what we really are – which is nothing, which is where we return in the end.

As you can see, I’m already changing and growing and thinking as I’m writing, and perhaps the first sentence was merely a little white lie that got the words flowing, which I may or may not remove at the end – if I remove it, am I more honest since I didn’t believe it really to begin with, but if I remove it, am I lying to you about how I’ve wound up where I’ve wound up? Also, if you have any idea where I’ve wound up, please let me know. It’d be great to catch up with myself sometime.

Forewords are also full of thanks – so that the people who think they might be thanked only need to turn to the first page to see their name. There’s something profoundly arousing about seeing one’s name in print – the symbol for everything you are has been immortalized on a written page – by someone else, no less! and in a positive context, no less! Even the most casual criminal enjoys below-the-fold coverage of his life’s work.


Forewords are also odd little exercises for their sign-off: they end with the author’s name – Zach Zimmerman, in this case (Hi, Mom!) – and the setting of its writing. And here, my gorgeous and brilliant readers, is part of the appeal to me of writing my foreword before bothering to write my book. I’m on a layover in Zurich, and I’m not much of a traveler, so this very well may be the last time I’ll ever be in Zurich. With that in mind, I figured I should seize the opportunity to pen a foreword that would end with – Zach Zimmerman, January 2014, Zurich. There’s something profound and poignant and cultured and powerful about the reader finding out you’ve been in Zurich all along. Here he or she thought you were in some flat in your hometown, or in a Starbucks in a friend’s neighborhood – but no! This man is in ZURICH – reflecting on this epic tome he’s penned. There’s something magical about that. Is he on holiday? And just couldn’t keep from thinking about the book? Is the book ON Zurich? In which case it’s less magical, but does build in some credibility that he’s at least visited the place he’s written a book about. Or is Zurich a stand-in for something bigger – something accidental, a layover that wasn’t part of the original destination, but has somehow become a destination of its own. For every middle step toward a destination is a destination of its own, each new year we add is a destination of its own, something wholly different than what we intended to reach.

Zach Zimmerman

January 18, 2014

Zurich, Switzerland


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This entry was posted on January 29, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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