Why a Table of Contents?

 

Lord of the Rings Table of Contents

Chapter titles and tables of contents: do we really need them? I recently had an exchange online with another writer who was convinced they were completely unnecessary. She rattled off a list of books  which I hadn’t heard of. None of them contained tables of contents. So I poked around on my book shelf and came up with a list of my own, all books which used them:

Moby Dick

Tale of Two Cities

Stuart Little

Wind in the Willows

The Lord of the Rings

Guardians of Ga’hoole

The City of Ember

“Those are mostly old books,” she said. Implying that new books didn’t use them. But as I inquired further, I found out that not only did this particular person not read old books, she read mostly thriller, mystery, and action sorts of books. In fact, I came to realize that there were almost no books in common which the both of us had read. We were from completely different sub-species of readers.

Now if you’ve got a keen eye, you might have noticed that all the books on my list seem to have the following traits: they are either somewhat old or they are from the science fiction and fantasy genres. Obviously the list is too small in itself to say that all old books and all books from these genres use tables of contents, but I believe the list is indeed representative of the actual state of affairs. Many old books and I would say most fantasy books especially do use tables of contents.

Do understand that if an author has merely put numbers in front of their chapters that a table of contents is probably useless. But if there are chapter titles, I find that they add a great deal to the reading experience. Why do I like them and even prefer them? Because it gives them a sort of “episodic” feel the makes them easier for me to wrap my mind around and “digest” a book if that makes any sense.

I often re-read books and love flipping through them, finding my favorite passages and “re-living” the story to some degree. Chapter titles help personalize the story and give me little verbal hooks or cues to hang my memories of the story upon. How much more meaningful to say, “Oh, I loved that chapter, Knife in the Dark” than how you really loved Chapter 11 of book 1.” In books the do not use chapter titles, the events tend to run together more in my mind and understandably so.

So I say three cheers for Tables of Contents! I always enjoy it when an author takes the time to add those extra bits of detail. I won’t hold it against an author if he doesn’t include them, but if I had my druthers, they’d be there almost every time.

Incidentally, you can find the entire table of contents for Into the Vast either by using the “search inside” preview on Amazon or by checking out the book’s shelfari page. I put a great deal of thought into the titles so I hope you get as much enjoyment from having them as I did in creating them.

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