Friday, April 1, 2011

In defense of the epigraph

I was listening to the Slate Cultural Gabfest on my way to work this morning and Julia Turner asked the audience to defend the epigraph, the quotations that some authors use to lead off a book or chapter.

The Fluid and Electrolyte Companion used an epigraph that I thought was perfect and communicated the mood I wanted readers in as they read the book:

The quotation is from Dr. Strangelove and General Ripper (the man with the cigar) says it in the scene captured in the picture at the top of If you haven't seen the movie you really should. It is one of Stanely Kubrick's masterpieces and possibly the funniest movies I have ever seen.

What touched me was how similar I am to General Ripper. Here was a man who spent all of his time thinking about precious bodily fluids and every time he captured someone in his vacinity and started to explain how wonderful and important they are, the other person just got nervous, uncomfortable and wanted to squirm away. In the header picture, imagine me as General Ripper talking about pseudohyponatremia and imagine Group Captain Mandrake being played by an unsuspecting innocent medical student who is randomized to one of my medicine teams.

The mood I wanted to establish was that this text book was lighter than Guyton's physiology, we would poke fun at medicine and you could unbutton the white coat and relax a little while reading this text. I think the epigraph absolutely nailed this mood.

By the way if you downloaded the book before this week, re-download it. I just added the leading 10 pages which include the introduction, dedication, colophon, table of contents and epigrpah.
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