Prologues are tough for writers--or maybe it's just me. If the information contained in the prologue is REALLY important and is highly relevant to the story, then there can't be a prologue and it must start with chapter one, because of people like Ruth who skip it! LOL
The sad fact is, there are a percentage of people who do skip them, so if it plays a crucial role in the story, it can't go there. That's not to say people don't skim sections of the actual book, they do, but a prologue is one of the first things to be skipped and not just because it's at the beginning of the book.
As always, you crack me up. CRS syndrome! I feel I'm beginning to have the beginning symptoms of that in my ripe old age of twenty six. But you're right, a prologue is a great place to catch up on the other characters from related books that you haven't read for a while. You're also right that if the author took the time to write it, it has to have some bearing on the story, even if it's only in a minor way or brought up again.
All I have to say to you is two things:
1. After a year you STILL have MegaMind on the brain. Goodness!
2. I just finished a book of yours that had a sample chapter to your next book after the epilogue...
I voted no, but I wanted to explain why because it really depends. If the prologue is very short (like 1-2 pages), I'll read it. Any longer than that and I skip. I assume the good stuff starts at chapter 1. I assume Prologues are backstory, and I don't like backstories at the beginning of a book because I don't care about the characters yet. When I get that connection with the characters, then I want to know more about their backgrounds.
I think the most effective Prologues are those which give a clue to something that happens later in the book. It especially works with a thriller or horror novel when the author sets up the climax of the story. For example, one book with a 2-page Prologue wrote in the murderer's perspective that they had the gun ready and trained on the victim (who was the hero) and ready to pull the trigger. In the Prologue, the author introduced the murderer's motive, but never said whether or not the murderer pulled the trigger. You had to read the book and find out what happened.
A movie example is MegaMind where the hero is falling to his death, how he lost the girl, and how he messed up really bad. Then that Prologue ends with "My story starts at the beginning...the very beginning..." The reason it works is because I saw the climax playing out in a snippet when it looked like all was lost, and I wanted to know how he ended up in that predicament.
So I like Prologues that hint at something profound that will happen later in the book. But to read a backstory, no. I don't like the info-dump Prologue.
Hope that helps.
Not only do I always read the prologue but I read the dedication, the table of contents, the fictional character disclaimer, the publishers address, the acknowledgements and any thing else that isn't blocked out, torn out or obscured! I believe in getting my money's worth......all kidding aside, I read the prologue because I have to believe that if the author took the time to write it there must me insight and information that will add to the over all value of the story. That may be simple but it says it!
If the book is part of an ongoing series it helps the avid readers (especially the ones with CRS - Can't Remember SH*t syndrome) to remember some of the previous story lines and characters.
I'm one of those people like you that can't understand why anyone wouldn't read a prologue. It's fun to get a glimpse into someone's relevant past before you get into the main story. It's often even more interesting when the prologue tells you about some event that's very important that doesn't focus on your main character, but someone who does something that affects them greatly.
In fact I go a step further. I get disappointed when there isn't a prologue to a story. Which isn't to say every story that I write has a prologue either. I just really enjoy a good prologue. They can provide such valuable insight and such interesting opportunities to start before the start and learn more than you might otherwise.