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Thoughts on End Notes Vs Foot Notes

In Books, Rants, Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Right now I’m reading a book that I quite enjoy. It has end notes. The end notes contain citations, so you can see where the author got his information. I’m fine with that. In fact, that’s something I want in pretty much any nonfiction book.

However, the end notes also contain asides and parenthetical remarks on the part of the author. This drives me utterly mad. When I see a very small number in the text, there is no way for me to tell whether or not following it to the back of the book will lead to additional thoughts from the author, or just a citation. Nine times out of ten it’s just a citation that I can ignore for the moment, but every so often it’s additional authorial remarks that I actually want to read. Looking at the main text, though, I have no idea what I’ll find at the back of the book. I just have to look.

I really, really, really, really hate this. It’s annoying, it’s lazy, and (worst of all) it’s an inconvenience to the reader that can be very easily remedied. Citations should be at the back of the book, and marked with end notes. They should be there for the reader, but shoved away into a different clump of pages on not intruding into the main body of text. Authorial asides, however, should be marked with an asterisk or dagger and on the same page as the main text. That way, the reader can easily glance down at them, and not have to futz around in the citation section for other stuff the author might have to say.

It boggles my mind that any book would intermingle authorial asides in with citations. It’s stupid, it’s aggravating, it has an easy solution, and any editor that sends the reader scampering back to the end of the book every half page is an awful human, and should be slapped in the face with a frozen tuna until they recant their various sins against reading.

A special exception can be made for Infinite Jest, though. Infinite Jest is cool.

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