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Tuesday, May 8, 2007
More on footnotes and endnotes
Chris's post in defense of the footnote reminded me that a friend who was a teacher once pointed out that an entire chapter in Jon Krakauer's book about Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven, was accompanied by, I believe, a single endnote -- implying the Krakauer had simply summarized another book, with some of his own comments thrown in. "I don't let my tenth graders get away with that."
The footnotes that bother me are those of an inordinate length. When they take up a third or more of the page, it's just ugly. Some publishers get around this by allowing the footnote to spill on to a second or even third page. But then, on a page with multiple notes, the reader must keep flipping back and forth and losing the thread of the body of the text. Not flipping all the way to the end, granted, but the quick-reference advantage of the footnote is greatly mitigated.
Chris mentions David Foster Wallace's copious footnotes, which are maddening or brilliant or both, depending on whom you ask. For an article [sub. only] of his on a right-wing talk show and its host, The Atlantic Monthly devised a nifty solution. The footnotes ran in colored boxes in the margins of the page, corresponding to words highlighted in those colors in the text. (Can we still call them footnotes?) The online version is not as elegant -- it involves pop-up windows -- but it's still neato.
[REVISED 4:33 p.m.]