American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Can I Complain?

with 2 comments

How often have you opened a book in the middle and found something interesting, only to get frustrated trying to find the right note? Not often? Well, it happens to me all the time. Most recently: while skimming Eric Gardner’s Unexpected Places, which looks to be a very fine book. But last night, skimming in bed, I had a little fit of frustration.

I was reading around in a section on a little-known temperance play. At one point, Gardner writes:

[W]hat at first glance might seem an apolitical stance is more usefully understood as a sense that temperance is a kind of uber-issue governing all political choices and more.

Which is followed by an endnote number: 41.

Now, this idea about temperance as “uber-issue” made me curious, not least because I occasionally teach a similar play, so I turned to the back of the book, to see what else might be said, and lo! there were no running heads. No top margin reading “Notes to Pages 70-75,” which would have been nice, since the reference I wanted was on page 71. Making matters worse: the header on page 71 gave the chapter title (“Black Indiana”) but no number, while the endnote section used numbers but not titles. So I went back to page 71, flipping to the start of the chapter — all the way back to page 56 — until I saw that “Black Indiana” meant “2,” and then I went to the endnote section again, flipping pages until I found “Chapter 2.” At which point I flipped a few pages forward, and came at last to the actual note.

Way too much work!

Really, books should be designed by people who use them.

OK, end of complaint.

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Written by Ben Friedlander

November 11, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Posted in scholarship

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Anything that takes more than one step pisses me off. Like the notes in Anthony Julius’s Eliot book, which simply give you references to author’s name & date of work (“Eliot, 1922, p. 16”), so then you have fumble thru the bibliography to find out exactly what’s being referred to.

    Mark

    November 11, 2009 at 11:28 pm

  2. Agreed! And I’ve even seen this done for edited volumes — a shared bibliography for every author’s chapter, which makes for additional problems when photocopying. I mean, do you add twenty pages of bibliography at the end of a single article, or do without and then find yourself at a loss on some small but crucial point of evidence?

    Also, why are footnotes so often excluded from the indexing? It’s a drag to slog all the way back through a hundred footnotes to a find the first reference, which has all the bibliographic information, when a properly indexed book would make things easy.

    Ben Friedlander

    November 12, 2009 at 6:35 am


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