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.

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.


    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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