Saturday, November 10, 2012

Footnotes vs. endnotes

If there's one thing reading in Hebrew has taught me, it's the value of a properly placed footnote. Unlike English, where footnotes are almost exclusively reserved for nonfiction or particularly whimsical books (Jonathan Stroud, Terry Pratchett, I am looking at you!), footnotes are fairly common in Hebrew translated literature, as a means of bridging the typically wide gap between cultures. This can lead to some fairly boring translations (translations of tatami are unnervingly common...), but occasionally provides interesting information on play-on-words, or locations, or... anything else.

I realized a few years back - I like footnotes. I know: technically they break the flow of the story, they can be unnecessary, they can be randomly specific or absurdly vague... But overall, I've found footnotes to be extremely useful in certain cases. They are easy to read if I want, easy to ignore if I don't, and their benefits overall outweigh any of their detriments.

Endnotes, on the other hand... I do not like endnotes. Here's why:

  1. They appear only in classics.
  2. They are usually about historical cultural differences, usually plot irrelevant.
  3. They are impossible to read within the flow of the story.
For example: I was reading Middlemarch a month ago (I will discuss it soon, I promise!). My edition has these long, bizarrely detailed endnotes about the most random details. They didn't add anything and were just entirely unnecessary. At some point I stopped reading them. So what's the point? This has happened to me many, many times and I just don't understand it. The only justification I can find for endnotes versus footnotes is in the case when they're long and even then, sometimes it'd probably be better if the notes themselves were shorter. Is this just a personal thing? What do you think - footnotes or endnotes? Or nothing at all?


  1. I actually prefer endnotes. I usually go to them after a chapter (or a few chapters), rather than interrupt my reading. For example, when I read Trollope's books, I usually go for four-chapter chunks, then catch up on the endnotes after finishing reading (unless there's something I really think I might need to know there and then).

    1. But how do you remember what the context is? If I go back to the endnotes at the end of a chapter, I never understand what they're referencing...

    2. I think that with Victoriana, I've read so many that it's more a reminder than new info ;)

  2. I like footnotes better in a physical book, but in an e-book it's okay either way. One of the things I love about ebooks is that the foot/endnotes are hyperlinked, so you can click to look at them and then click back without worrying about losing your place.

    However UGH I really hate editions of classics that have such uninformative notes. I love reading notes that will give me good information, and it's such a disappointment to chase down an endnote only to have it say something like "A chaise is a kind of carriage".

  3. I was going to make exactly the opposite point to Jenny because in the early Terry Pratchett books the footnotes become endnotes and you can't easily return to your place unless you've remembered to bookmark it. And I always want to read both footnotes and endnotes. They so often lead you down interesting byways that you might never otherwise have considered, dropping in ideas that the writer hasn't thought were quite well developed enough to be part of the main 'narrative' but which are just too tempting to leave out. Sometimes, the best bits are in the footnotes.

  4. Footnotes. I tend to ignore endnotes unless I'm feeling particularly studious. If they're on the same page I can't ignore them so I get more out of them.


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