Publishers have defiled the work of at least two of my favorite authors, and I am sure there are more to come. What is the dubious nature of these putrescent literary obscenities? End Notes. There is a disturbing trend in which even books that are geared toward educated readers are being published without footnotes. This is unacceptable and I demand that all such activity cease and desist immediately. I present two comparisons to make my case, N.T. Wright and Miroslav Volf. I do understand that their careers and ministries resemble the body of work produced by bands like Aerosmith or Metallica. In Rock n’ Roll and Metal terms, they were purists, pounding audiences with unadulterated music – archetypes of a genre – then, as they became more popular, their music had to become more accessible to the tastes of the consumerist masses. They turned out music that had the obvious gloss of marketing and brand recognition. Music producers and agents did to their music what publishers are doing to the likes of Wright and Volf.
In fairness, the analogy fails on some points, I know. Wright and Volf have a pastoral duty to make the kinds of important things they say to Christendom accessible to all of the Church. I just don’t think that those of us who see the utility of footnotes should have to suffer through reading works with end notes, that’s all. Here are a couple of examples for you to make your own comparison. First, look at the Grawemeyer winning book by Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. You’re not even done reading the first ten pages before you realize the depth of study that went into Volf’s writing. You get comments, asides, and further discussion about the content that drives the thesis of the book. It’s like you’re in a dialogue of sorts with the author. The Climax of the Covenant, is a great example of the same kind of experience being created with footnotes from the work of Bishop Wright. On the other hand, you get to works like Wright’s “Justification” or Volf’s “Free of Charge” (the book I am currently reading), and you have a completely different experience waiting for you. There is no longer the comfort of knowing you can glance down and get bibliographic information for a source, further insight from the author, or an explication of some complicated point. No, No… now you have to devise some system for keeping your place in two locations of the book: your progress in the material and your progress in the notes must be maintained simultaneously. I know what you might be thinking, “what a lazy bastard!” And, ordinarily, I might agree with you if it wasn’t for the fact that this causes more than the inconvenience of having to have two bookmarks (which, incidentally, you’d think the publisher could provide for the premium price we’re paying for books these days). It is about the fact that I am taken out of the rhythm of my reading to go looking for information that might as well be easily accessible at the bottom of the page. Now, if the examples I cited were more popular works like Wright’s, “Surprised by Hope” that is intended for the consumption of laity, then I could understand the use of end notes (or no notes at all).
There are, then, at least three reasons I hate End Notes. First, I like the feeling of “dialogue” that footnotes seem to create between me and the author. Not unlike when the groundbreaking series Saved by the Bell used Zack Morris to break the “fourth wall” over and over again. I feel like the barrier between me and the author is lessened when I get the notes (some of them amounting to nothing more than asides, which I like). Second, I get into a rhythm reading. It’s like a dance – the author leads my thinking around the virtual room of my mind, moving to the beat of the argument that is being unfolded. When I have to stop to go read an end note, I feel like the band has quit playing in the middle of the song. My mental interaction with the argument of the book is interrupted when I have to go fishing for a note. Lastly, it’s just inconvenient.