Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Masters of the Footnote

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. We are talking about footnotes here, not endnotes.On webpages, sidenotes work best because they eliminate scrolling. I almost spent more time getting the sidenotes functional then actually writing content. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of the same page that they are referenced in. Endnotes are those annoying notes placed at the back of the book. Endnotes require the use of an extra bookmark as well as the patience of Job as you sort through the many Ibids and horribly long journal article titles hoping to find an enjoyable anecdote. While endnotes frustrate and bore, footnotes, in the hands of a master, elucidate and entertain. When I first thought about this topic three names immediately came to mind as Masters of the Footnote. In the hands of lesser men the footnote is as dull as an old butter knife. In the hands of these three mighty men the footnote is as honed as a new Kramer knifeAs featured on Top Chef Season 10. I’m coming for you too FoodRiot.

3. Bill Simmons – The editor and chief of ESPN’s and author of the NY Times best seller The Book of Basketball, Simmons’ is famous for his use of footnotes and thankfully his style has spread to the rest of Grantland’s contributorsWhich I have blatantly copied here.. Simmons’ massive book comes in at over 700 pages and it must have over 1000 footnotes. Yup, you did the math right, that’s more than one footnote per page. The book is so big it can even stop bullets:

And every footnote brings the funny starting with the first that takes a swipe at 19x NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “That’s the first of about 300 unprovoked shots at Kareem in this book. Just warning you now. Kareem was a ninny”.

2. David Foster Wallace – Full disclosure, I’ve yet to read Infinite Jest, which based on reputation could very well put DFW in the #1 spot on this list. In fact, I’ve just started my DFW journey and (following BookRiot’s path) have only read A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a collection of non-fiction essays. However, the footnotes of the titular essay (in which DFW writes about his experiences on a cruise ship) are just mind blowingly awesome. Frank Conroy’s admission of how the cruise ship operators paid him to write a positive review about Celebrity cruises ("I just prostituted myself"), Captain Video (a lone man determined to videotape every second of the cruise who ended up inspiring a mutiny against his efforts when he interfered in a conga line), and a rant on the professional smile (how every waiter, room cleaner, etc. always has a smile), are just a few of the many footnotes that had me rolling.

1. Mark Z. Danielewski – I have never read anything like Danielewski’s House of LeavesTo hopefully elaborate, how one usually scrutinizes expositions is somehow barely appropriate due to Danielewski's structure.. It begins with a man named Johnny Truant finding a book written by a man named Zampano. Zampano's book is an academic critique of a movie (which according to Truant doesn’t exist) filmed by a man named Will Navidson about his very strange house. Confused yet? Well just wait. The book begins with a description of how Truant finds Zampano’s book and then you are reading Zampano’s book while Truant’s story continues in that book’s footnotes. And the footnotes have footnotes leading to other pages and pretty soon you are lost and OHMYGODWHEREAMIHELP!?!?! I can’t convey how Danielewski’s structure/design/footnotes/etc. completely mirror the events taking place within the book without spoiling the awesomeness of encountering it for the first time so I won’t. But if you like to be scaredA psychological scare. A we can't see the monster that is chasing us scare. and you don't mind getting lost in the dark (and footnotes and appendices and indexes) then you should really check out this book.

So what about you? What do you think about footnotes? Are there some obvious masters of the footnotes I’ve missed?

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