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Archive for November 6th, 2021

Two takes on amberique bean

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Not so long ago I showed an August 22nd picture of amberique bean (Strophostyles helvula or helvola) and I mentioned not often seeing that plant around Austin. Well, on September 30th near Bull Creek I found some more. By then the yellowing leaves offered a bit of early fall color.

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Why don’t things that are easily fixed get fixed?

Non-fiction books used to have footnotes. As “foot” implies, each footnote appeared at the bottom of a page and corresponded to a sentence higher up on the same page. That made it easy to match the little number at the end of a sentence with the matching numbered footnote below. For whatever reason—perhaps because book designers prefer pages to have a single kind of formatting—footnotes have now mostly given way to endnotes, which appear as a group at the back of the book.

One immediate disadvantage to using endnotes is that if you want to see a note you can’t just look down at the bottom of the page but have to flip to the back of the book and hunt for the matching note. Complicating the search is that the numbering of the notes starts all over with each new chapter, so you have to know which chapter you’re currently in. While some books repeat the title of the chapter at the top of each page or double-page spread, almost no books tell you the number of the chapter at the top of the page. So first you have to thumb back until you find the beginning of the chapter you’re in so you know its number. Then you run into the same problem in the endnotes, where the chapter number is usually given only at the beginning of each section of notes; if the section of notes for a chapter continues for several pages, as often happens, then past the first page of that section you can’t tell what chapter the notes correspond to.

One easy fix for the problem is to put the chapter number at the top of every double-page spread of text and again at the top of every double-page spread of endnotes.

Another fix would be sequential numbering of the notes from the beginning of the book to the end, rather than starting the numbering over with each new chapter—just as page numbers are consecutive and don’t restart with each new chapter. With consecutive numbering of notes, chapter numbers become irrelevant and all you have to do is search for the note number you want in the section at the back. (Some people might object that continuous footnote numbers in a big book could run to four digits, but I have confidence that people who are reading big books with lots of notes in the first place can handle four digits.)

Another solution is the one adopted in the book I’m currently reading, Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge. Note numbers do start over with each new chapter, but in the notes section at the back of the book, the top of each page tells you what pages in the book the notes match up with, for example “Notes to Pages 238–49.” That way, before turning to the back of the book, all you have to do is see what page of text the number you’re interested in is on, then look for that page number at the end. That eliminates the need to know which chapter a note refers to.

Or, best of all, publishers could just go back to good old footnotes and save us the annoyance of repeatedly flipping back and forth between text and endnotes.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2021 at 4:35 AM

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