By Matthew Yglesias
I had a plan worked out in my head for what I was going to say, but then I clicked over to the blog and found that Dylan already expressed all my views on this subject. But to some up, Dylan and I are apparently identical people who both don’t like reading fiction but were tempted into Infinite Jest by the fact that (1) David Foster Wallace writes a lot of non-fiction and “seemed like a nonfiction fan’s novelist” and (2) “In an earlier life, I had a mild obsession with provincial Canadian politics, and IJ involves Québécois separatism.” I’ll just offer Dylan the advice to always make sure to scan The Courses of Instruction and see if Harvard ever again offers “Introduction to Canadian Politics” as a class—I took it and learned a lot, not least about how difficult it is to get a good grade in an “Introduction to Canadian Politics” class that’s mostly populated by Canadians.
So instead, let’s talk about the endnotes. This is annoying! Notes quo notes are a cute idea, but everyone knows that it’s more convenient for the reader to use footnotes rather than endnotes. Publishers don’t like footnotes, however, because it makes it more complicated to lay the book out. So non-fiction writers are typically forced into endnotes, which prevents you from doing any discursive notes because that will antagonize readers. And yet here’s Wallace deliberately antagonizing us with his endnotes. Presumably the point here is to get across not only the text of the notes, but something about the tactile experience of flipping back and forth and constantly losing your place. Except I’m reading the book on a Kindle, so the experience is actually different—you click on a little thingy and jump to the note, then click again and you jump right back. This is, I think, less convenient than a footnote in a conventional book, but more convenient than an endnote. So, internet, am I actually missing something important by having this greater convenience?