Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Sunday Salon: endnotes and spoilers

Is it still the Sunday Salon if it's Monday? Oh well, here I am anyway a day late. Yesterday, as expected, I started on the project of sorting and removing the stuff from one room so that I can move stuff from another room into it. Our apartment is actually considered spacious by Japanese standards but we have way too much stuff! Too much disorganised stuff! It's a big project as I attempt to organise and cull as I go along. Anyway, it keep me busy all day and it wasn't until crawling into bed last night that I got a chance to read. I stayed up a bit late reading but I finally finished A Tale of Two Cities which feels especially nice since I've been reading it forever, so it seems. I still need to read the introduction and appendices but I've completed all 31 installments of the story itself.

One thing that disappointed me a bit while reading was the fact that the endnotes had spoilers in them. I'm a compulsive footnote and endnote reader. I always think they're added to help me understand better and I'd be missing something if I didn't read them. Plus they usually do help situate the story in history or explain some element I wouldn't have realised otherwise. I read the Penguin edition of A Tale of Two Cities and there were quite a lot of endnotes, almost all of them interesting and informative. But in the last quarter of the story, the endnotes started mentioning events to come and how the current phrase or situation related to it, so by the time I got to the end myself there was little surprise. I still enjoyed the story but as a first time reader it would've been nice to read it without spoilers.

For that reason when I read a classic for the first time, I always read the Introduction last. It's a known fact that the Introduction will have spoilers as it discusses the various merits of the story. However, this was the first time that I remember having the story spoiled for me by the endnotes. Has anyone else had this problem? I'm sure if I could go back and do it again I'd still read the endnotes because they added to the story for me. And I really can't blame Dickens for my lack of knowledge requiring them in the first place!

In other bookish news for the week, I visited Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, my favourite place to find English books in Tokyo since it seems to have the most selection, last Tuesday and came away with 2 books. A Hundred Verses from Old Japan (hyaku-nin-isshiu) is one of the most famous anthologies of Japanese classic poetry originally collected together in the 13th century. It was mentioned several times in the notes to Tales of Moonlight and Rain, and I'd heard of it previously when reading The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon. So when I spotted the English translation I simply had to take it home. The second book is A Geisha's Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice which is part memoir part photo book/coffee table book and full of gorgeous photos. As much as I love the convenience of shopping online, nothing quite compares to browsing in an actual bookstore and finding treasures you hadn't even know about.
Hope everyone has a good week!


  1. I think endnotes and footnotes can be a problem in more ways than one. Yes, they can be useful if you really need a gloss on something that has changed so significantly over the years that the general reader is unlikely to know what it's about but there is the problem that you mention and then you also get those which treat the reader as if they are an idiot and interrupt the text every few lines to tell you something that is pretty much common knowledge. The trouble is, until you get into a book it's often hard to tell what the editor's policy is going to be.

  2. Oh, that is a problem! I am sorry you encountered that, Tanabata. I haven't run into that myself thank goodness. Yet.

    Moving things out of into a room can be very exhausting. I wish you luck with your project.

  3. I have had the endnotes to a book ruin the plot for me. I used to be a compulsive endnotes reader but I got really annoyed with those notes that interrupted too often with common knowledge, as table talk mentioned, and I'm trying to break myself of the habit.

    I'm reading 'War & Peace' and decided before I started the novel to not read the endnotes until after I'd finished each volume. (A compromise to myself!) These are good endnotes - ones that are are providing historical context while not ruining the plot -- but my reason for not looking at them while reading the text is that I decided I didn't want to break the flow of my reading. This plan for this novel seems to be working for me.

  4. I wonder if they don't include the end notes assuming that the reader is already familiar with the story. If that is the case, maybe they should publish a special edition of the classics for 'first time readers' so those of us who don't want to be spoiled can go in fresh. I don't know. :)

  5. Table Talk- I know what you mean about the 'common knowledge' notes. It's true I don't usually bother with those, or the ones that simply refer you to a certain text, but I do like the informative ones. Oh well, read and learn. :)

    Literary Feline- I don't remember it happening before but I'll have to pay attention to that in the future.
    And thanks for wishing me luck. Our apartment is a bit of a disaster zone at the moment with stuff everywhere. It should hopefully be a better arrangement once I get everything sorted out where to go.

    Teresa- These notes were mostly informative which is why I wanted to continue with them. I don't know much about the French Revolution so they added context for me. There is always that risk that the endnotes will break the flow of reading. It's a hard balance. I guess we just have to figure out what works for us for each book. So how's War and Peace coming?

    Kookie- I think that's usually the case with classics. The editor is under the assumption that everyone is familiar with the story. Sometimes in the introductions they will say if you're a first time reader to not read beyond a certain point, which is good. 'First time reader' editions though are a nice idea. It's a wonder the publishers haven't already done something similar. It could only mean selling more! They already like republishing them every so often with different covers. :P

  6. The reading of W&P is going well. I'm reading the translation that recently came out and I'm enjoying it. It helps that I belong to a Yahoo group that's reading it, so I'm keeping to the schedule. I'm ready to start Volume 3 -- each volume is pretty much the length of a regular-sized novel!

  7. Teresa- Someday I will try to read W&P. Sounds like you're well into it. I really hope to read The Tale of Genji later this year though and that's a whopper too.

  8. I don't think I've ever had that problem with end notes, but definitely have had books spoiled by introductory material.

    You're so right -- there's nothing like being able to walk around and pick up the books, flip through them, read a little and just enjoy the atmosphere of a bookstore.

  9. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about "The Tale of Genji" one day - perhaps I'll be inspired to read that too ... one day ... :)

  10. I also read introductions last, although half the time I do forget to go back and look at it.

    I have never encountered endnotes that give away the ending. That would be very annoying!

  11. Nancy- It's the first time I remember the endnotes having spoilers but I guess there's always time for a first!
    Browsing bookstores is such a joy. I really do miss England sometimes but my TBR mountain range is grateful!

    Teresa- The size of it really intimidates me but I'll give it an honest try. :)

    Nyssaneala- This time I'm actually a little impatient to finish the introduction and then move on to something else, even though it is interesting.

  12. I read the introductions last, too. Finally learned my lesson! I haven't had as many problems with endnotes, but I can see that happening, too. Annoying!

  13. Gentle Reader- Having now read the introduction, I should've just read it at the beginning since there weren't any different spoilers than the ones in the endnotes. Oh well!


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