Footnotes & End Notes

I know, I know . . . footnotes tend to be tedious and end notes annoying (all that flipping backing and forth!). Which is why we should celebrate the exceptions -- those not-so-few and exceedingly proud.

(1) Allen C. Shelton's bizarre book, Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, came out this fall with very little fanfare, but has over the winter knocked the socks off a few of our booksellers. A sociologist by trade, Shelton is a writer of Southern Gothic at heart. No summary would do justice to his baroque weaving of biography and cultural analysis. It simply must be experienced, likely in repeated readings. Those who are averse to end notes may at first squirm, his book nearly divided evenly between main text and notes, but the ping-ponging back and forth comes with its rewards. Here are two of my favorite examples from his copious notes, both about water:

43. A feral cat had wandered into the yard and the dogs had caught sight of the animal. One of the dogs was a hound called Smoky. He was a large blue tick. His bark was a low booming roar. There were at least two other dogs. Mom and I were outside. We saw the cat streaking across the grass with the dogs right behind it. How my mother was able to catch the cat is a miracle. She picked the animal up in her arms to save it from being torn apart. The cat bit her, leaving a deep cut on her forearm. She dropped it and the dogs were on it. In desperation, the cat jumped into the lake and tried to swim away. This lake had a hole in its deepest part through which all the water drained away every summer. The dogs jumped in and the cat was done for. They tore it to pieces. The barking stopped. The cat’s carcass half sank into the muddy water. My mother was treated for rabies. The shots were extremely painful. I have been terrified of these shots since I was a small child and read about Louis Pasteur in my child’s encyclopedia. My mother stepped in front of fate and she bore it.
70. [...] I’m not an especially religious man, though some would quibble with that. I’ve read the Bible. I used to be quite proficient in what Southern Baptists call sword drill. I could whip to any book and verse in the Bible called out. That was years ago. I still have several Bibles. I used to preach to the Pentecostals from a black lamb-leather New Jerusalem translation. It was a Catholic Bible and many were worried. At a church retreat in Panama City, Florida, I did a teaching from a translation of the New Testament by Richard Lattimore, the Greek scholar who translated the Iliad and the Odyssey. The cover had a close-up of a putrefying corpse’s face. The eyes were open. The cheeks were purple. He was looking for Jesus. The rawness of the translation caused confusion. As I read the familiar passage of Jesus walking on the sea’s surface, stripped of the King James English, hands went into the air grabbing for Jesus as if they, like Peter were sinking. Several began speaking in tongues. There was a liquidness to the sound that slowly covered their mouths as if they were now underwater.


(2) Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Dante's Inferno has been justifiably praised since it was released. Hers is an exquisite modern rendering of the masterpiece, and will for many beckon a return visit to Hell. Easily missed, though, at the reader's loss, are Bang's Translator Notes.


 (3) This one is cheating a little. Okay, it's cheating a lot. Need we, after all, an excuse to listen to Patty Smith recite, with musical accompaniment, Allen Ginsberg's "Footnote to Howl"? I think not. (Oh, and as it is Allen Ginsberg and all ... NSFW!)