I don’t have an e-reader device (I’m afraid I’d spend too much on the many books I thought interesting, and few of these are available for free, electronically, from my libraries. Perhaps everybody will soon have an e-reader that handles this situation seamlessly, and this post will be even more useless than I already suspect it is.). So I read a lot of physical books, and many of these are non-fiction books with useful endnotes.
A few years ago, I changed the way I use bookmarks.
I used to just leave the bookmark where I’d left off in the main text, and when I started to read I’d move the bookmark out of the way (to a random spot elsewhere in the book, or on my lap or side). When I would encounter an endnote reference mark, I would sometimes (if the context was sufficiently interesting) bother to flip to the end of the book and find the corresponding endnote, and then (after reading the endnote) I’d let go of that page and return to my reading in the main text. This system caused me to rarely read endnotes, because there was a non-trivial cost to finding the endnote and risk that the flow would be interrupted so much for trivial endnotes that I’d lose my focus on the subject.
Now, what I do is place (or leave) the bookmark in the corresponding place in the Endnotes section of the book, so that I can easily flip back and forth between the main text and the endnotes. Also, when I finish reading, if my bookmark is long and flexible enough (it’s usually just a slip of paper) I use it to mark the current locations in both the main text and the endnotes.
I find that I now read almost all of the endnotes, and I’m getting more out of books than I would have otherwise. For example, I’m now reading The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris (and enjoying it a lot), and I’m finding the endnotes a very useful supplement to the main text (although I understand why he chose to separate this content).
This all seems like such an obvious thing to do, I wonder if I’m the only person who hasn’t always done this routinely. But, since it did take me so long to adopt it (and because my blog posts have become so infrequent), I figured I’d go ahead an post it so that it might be useful to others.