Footnotes in E-books In General and Play Books Specifically

I’ve been reading e-books exclusively for a few years now with no complaints. My switch away from physical books began when I decided to reduce the amount of clutter in the house, and the realization that I had a ton of books in the attic. It didn’t long to get use to reading on my phone, especially once I got the hang of it. What I like about e-books.

  • The ability to read them on multiple devices without losing your place
  • The ability to increase or decrease the font size
  • Being able to read with white text on a black background (saves battery)
  • In-app access to a dictionary
  • Translations from any language (even Latin) with a simple long press or highlight.

It also helps that they don’t cause clutter. Even my husband, who still prefers reading physical books, enjoys tossing an e-book in the mix. And now that we use the Google Play Family Plan, we can share our library with each other, which solved the one downfall we had with e-books.

Because I don’t read academic books, I thought I’d experienced everything about e-books… and then I picked up a copy of  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This is not going to be a book review, although I suggest you read it, especially if you’re a Dickens fan. This book has a lot of footnotes that you can get to with a simple tap. I was never so pleased to have easy access to the footnotes. In Play Books  the footnote hovers over the page the way a translation or definition does. After you’ve read the footnote, you just swipe it away.


This made for easy reading, especially since you don’t have to go to the back of the book every time you’re interested in reading the footnote. I can only imagine how great this must be for academic books.

The HTML for this is simple. Each footnote has its own ID for reference inside the HTML documents for both chapter and footer. Notice how the ID is different for both the footer document and chapter document. The A tags can surround just the footer number (as in this example) or any text you wish.

In the chapter document:
<a id=”ich01fn1″/><a class=”nounder” href=”footer.html#ch01fn1″><span class=”super”><sup>1</sup></span></a>

In the footnote document:
<p class=”footnote”><a id=”ch01fn1″/><a class=”nounder” href=”ch01.html#ich01fn1″>1</a>

Since the only e-reader app I use is Play Books, I’m not sure how other apps handle footnotes. However, this simple HTML shows that no matter which program you use, going back and forth is very easy.


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