Why I Hid an Easter Egg in my Book’s Endnotes
Nearly two years ago, as I was enduring the tedious and soulsucking process of factchecking and rereading the endnotes of my book, “The Monopolists,” a horrible, existential literary question arose; Was anyone going to read this thing? And who, if anyone, was going to read my endnotes?
Endnotes, often confused with footnotes that live at the bottom of a page, is that lump of text at the end of the book, sometimes even relegated to a tiny font size. They’re often forgotten, but in nonfiction, particularly history books, but can offer a fascinating footprint into the author’s research, a joyful, geeky abyss. Robert Caro is the Michael Jordan of endnotes, a master at tucking fascinating tangents into the back pages that could risk dragging down his narrative, but still find have a home in the back for his super-curious kindred spirits.
I’d spent years on this book and beyond wondering who, besides my Dad, would buy it, I wanted to know if I could reward, or at least, wink at my most thoughtful, perhaps neurotic, readers? Did they even exist?
Like many writers, then and now, I receive my share of questions about The Future of Publishing and The Death of Media, along with false visions that as a writer, I must spend my days skipping around Brooklyn with my prose flowing from my fingertips like the pour from a kitchen faucet. Skipping, perhaps, faucet fingers, a dream. Regardless, I still have no idea where the business of the written word is headed, but in the interim, I figured it wouldn’t hurt anyone to be a bit playful.
Many of us who spent much of our childhoods (and adulthoods) with video game controllers in our sweaty paws are familiar with Easter Eggs, of the non-edible sort. An Easter Egg is a hidden joke or message designers put into a game, almost the video game equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock putting himself in his films. (Last year, Google went very meta by putting an Easter Egg in the search results for “Super Mario Bros.”) Why couldn’t book endnotes have one, too?
I’m a realist about who really reads books and who acts like they read books. It’s still thrilling even if my work is something that people even pretend they’re interested in on a first-date or at a cocktail party. It’s a tremendous ask of someone’s time and I fully allow for a multi-year buffer from publication date to let something sit on your shelf, as my own stack of literary guilt can attest.
Still, I was curious. So, on the bottom of page 295, I popped this in.
You are in the bowels of my endnotes. Bless you, you maniac. But one after my own heart. Email [email address] an anagram of your choice from the words in this book. Get a digital hug in response. It ain’t two hundred dollars, but it has spirit.
“The Monopolists” was released in hardcover and ebook February last year in hardcover and eBook. (A shameless plug that it comes out this week in paperback.)
My wait had begun.
It took less than a month before Dr. Wayne Saunders arrived in my inbox. “words = sword.”
Elated, I gave Saunders, who is semi-retired in San Diego, a call. He was kind enough to endure my questions and it became clear that it was no surprise he was first. Saunders is an amateur historian and collector of games, who views board games like art or any other collectable. “It’s kind of like Darwin,” Saunders told me. “I spent years accumulating these things and now I’m sitting down and writing.”
Much to my surprise, the responses didn’t end with Dr. Saunders, several dozen more fluttering in as the weeks rolled on. Most of them were not from journalists or historians and only one came from someone I actually knew, Joe DeLessio, a former colleague of mine from New York magazine. One reader, Jason Mankoff, said he found the anagram prompt during a three-hour wait for a tow truck followed by a four-hour delayed flight and likened reading endnotes to being “one who always stays for the credits in a movie.”
Much like film, authors spend a fair amount of time alone in the creative process, tossing their work out into what can feel like an abyss, void of real people. My anagram friends were a lovely reminder that is far from the case and raised my spirits about the enduring power of bibliophilia. So, in that spirit, here are some my favorites from those rare and wonderful souls who hung out in the theater a bit longer. Thank you.
Joseph McGarry “Mint Any Pool”.
Gary Lensenmayer From the chapter titled Autopia Called Arden- “Educational lap read.”
Kirk House “RESTRAIN” and “STRAINER”
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins “The Monopolists by Mary Pilon” and is something that Charles Darrow might have admitted if deposed: “No sly hobo, I stole my map print.”
Mike Emeigh “Ralph Anspach” can be anagrammed as “car lap nap shh”, Emleigh said, “which is what my chihuahua does when my wife and I take him on a trip.”
Justin Hendrickson “ANTIMONOPOLY = O TINY LAMPOON”
Linda Wilhelm “slipup” on page 151 becomes “pupils.”