index this!

Walt writes that he is done with C&I Volume 5. If you’re a reader of Cites & Insights, you’ve probably already downloaded and printed out the latest issue, as have I (though I haven’t read it all yet). I was particularly delighted, however, to be able to download and print out the index [.pdf] to the whole volume.

I love indexes (or indices, if you prefer). So far as I know, the C&I index is the first one in which I appear, which gives it a certain added appeal, but I like pretty much any old index.

For one thing, an index is kind of a paper version of a tag cloud. Go pull a biography off the shelf and flip through the index. Chances are that some terms will have several lines of pages listed after them, while some will have only one or two. Some will also have sub-index terms underneath, rather like the sub-subjects in the OPAC tag cloud that everyone’s been talking about. I’ve also always thought that a good index reads rather like a bit of found poetry.

And then, of course, there’s what I have always considered to be the greatest literary reference to indices: Chapter 44 of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, called “Never Index Your Own Book.”

“It’s a revealing thing, an author’s index of his own work,” she informed me. “It’s a shameless exhibition—to the trained eye.”
“She can read character from an index,” said her husband.
“Oh? I said. “What can you tell about Philip Castle?”
She smiled faintly. “Thing’s I’d better not tell strangers.”

Want to know what? Well, as we say in my readers’ advisory class, if you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book.

Technical notes for this entry: I’m trying Blogger for Word for the first time. We’ll see how it works. [Update: I wrote this in Word, but I’m going to be posting via Blogger, since so far as I can see, Blogger for Word is not for Mac. Furthermore, I was unable to cut and paste from Word to Blogger, so I had to cut and paste to Text Edit, then cut and paste from there to Blogger, then put in all the links again. Poopy.] I consulted several books in the course of writing this entry—a dictionary, because I was curious about whether there was a preferred plural form for the word index (not really, though indexes was listed first in The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), which was what happened to be closest), and a copy of Cat’s Cradle, because I couldn’t remember the exact title of the chapter, and because I wanted to use a quotation. I know there are many wonderful online dictionaries, both free and fee, plus of course that handy Google operator, define: X, but I never think to use them. It did occur to me to try out Google Book Search to see if Cat’s Cradle had been scanned, which it doesn’t seem to have been, though there are plenty of books that reference it. A search for “never index your own book,” however, did turn up this little gem, which I’d love to read. Google, oh, Google, why do you not synch yourselves with Find in a Library?

3 thoughts on “index this!”

  1. Thanks for the post. The index to C&I is a pretty good example of why indexing your own book isn’t a hot idea; it’s a mediocre index, but the best I could justify doing. (In other words, laziness and lack of professional indexing skills…)

    I’ve indexed two or three of the books I’ve published (it’s expensive to have a pro do it). The newest, First have something to say, was professionally indexed ($ouch). I suspect the difference in quality is apparent…


  2. I’ve been using the A9 search engine with the “books” box checked for that sort of thing. “Cat’s Cradle Index” got me a link to a page in Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature. And I learned that Philip Castle was self-indulgent.

    Thanks! Fun post. I usually use on-line dictionaries or a little dictionary I have on my computer, but I always pull the physical Roget’s Thesaurus off the shelf when I want to really explore words.


  3. Ooh–A9 + books–must remember that for future such inquiries. There’s more to tell about Mr. Castle, but we won’t ruin it for the other readers.

    The C&I index seemed as though it would be useful, but I suppose the real test comes when I actually want to find something, rather than when I’m just looking through it idly.


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