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Jump to: [ On the Need for and on the Value of Indexes | On Indexing | On Indexers | Indexes in Fiction | On Freelancers and Freelancing | Postscript | Rationale for this Collection ]

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
"Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?"
Actually who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some of us.
It is in everyone.
And as we let our light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
-- "Our Greatest Fear," by Marianne Williamson, as quoted by Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Address 1994
Acceptance is like the fertile soil that permits a tiny seed to develop into the lovely flower it is capable of becoming.
The soil only enables the seed to become the flower. It releases the capacity of the seed to grow, but the capacity is entirely within the seed.
-- Dr. Thomas Gordon, Nobel Peace Prize nominee

On the Need for and on the Value of Indexes

In 2004, Williams-Sonoma shipped out 56 versions of its flagship Mother's Day catalog, each one just slightly different from the others. Some versions varied the number of products on the cutlery layout or included a letter from the company founder, for example. Others included an index. Then, the company took sales data from each version and analyzed which changes generated the best sales. Among the findings: While most changes didn't make much difference, four did, each by increasing sales in the catalogs by up to 7%. Among the tweaks that boosted performance: adding an index and including a tear-out recipe card.
-- "Catalogs, Catalogs, Everywhere," Business Week, Dec. 4, 2006
The Washington Read: Dear Chris, Thanks for the warm inscription in Hardball. I immediately flipped to the index and went through pages 36, 77, 95-96, 202, 206. Having emerged unscathed, I'll now happily read the full book. Thanks and best of luck with Hardball.
-- George Bush to Chris Matthews, author of Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game, as quoted in "The Washington Read," The Washington Post, Sunday, July 2, 2006, B1
It's hard to understand the poor-quality index, glossary, and table of contents that mar the book's value. Navigational aids are just as important in books as they are on Web sites. Using Sun.com as an example, I find a clear set of links on the home page, well-organized site maps and a search function. These tools let me find what I want quickly on this content-rich site.
I can't say the same about this book. Network designers who want to find specific answers quickly will be disappointed with the skimpy 2 1/2 page index (followed by three pages of publisher's ads) near the end of this 400-page tome. The glossary defines some terms well, others poorly, and still others not at all. The ten-page table of contents must have come from a beginner's word processing template. For example, few guideposts helped me wade through four pages of headings for the 140-page Chapter Five ("Server Network Interface Cards: Datalink and Physical Layer"). Large, content-rich web sites are hard to use without good navigational aids, and the same goes for reference books like this.
-- Luigi Benetton, "Sun text has lots tips and tricks but table of contents and index need work," Communications & Networking, April 2005, Vol. 8 No. 4, ITBusiness.ca
The single most valuable design feature is a comprehensive index.
-- Don Bush, "The Friendly Editor: Three Types of Editing," intercom, November 2002
Obviously, in doing research I cannot read all of every important book, but I have made myself adept at reading indexes, a skill I recommend to would-be writers; I see in the indexes reminders of topics of which I am interested, but, of equal value, I see notations about ramifications that had not occurred to me.
-- James A. Michener, The World is My Home
There is no greater authorial sin than releasing a book without an index. It should even be made an indictable offence.
-- S.R. Ranganathan, Library Book Selection
As I said, an index makes sense of things. Mine does, now. Jowell, Martin: schooldays, see under Bullying; Mother, see under Complicated relationship with; Marriage, see under Misery and Misunderstanding; Happiness in middle years, see under Preston, see under Chesterfield Library, epiphany at, see under Gay, see under joy, see under Relief.
See under Love.
-- Deborah Moggach, "How to Divorce Your Son." Good Housekeeping, August 2000
Find out one of these books with an alphabetical index, and without any further ceremony, remove it verbatim into your own ... at least, such a flourishing train of attendants will give your book a fashionable air, and recommend it for sale.
-- Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
The inclusion of an index is, of course, not enough in itself. It must be a good index.
-- The London Times, 8/15/1957
Professional indexing by a human being has become a quaint concept. At best, you can expect to get full-text searching in an online document, but that's a poor substitute for a real index. More often, though, you get a travesty generated by some half-bright indexing program-or no index at all.
-- Stephen Manes, PC World Magazine, June 2001
If there is no index, the book is probably not worth reading.
-- William J. Casey, How to read a book, 1983
In truth, a very large part of every man's reading falls overboard, and unless he has good indexes he will never find it again.
-- Horace Binney (1780-1875), Letter to S.A. Allibone
So essential do I consider an Index to be to every book, that I proposed to bring a Bill into Parliament to deprive an author who publishes a book without an index of the privilege of copyright; and, moreover, to subject him, for his offence, to a pecuniary penalty.
-- Baron Campbell (1799-1861; Lord Chancellor 1859)
By far, the index is considered to be the most important software documentation support feature.
-- Dataquest Desktop Software Support Group (1993)
The jury in the Whitewater fraud trial went into its 24th hour of deliberation yesterday, sending out a public message of despair and bafflement when they asked the judge for an index to cover 700 exhibits, all complex documents.
-- The Guardian, 1996
Mega biblion, mega kakon
[A big book is a big evil.]
-- Callimachus, Librarian at Alexandria, 3rd century B.C.
And in such indexes, although small pricks
To their subsequent volumes, there is seen
The baby figure of the giant mass
Of things to come.
-- Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
Recording the first human genetic text, the genome is a little like discovering a copy of life's encyclopedia. But there is no index, no table of contents, no headings, no nothing... In short, there is no efficient way to extract the ocean of information the genome contains. Until it's annotated, it doesn't come close to providing the value that is there.
-- Dr. David Valle, colleague of Dr. Victor McKusick, father of medical genetics, Johns Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun, July 1, 2000
If I were asked to describe the condition of human knowledge, the image of an army occurs to me an army that has been put to flight or, dispersed and plundering the land, has not retained any semblance of order. Or, to use a more appropriate image: it seems to me that the apparatus of contemporary scholarship is comparable to a very large store which, though it keeps a great variety of goods, yet is totally confused and in disorder, because all items are mixed up, because no numbers or letters of an index are displayed, and because inventories or account ledgers which could throw some light on the matter are missing. The larger the mass of collected things, the less will be their usefulness. Therefore, one should not only strive to assemble new goods from everywhere, but one must endeavor to put in the right order those that one already possesses.
-- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz
Let us now turn to Kant. It has become a commonplace that he taught the ideality of space and time and that this was a fundamental, if not the most fundamental part of his teaching. Like most of it, it can be neither verified nor falsified, but it does not lost interest on this account (rather it gains; if it could be proved or disproved it would be trivial). The meaning is that, to be spread out in space and to happen in a well-defined temporal order of before and after is not a quality of the world that we perceive, but pertains to the perceiving mind which in its present situation anyhow, cannot help registering anything that is offered to it according to these two card-indexes, space and time. It does not mean that the mind comprehends these order-schemes irrespective of, and before, any experience, but that it cannot help developing them and applying them to experience when this comes along, and particularly that this fact does not prove or suggest space and time to be an order-scheme inherent in that thing-in-itself which, as some believe, causes our experience.
-- Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life?
The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader's way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter, peradventure interspersed.
-- Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia
Hazel Bell's indexes to The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, though not designed as author's aids, were very helpful for that purpose.
-- A.S. Byatt, "Acknowledgements," Babel Tower
A reference or teaching book is only as good as its index. This one by far the most intelligent in any of my books was prepared by Pat Kelly, one of the founders of The Culinary Historians of Boston.
-- Julia Child, "Introduction," The Way To Cook
Tending his grandfather's memory, [Alexander (Sandy) Rower] has discovered his calling. "I feel extremely rich when I have taken a box of papers and classified them," he says. "As a box of papers, they don't exist. As classified documents, they are an extremely valuable resource."
-- Kay Larson, "Keeping Grandpa Calder's Legacy in the Family," The New York Times, March 22, 1998
The ocean flows of online information are all streaming together, and the access tools are becoming absolutely critical. If you don't index it, it doesn't exist. It's out there but you can't find it, so it might as well not be there.
-- Barbara Quint, ASI San Diego Conference, May 1994
The value of information lies in how it is organized. An index adds value that never existed in the original material.
-- Neil Larson, software designer, 1989
The book is portable, pleasing to hold, has an amazingly simple interface (table of contents, chapters, index), and is easy to access quickly.
-- Craig Bartholomew, general manager of Microsoft Corp.'s Reference Group
The value of any book of nonfiction will be enhanced with a well-prepared index; without one, although the text may contain a wealth of information, the subject matter is largely inaccessible.
-- Words into Type
Every serious book of nonfiction should have an index if it is to achieve its maximum usefulness.
-- The Chicago Manual of Style
A book needs a good index for many reasons, not the least of which is that potential purchasers, while browsing in a bookstore, use the table of contents and the index as tools for deciding whether or not to purchase the book.
-- David Holzgang, "The All-Important Index," TidBITS
If a book is valuable, you'll use it in two ways. First, you'll read through it front to back, and during that time, the index will be the last thing on your mind. Once you've completed the book, however, you'll want to refer back to it repeatedly, and when you start to use the book in that way, the index will instantly be promoted to the first rank of relevant features. Bear that in mind when you're looking through a book for the first time. Think of some topics that are important to you, then see if you can find them quickly through the index. Different people think in different ways, so a good index will list a topic under a number of different headings.
-- Scott Myers
Indexes are among those necessary but never spectacular products of hard as well as skilled work that can sometimes make the difference between a book and a good book.
-- index review in Books Ireland, February 1994
The chief purpose of an index is distillation, and in performing that task it can manage to suggest a life's incongruities with a concision that the most powerful biographical stylist will have trouble matching. The index to My Turn, the story of Nancy Reagan's life, is full of juxtapositions that, as they say, Say It All. "Screen Actors Guild" immediately precedes "SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative)"; Jimmy Stewart is one line above Potter Stewart; the comedian Danny Thomas comes just before the Washington reporter Helen Thomas....
As for the author's own pleasures, there are few keener than seeing the index to his book.... It hardly matters how fleeting are the appearances of some of the indexed items in the text of the book he's written. How learned the author feels just seeing those hundreds of alphabetized subjects and names, and how organized, as if someone had finally gone into his brain and all for the gentle reader's sake put those heaps of clutter into a gleaming row of file cabinets.
-- Thomas Mallon, "The Best Part of Every Book Comes Last," New York Times Book Review, 10 March 1991 -- The index was written by Jessica Fields, who says, "I've stopped doing the work, but I still have strong opinions about what makes a good index and count that time as among the most interesting work I did."
The index for a book is one of the most important features that the book has. As a reader, I find a good index makes using a book a pleasure and a poor index makes finding anything a real chore.
-- David Holzgang, "The All-Important Index," TidBITS
The claim that university presses have abandoned the defining feature of the scholarly book notes, bibliographies and indexes will find little support here. All are indexed, three include bibliographies and half the nonreference books have notes.
-- James Shapiro, "Yes, A Big Seller Can Have Footnotes," The New York Times Book Review, June 15, 1997
As an academic reference librarian who selects reference books, I can tell you the index is definitely [sic] a factor in purchasing decisions. Acquisitions librarians, who select materials for the rest of the library, also look for evidence of a good index, whether an item is individually selected or on an approval plan.
Maybe the best evidence for the importance of the index in library purchasing decisions can be found by looking at the standard journals librarians use for book reviews, such as Library Journal, ARBA (American Reference Books Annual), etc. The review of the book ALWAYS mentions, in the very least, whether or not the book includes an index. This information is so important it is part of the citation, right along with the author, title, publisher, pages, price, and ISBN. Some reviews will evaluate the index as well.
-- Kathleen Fischer, INDEX-L, 9 May 1997
What would be thought of an architect who built a large house and left it without staircases for exploration?
What, then, shall be said of an author or publisher who sends a book into the world without an Index?
-- Correspondence of the N.Y. Tribune, 10/27/1860
So essential did I consider an Index to be to every book, that I proposed to bring a Bill into parliament to deprive an author who publishes a book without an Index of the privilege of copyright; and, moreover, to subject him, for his offence, to a pecuniary penalty.
-- Baron Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices
John Baynes, like all true lovers of books, dearly loved an index; and the mention of his name in the Quarterly has recalled to my memory the anathema which he pronounced against every author who ventured to publish his book without that, as he considered, indispensable accompaniment. The awful curse pronounced by the Cardinal of Rheims, as recorded by Ingoldsby, and Lord Campbell's well-known denunciation of all such offenders are very merciful, milk-and-water affairs, compared with what John Baynes pronounced and dear old Francis Douce repeated to me in his grand sonorous voice, with an emphasis which almost made me tremble:
Sir, my friend John Baynes used to say, that the man who published a book without an index ought to be damned ten miles beyond Hell, where the Devil could not get for stinging nettles.
-- William Thoms, Notes and Queries, August 4, 1877
Paz's prose is incisive, ... He navigates with ease through intellectual history, pondering Buddhism, Taoism, Gnosticism, and the Bible, Greek and Hellenistic thinkers, and medieval, renaissance and modern artists. In one page he might be commenting on Santa Teresa de Jesus and in the next he is discussing Marquis de Sade, Mumsaid Shikubu, Ramon Lopez Velarde, and John Donne. (An index is urgently needed.)
-- Ilan Stevens, "What Makes the World Go Round," Washington Post Book World, 7 July 1995
As you can see, this is a popcorn book, one to be nibbled a bit at a time, and at random. Unfortunately, that's how you have to read it. Strickland has included a table of contents indicating where you'll find quotes on training, the first ride, women in cycling, crashes, etc., but he erred in omitting an index.... Interested in finding all of Ernest Hemingway's quotes? Want to know what the racer Eddie Merckx had to say? You're on your own.
-- Robert P. Laurence, review of The Quotable Cyclist, Bill Strickland, ed., San Diego Union-Tribune BOOKS, 13 July 1997
If you don't find it in the index, look very carefully through the entire catalogue.
-- Sears, Roebuck, and Co., Consumer's Guide, 1897
Besides offering a handy reference, the index is a useful aid for planning remedial and review exercises. When students reveal that they have not yet mastered a particular concept, the instructor, by consulting the index, can guide them to review the appropriate frames.
-- Joseph Blumenthal, "Preface," English 3200 Third Edition with Index
The secret to this book's success is that it is so well-organized.... The index is long and detailed, but easy to use. Many items are cross-referenced in several locations within the index. This allows readers to find answers fast.
-- Suzanne A. Smith, review of The MFC Answer Book by Eugene Kain, 13 Jan 1999
An index a day keeps the telephone calls away.
-- Jan Wright, Wright Information Indexing Services
Rolf's Date: I can read you like an open book.
Rolf Fusco: You may find that I'm difficult to read.... when I had my appendix out, I also had them remove my index.
-- The Fusco Brothers

On Indexing

I hurled the covers onto the floor, put on my slippers, and padded out to the office. I would work on my index, a hideous, thankless task of epic proportions. If I started now, perhaps I'd be done by the turn of the next millenium.
-- Susan Kandel, Not a Girl Detective: A Cece Caruso Mystery (page 174), with thanks to Diane Ehernberger, Big Sky Indexing
I had a strict rule, which I think secret services follow, too: no piece of information is superior to any other. Poser lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them.
-- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum
Compiling indexes is the only thing that keeps me sane. Out of chaos, it creates order. There is a certain beauty in it -- sorting out priorities, making connections.
-- Deborah Moggach, "How to divorce your son." Good Housekeeping, August 2000
The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.
-- Blaise Pascal (1670)
Though completeness is an ideal in any index, it is chimerical. Doing an index is a lesson to end all lessons in the vagueness and subjectivity of human categories. I have tried to compensate for inevitable lacunae and subjective mismatches with readers' minds by indexing most major topics in several different ways.
-- Douglas R. Hofstadter, Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
When I tell people that I am working on an index to a book, they tend to hang their heads in sorrow. I tell them that compiling an index for a book is a lot more fun than writing a book could ever be, a relaxing jaunt from A to Z compared with a jerky stop-start trek without maps.
-- Craig Brown, Times Saturday Review, 21 July 1990
The human brain and eye remain the best instruments for designing index entries and pinpointing references that the index should carry, but the human hand cannot compete with the computer's speed and accuracy in sorting, arranging, and printing out entries.
-- Mary Jo Kline, A Guide to Documentary Editing
Indexing is a specialized skill, and deserves respect.
-- David Holzgang, "The All-Important Index," TidBITS
Indexing work is not recommended to those who lack an orderly mind and a capacity for taking pains. A good index is a minor work of art but it is also the product of clear thought and meticulous care.
-- Peter Farrell, How to Make Money from Home
The labour and patience, the judgement and penetration which are required to make a good index, is only known to those who have gone through this most painful, but least praised part of a publication.
-- William Oldys (1696-1761)
I wonder whether there is any profession in which a knowledge of one's tongue is of the slightest use.
-- T.E. Lawrence, on winning 1st place in English Language and Literature in the Senior Oxford Local Exams, 1906
Index-learning turns no student pale,
Yet holds the eel of science by the tail.
-- Alexander Pope, The Dunciad

On Indexers

Sitting down and indexing a book is—in our experience—the most painful, horrible, mind-numbing activity you could ever wish on your worst enemy. And yet, where this is the kind of task that a computer should be great at, it’s actually impossible for a computer to do a good job of indexing a book by itself. A good index requires careful thought, an understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to keep the whole project in your head at all times. In short, it requires comprehension—a quality computer software, at this early stage of its evolution, lacks. Until recently, it also required a large stack of note cards, highlighter pens, Post-It notes, and serious medication.
Hire a professional indexer. The author of a text is the worst person for the job. You simply know the material too well (or, if you don’t, why in the world did you write the book?) to create a useful index. A professional indexer will read and understand your text, and will create an index that opens it up to a wider range of possible readers than you ever could. It’s what they do.
-- Olav Martin Kvern and David Blatner, Working with Long Documents in Adobe InDesign CS3: Indexes (or Indices)
Information seeking is a very complex human activity, not easily expressed in algorithms or calculations. It is both cumulative and iterative, and needs to take into account such things as the seeker' s level of education, language preferences, and immediate goals. So far, the best interface between a person and information has turned out to be another person - someone who has already studied the topic at hand.
-- Karen Coyle, Letter to the Editor, Wired magazine, 5.11, November 1997
I for my part venerate the inventor of Indexes; and I know not to whom to yield the preference, either to Hippocrates, who was the first great anatomiser of the human body, or to that unknown labourer in literature who first laid open the nerves and arteries of a book.
-- Isaac D'Israeli, Literary Miscellanies (1796)
Few authors, I suspect, are temperamentally capable of making their own index.
-- Alec Clifton-Taylor, An Open Letter to a Publisher
For many years Holmes had adapted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or person on which he could not at once furnish information.
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Scandal in Bohemia"
Whoever the indexer is, he or she should be intelligent, widely read, and well acquainted with publishing practices also level-headed, patient, scrupulous in handling detail, and analytically minded. This rare bird must while being intelligent, level-headed, patient, accurate, and analytical work at top speed to meet an almost impossible deadline. Less time is available for the preparation of the index than for almost any other step in the bookmaking process. For obvious reasons, most indexes cannot be completed until page proofs are available. Typesetters are anxious for those few final pages of copy; printers want to get the job on the press; binders are waiting; salesmen are clamoring for finished books -- surely you can get that index done over the weekend?
-- Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed.
Indexers are in effect trying to provide answers to a host of unasked questions. Indexers therefore need to work as if their audience is present. But there are two snags: first, in most cases they do not know who this audience will be; second, in most cases they do not receive any feedback as to whether their judgments have been successful. From a communicative point of view, there is probably no more isolated intellectual task than indexing. The twilight howl of the indexer might well be, "Is there anybody there?"
-- David Crystal, editorial, The Indexer, April 1995
Some books live or die by their indexes. An index can be the determining factor in whether a reference book is useful. I have a cookbook that contains great recipes but has an index so eccentric that it is easier to memorize the recipes than to hunt for them. On the other hand, I have just read a long biography packed with detail and possessing a marvelous index that enables the reader to locate any fact or incident with ease. The Anglo-American tradition of serious writing and publishing calls for an extensive 'scholarly apparatus' (indexes, footnotes, citations, and bibliographies) and it is always a shock to read continental European, especially French, books that lack footnotes or indexes. There have been a number of attempts to automate indexing, and there is no doubt that indexes have improved greatly over the last fifty years. However, indexing cannot be mechanized and its largely anonymous practitioners need much flair and intuition to accompany the automated approach. Pity the poor indexer! Most readers take good indexes for granted and curse bad ones and, in either event, give little though to the people who created them. I will appreciate the work of the Unknown Indexer.
-- Michael Gorman, Our singular strengths: meditations for librarians, 1998
Dear Diary:
In this town of the "And what do you do?" icebreaker at parties, my main occupation frequently functions like a new ice age. I prepare back-of-the-back indexes for nonfiction books, but with the exception of other people who work in publishing, I usually get one of three responses when I say that I am an indexer or a book indexer -- a blank look, a quick change of subject or a vacuously polite "That's nice." Applause for the more imaginative soul who asked, "Does the Catholic Church still do that?"
-- Joan Haladay, "Metropolitan Diary," The New York Times, January 22, 1997
Recently, several of us watched Noah [a five-year-old] as he worked on a scary Halloween book. Every time he finished a page, Noah flipped to the back of the book and jotted something onto it. "What are you doing?" we asked, and then Noah showed us what he had written:
gosts, p.1
wiches, p.1
owls, p.2
skeletn, p.4
He was making an index for his own book to match the one in the back of his reading book.
-- Lucy McCormick Calkins, The Art of Teaching Writing
"Indexers," wrote Mr. [David] Lee, "tend to be able to see something funny in the dullest or grimmest of books, at least ironically funny, for they need something to balance the long hours meticulously poring over the hot text."
-- The Bookseller, 29 Jan 1993
Frances had almost forgotten about him. And now his face ... prompted a response that was purely reflexive: positive.... They began to talk about Venice.... And then, the job, and he told her about the progress of his book and his problems with compiling such things as bibliography and index. "I'm a mere journalist," he said. "I've never had to deal with these refinements before."
"I once did an index for Steven [Frances' recently deceased husband]," said Frances. "It's not so difficult. The thing is to have all these little cards...." Morris Corfield nodded gravely as she talked, appearing to take careful note. The conversation, it occurred to Frances, was becoming somewhat banal. She said, "All this is rather dull." Morris nodded in acquiescence and then jumped slightly.
"Not at all. Absolutely."
..."I've been putting into practice your advice about indexing," [declares Morris Corfield]. "The thing begins to look more shapely."
"Good," said Frances. And beamed. "It's nice to be useful."
-- Penelope Lively, Perfect Happiness
And above all my thanks go to Mr. Paul Paget for his patient help with the book and index during which process he became my husband.
-- Verily Anderson, The Last of the Eccentrics
He writes indexes to perfection.
-- Oliver Goldsmith, The Citizen of the World
Good indexers are amazing human beings, with intellectual wiring quite different from a good writer's. Their craft has an entire philosophy behind it, in many ways very close to math. I occasionally see posts from their mailing list (forwarded from our staff indexer) and I'm impressed with the complexity of their tasks and the level of thought they bring to their jobs. (Indexers also bring a reader-centered view to the use of the index, where a writer's indexing often follows the organization of the book.)
-- Frank Willison, editor-in-chief, O'Reilly & Associates
I was walloped by the mighty mackerel of memory.
-- Mark Hinson

Indexes in Fiction

See also Anna Potter's "Selected Entries from the Index of The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, by Oliver Wendell Holmes
I had almost decided to save nothing for myself, when a book still standing on the half-emptied shelf caught my eye. I had never read it, had never done more than glance through its thousand pages, but suddenly I knew it was the third book I would take. I lifted it down, traced its title with my finger: Index: A-Z.
I could not save all the stories, could not hope to preserve all the information that was too vast, too disparate, perhaps even too dangerous. But I could take the encyclopedia's index, could try to keep that master list of all that had once been made or told or understood. Perhaps we could create new stories; perhaps we could discover a new knowledge that would sustain us. In the meantime, I would take the Index for memory's sake, so I could remember and could show Burl the map of all we'd had to leave behind.
-- Jean Hegland, Into the Forest
"Why aren't breasts a subject?" the woman to my left complained one evening, looking up from a Charles Bukowski volume... "Or asses," she continued. All of our conversations started this way.
The social work student and I worked on the night crew along with a Yale lawyer who had decided not to practice law, an aspiring poet, and a future investment banker. Our job was to compile Granger's Index to Poetry, a reference book. Dutifully we entered the titles and first and last lines of each poem. We attributed subject headings to each one so that a hypothetical businessman, having forgotten his girlfriend's birthday, could look up "Birthday" and "Erotic Love" and find suitable verse.
Around nine every evening the staff would break into hysteria, laughing uncontrollably and making no sense, the social worker's voice rising above the din. "They have 'apocalypse,' 'the end of the world,' and 'Armageddon' as subject headings but not 'asses.'" Obviously death held precedence over sex for the masterminds of Granger's who, like us, may have only been a view away from inspiration.
-- Kelcey Nichols, The Village Voice, August 12, 1997
An inquiry at the statehouse information service directed Kim to the Massachusetts State Archives.... but ... not all the seventeenth-century petitions survived, and those that did are not all properly indexed or catalogued.... and ... there was a big fire at Harvard in 1764 that destroyed the library and consumed a collection they called 'the repository of curiosities.' To make matters worse, they lost the index as well, so at this point no one knows what the collection contained.
-- Robin Cook, Acceptable Risk
I didn't read the script, but my people say it's a real headtwister. It's the first one they've seen with an index.
-- D.J. Cline, Bride of Injection Molding
As for the life of "Aamons, Mona," the index itself gave a jangling, surrealistic picture of the many conflicting forces that had been brought to bear on her and of her dismayed reactions to them.
"Aamons, Mona," the index said, "adopted by Monzano in order to boost Monzano's popularity, 194-199, 216n.; childhood in compound of House of Hope and Mercy, 63-81; childhood romance with P. Castle, 72f; death of father, 89ff; death of mother, 92f; embarrassed by role as national erotic symbol, 80, 95f, 166n, 209, 247n, 400-406, 566n, 578; engaged to P. Castle, 193; essential naivete, 67-71, 80, 95f, 16n, 209, 274n, 400-406, 566n, 678; lives with Bokonon, 92-98, 196-197; poems about, 2n, 26, 114, 119, 311, 316, 477n, 501, 507, 555n, 689, 718ff, 799ff, 800n, 841, 846ff, 908n, 971, 974; poems by, 89, 92, 193; returns to Monzano, 199; returns to Bokonon, 197; runs away from Bokonon, 199; runs away from Monzano, 197; tries to make self ugly in order to stop being erotic symbol to islanders, 80, 95f, 116n, 209, 247n, 400-46, 566n, 678; tutored by Bokonon, 63-80; writes letter to United Nations, 200; xylophone virtuoso, 71."
I showed this index entry to the Mintons, asking them if they didn't think it was an enchanting biography in itself, a biography of a reluctant goddess of love. I got an unexpectedly expert answer, as one does in life sometimes. It appeared that Claire Minton, in her time, had been a professional indexer. I had never heard of such a profession before... She said that indexing was a thing only the most amateurish author undertook to do for his own book. I asked her what she thought of Philip Castle's job.
"Flattering to the author, insulting to the reader," she said. "In a hyphenated word," she said with the shrewd amiability of an expert, "self-indulgent. I'm always embarrassed when I see an index an author has made of his own work. It's a revealing thing... a shameless exhibition....
"He's obviously in love with this Mona Aamons Monzano... He has mixed feelings about his father... He's insecure... He'll never marry her... I've said all I'm going to say," she said.
Sometime later, Ambassador Minton and I met in the aisle of the airplane, away from his wife, and he showed me that it was important to him that I respect what his wife could find out from indexes.
"You know why Castle will never marry the girl, even though he loves her, even though they grew up together?" he whispered... "Because he's a homosexual. She can tell that from the index, too."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, "Never Index Your Own Book," Cat's Cradle
"... Here's the Golden Archway into Indexing. The Land of Subtle Conceptual Connections."
Through the arch, it was as though they had passed into a completely different building. The style and trim were the same as before, with deeply lustrous fabrics on the walls and ceiling and floor made of the same smooth sound-absorbing plastic, glowing faintly with white light. But now all pretense at symmetry was gone. The ceiling was at different heights, almost at random; on the left and right there might be doors or archways, stairs or ramps, an alcove or a huge hall filled with columns, shelves of books and works of art surrounding tables where indexers worked ...
"The form fits the function," said Zay.
"I'm afraid I'm rubbernecking like a first-time visitor to Trantor."
"It's a strange place. But the architect was the daughter of an indexer, so she knew that standard, orderly, symmetrical interior maps are the enemy of freely connective thought. The finest touch -- and the most expensive too, I'm afraid -- is the fact that from day to day the layout is rearranged."
"Rearranged! The rooms move?"
"... Some days only one room is changed, moved off to some completely different place in the Indexing area. Other days, everything is changed. The only constant is the archway leading in...."
"But -- the indexers must spend the whole morning just finding their stations."
"Not at all. Any indexer can work from any station."
"Ah. So they just call up the job they were working on the day before."
"No. They merely pick up on the job that is already in progress on the station they happen to choose that day."
"Chaos!" said Leyel.
"Exactly. How do you think a good hyperindex is made? If one person alone indexes a book, then the only connection that book will make are the ones that person knows about. Instead, each indexer is forced to skim through what his predecessor did the day before. Inevitably he'll add some new connections that the other indexer didn't think of. The environment, the work pattern, everything is designed to break down habits of thought, to make everything surprising, everything new."
"To keep everybody off balance."
"Exactly. Your mind works quickly when you're running along the edge of the precipice."
"By that reckoning, acrobats should all be geniuses."
"Nonsense. The whole labor of acrobats is to learn their routines so perfectly they never lose balance. An acrobat who improvises is soon dead. But indexers, when they lose their balance, they fall into wonderful discoveries. That's why the indexes of the Imperial Library are the only ones worth having. They startle and challenge as you read. All the others are just -- clerical lists."
-- Orson Scott Card, "The Orginist," Flux: Tales of Human Futures
One of the funniest jokes in Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years Of Playboy Cartoons (Fantagraphics)—a massive, three-volume, nearly thousand-page collection—comes at the end. The “Index Of Abhorations” lists occurrences of everything from “bear” (one) to “Y2K” (two). Most subjects only make a handful of appearances until “Alien(s),” “Monsters(s),” “Chaos and destruction,” and “Gigantic,” all of which dwarf the topics around them. (“Demented Santa” makes a lot of appearances, too.)
-- Zack Handlen, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, And Tasha Robinson, "Comics Panel," January 15, 2010, AVClub.com

On Freelancers and Freelancing

The essence of the freelance life is freedom. Idleness is part of freedom and shouldn't alarm you: you will find soon enough that you have more than enough on your plate. Relish these periods of rest. To be a freelance it is also necessary to believe, to know, to know profoundly, that one is going to be all right however unlikely it seems at any particular distressing moment. This faith your friends cannot give you: it is something you have to discover in yourself.
-- V.S. Naipul, to Paul Theroux, June 6, 1972
the nonstriking self-employed
-- V. S. Pritchett, in "Paul Theroux: The Last Man of Letters, The New York Times Book Review, 1997
My main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably.
-- George Bernard Shaw
Free-lancing is like playing sandlot second base -- the ball takes some awful hops.
-- Ernest Hemingway


Deadline: (a limiting line, mark, or time) was coined during the Civil War, in the notorious Confederate POW camp Andersonville. The earliest known written instance of the word occurs in an 1864 report by Colonel D.T. Chandler: The Federal prisoners of war are confined within a stockade fifteen feet high ... A railing around the inside of the stockade, and about twenty feet from it, constitutes the "dead line," beyond which the prisoners are not allowed to pass (read into the Congressional Record, 1876). If a prisoner crossed the line, he was summarily shot. After the war, the dead-line survived in the South as jargon in games of marbles, referring to a line drawn near the ring. If on the first shot a player's shooter fell short of the line, he was dead and had to drop out of the game. In the West, cattle ranchers used a dead line to indicate the point beyond which sheep farmers were not to go on pain of being "dry gulched" that is, killed. From a physical line not to be crossed, deadline evolved into a point in time after which newspaper or magazine copy would not be accepted for inclusion in a particular issue.
-- Craig M. Carver, "World Histories," The Atlantic Monthly, November 1994.

Rationale for this Collection

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
-- Plutarch
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
-- Oscar Wilde
Everything has already been said but, since no one pays attention, it has to be repeated each morning.
-- Marcel Proust
It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.
-- Winston Churchill
She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.
-- W. Somerset Maugham
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
An old saw about the Middle East has it that "the Egyptians write, the Lebanese publish and the Iraqis read."
The owner of this web page was conceived in Iraq, born in Lebanon and raised in Egypt.
[H]ere is the bad news about Ms. Wyman: If you cross her, watch out. That smiley face of hers’ll fall off like a mask that’s popped its elastic, and underneath is a dragon lady. And that Ms. Wyman, I swear, wouldn’t blink at removing your liver with her bare hands and eating it with a spoon.
-- James Howe, The Misfits. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001. (page 17)

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