Monthly Archives: July 2013

more on books without indexes

Here are a few more examples of books that have been let down by the omission of indexes to help their readers find information. My source this time is the New York Journal of Books.

One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler. 2013 Simon & Schuster. The full review is here. The reviewer says …. “Ms. Sandler uses many statistics and statements from such documents to bolster her defense against stereotyping “onlies.” (There is no index in the book and this mitigates any serious intent of Ms. Sandler’s research. Although we do have two pages of a more memoir-like, “A Brief Tour Through My Binders and Bookshelves” in the end pages.)” So if you want a serious book, you need an index!

More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon by Stephen Davis. 2012 Gotham Books. The full review is here. The reviewer says … “One last quibble: When has a major biography of a major celebrity that weighs in at 432 pages comes into the reader’s hands without an index? And why would the publishing world choose to start with such a sad method (apparently) of cost-cutting now? With this particular book? With such a great story told including such an incredible cast of characters, in anecdotes happy and sad (the implied rivalry—both in terms of careers and personal relationships, especially, at one point for the affections of James Taylor—between Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell is worthy of a book of its own) and often very, very funny, Stephen Davis being a master of the well told anecdote?”. There seem to be many interesting things in that book, but you’ll have to read the lot to find them out, if there was an index the reader could cut straight to them.

Two very different books, both with generally good reviews on that website, but both marked down because they didn’t have an index. What a shame!

indexing George, the new Prince of Cambridge

Indexing royal names can be a bit tricky. Let’s look at what might be indexed from some text published on the BBC website at a time when we we don’t even know the name of the new person. I’ve highlighted in bold some of the terms we could index, but how should we index the baby now we know he’s George?

“Congratulatory messages are flooding in from around the world to mark the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge‘s son, the third in line to the throne. Prince William said the couple “could not be happier” following the birth of the boy, who weighed 8lb 6oz and is yet to be named, at 16:24 BST on Monday. Thousands of well-wishers descended on Buckingham Palace after the news broke. The royal birth will be marked later with gun salutes and the ringing of Westminster Abbey’s bells. The duke was at the private Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, west London, for the birth – and stayed with Catherine and the baby overnight. BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said it was unclear how long the baby would be kept in hospital.

Following the announcement, a statement from Kensington Palace said: “The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and members of both families have been informed and are delighted with the news.” The Prince of Wales, in a separate statement, said he and the Duchess of Cornwall were “overjoyed at the arrival of my first grandchild”. “It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” he added.”

Some of these people have lots of different ways of referring to them, so we could perhaps have index entries like this list. Some people can be indexed by their first names only, others by their titles, and for readers there can be cross-references should they not be sure where to start. And there’s a couple of entries for the other things that are mentioned in the text.

bells, Westminster Abbey
Buckingham Palace

Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of
Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall see Cornwall, Camilla, Duchess of
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge see Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of
Charles, Prince of Wales
Cornwall, Camilla, Duchess of

Edinburgh, Duke of see Philip, Prince
Elizabeth II, Queen

George, Prince of Cambridge
gun salutes

Henry (Harry), Prince of Wales
Hunt, Peter

Kensington Palace

Philip, Prince, Duke of Edinburgh

St Mary’s Hospital, London

Wales, Prince of see Charles, Prince; Henry (Harry), Prince
Westminster Abbey
William, Prince see Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of

non-fiction books without indexes

I’ve been starting to market my newly-minted skills to publishers who produce books in the fields that I have some experience and interest in. All very low key at this stage, but I’m hoping it will bear fruit at some point.

However, I was slightly taken aback by one company who replied “Many thanks for contacting us at XXX with an offer of your indexing services. However, I’m sorry to have to tell you that we have a policy of not including indexes in any of our books so at this time we will be unable to use your services.” They have however, put my details aside in case things change in the future.

I can’t name them publicly until I’ve responded to them and probed this a bit more.

In the meantime, here are a few more reviews I’ve trawled from the internet of books that lack indexes that reviewers would have liked to have seen.

Alaskan politician Sarah Palin’s autobiographical book Going Rogue: An American Life omitted an index, and some comments were made to the effect that there was no notable content. Other sites went as far as to compile their own ‘cut and paste’ indexes and the American Society of Indexers (ASI) issued a ‘Golden Turkey’ award to both Palin and her publishers in order to promote the cause of book indexing in general. They haven’t issued another similar award, but that doesn’t mean books aren’t still published without indexes that really should have them. The ASI press release raises the question of the ‘Washington read’ – “a practice whereby one skims the text by judicious consultation of the index, particularly for instances of one’s own name.”  – and the taking of snippets of information out of the context they were written in. This is a poor argument because that can clearly happen if a book is published without an index and the omission of an index is only going to lead to books being unsold and unread.

On a more down to earth level, Dr Sally Nash, Director Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry, would have liked an index to Children, youth and spirituality in a troubling world by M E Moore and A M Wright (Chalice Press: 2008). Her full review is here. She said “What I missed in this book was an index that would have made it more useful for research and teaching where you could follow a theme through the book more easily. “

The Bookbag – reviews of books and some comments about indexes

I stumbled across this site recently – The Bookbag – and thought it was an interesting site. Book reviews by readers who do it for the love of it, without payment from a newspaper or magazine, or the publishers of the books they review.

Of interest to indexers is the search that can be done to find all the mentions of indexes, good and bad, omitted and wished for. It found 130 when I tried it, and there were a few surprises in that list. Here are just two examples:

The Broken Compass: How British Politics lost its way by Peter Hitchens – “do have a look at the index: I don’t think I’ve ever seen one which made me laugh so much”. Over on Amazon you can take a look here. I can see why the reviewer laughed, it is very much a non-standard index as each main entry has a subheading that takes text from the book and often repeats the page number for each of the subheading entries it makes i.e. the entry on Gordon Brown has three subheadings taken from page 3 of the text – ‘allegedly accomplished’, ‘become single cause of all ills’, and ‘hopelessness of’, among a list of 14 subheadings referring to only 8 page numbers. A more traditional approach might have made two or three subheadings out of these, but it would have been a challenging job to come up with the right words from such a discursive and flamboyant text. So while this is a non-standard approach to the index, it may be one that works for readers.

Sport: Almost Everything You Ever Wanted To Know by Tim Harris – “The one thing that could have made the book more use as a reference tool would have been with the inclusion of a decent index.  Sadly, in this area they have also failed with much of the index being grouped by sport as opposed to the more traditional simply alphabetical version.  This is more in keeping with the way the book is set out, but does reduce the effectiveness of the book as a reference source.” Over on Amazon you can see what they mean. If you wanted to know about how politics has affected sport, you have to go through every sport’s main heading to find the subheading for politics because there is no main heading for ‘politics’. Other subjects have their own headings, such as ‘drugs’ and ‘media’, but the unevenness of the treatment makes it a tricky index to use properly.

newly accredited indexer (MSocInd)

I completed the Society of Indexer’s training course at the start of July when I finished my Practical indexing assignment.

Since then I’ve also attended a training workshop entitled ‘Taking the plunge’ which gave some useful tips about how to approach becoming a professional indexer and working to deadlines and suchlike.

So now I can say I’m a proper book indexer.

Book reviewers notice the quality of indexes

Of the thousands of books that are published each year, a number are reviewed by newspapers for the general reading public and sometimes the index is so good or so bad it merits a comment from the reviewer. Even the absence of an index can generate a comment.

Here are a few published in the Guardian in the last couple of years. I’ve picked the Guardian and its Sunday equivalent the Observer because for now at least, access is free and the search produces sensible results.

Indexes that pleased the reviewer, and I could only easily find one:

  • Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart (Century, £20) – “It also – excellent in such a book – has a comprehensive index: “Lumley, Joanna 177-9”; “nuclear weapons 28,29”; “oral sex: Rod advised against 58; untrue stories of 232″ and so on.” Given the nature of the book with the crowd of celebrity names that makes up the backdrop to Rod’s public and private life, a thorough listing of all the people, places and events of Rod’s life would seem only right. Look inside at Amazon bears this out.

Indexes that weren’t up to the reviewer’s expectations:

  • Wolf by Garry Marvin (Reaktion, £9.99) – “The book’s index, sadly, is a skimpy two-page effort that is not much more useful than a single entry reading “Wolf, passim”. Look inside at Amazon indeed shows only two pages, and it is indeed a skimpy effort – there must surely be more information in the 150 pages or so of text that could be teased out into an index.
  • Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy – “Although Murphy revels in Victorian criminal trials and popular outcries, his skimpy knowledge of the administration and influence of the royal court hobbles his book. It is symptomatic that he keeps calling aristocrats by the wrong titles – the Dowager Duchess of Roxburghe is misnamed, Lord Londesborough is called Jonesborough – and further muddles them in a havoc-strewn index.” Alas this index is not available to Look inside at Amazon as I’d like to have seen what “havoc-strewn index” meant.

No index – more common and seems to have occurred in a greater range of books:

  • London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction edited by Michael Moorcock and Allan Kausch (Merlin Press, £17.99) – “It’s a pity there’s no index…” Indeed, how interesting it would have been to see the themes of the essays plotted out in an index to see where he returned to ideas and the extent of his topics.
  • Selected Poems by Tony Harrison (Penguin, £9.99) – “…none of his stage or film verse is included here. Nor is an index, either of poems or first lines, which seems a trifle shabby.” Listing poem titles and first lines isn’t a difficult job and would definitely help the reader find their favourites.
  • Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub by Pete Brown (MacMillan £16.99) – “The only things that let this amiable book down slightly are the absence of an index, and the somewhat misleading title…” A book that’s packed with famous names and London history must surely be worth indexing.
  • Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea by Donovan Hohn (Union Books £20) – ” Here’s something original and eccentric and multi-faceted that tells you a good many interesting things about the world – and then, not having an index, maximises your chance of forgetting them.” Oh, what a shame!
  • Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers (Atlantic £16.99) – “… Scotty never lies. Neither does he supply his book with an index, so if you’re interested in the secret sex lives of the stars, you are going to have to search through these pages for Spence and Kate, Eddie and Wally, Randy and Cary, Rock, Ty and Noel, and Vivien Leigh …”
  • Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods, edited by Helen Saberi (Prospect Books) “The lack of an index in what is a scholarly work is disappointing, but this is a wonderful celebration of global food culture: detailed yet never indigestible.”

So with the exception of Rod Stewart, all of the authors of these books could have improved their reviews by having better indexes or asking for one in the first place.