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.

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