100 best non-fiction books – The Year of Magical Thinking

For 2016 Author Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the 100 best non-fiction books. These are “key texts in English that have shaped our literary culture and made us who we are”, in the Anglo-American English language tradition, the list covers “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture”.

Indexers love lists too, usually of words to put into indexes. So I thought I’d run a parallel list and take a look, where possible, inside the books at the indexes.

The second summary is of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Amazon usefully allows us to ‘look inside this volume. It doesn’t have an index, so what can I say about it?

This is a very intimate and personal memoir of a difficult time. The book is non-fiction because it is ‘a true story’ that happened to someone. In this case the editor deciding on whether to include an index would have to consider whether readers would want to be able to consult different parts of the book. What questions might they have? Which friends are mentioned? Which hospital/s was her daughter treated in? What medical treatments are suggested and given? What emotions does the author describe? Is this enough to warrant the inclusion of an index? In this case, perhaps not because of the personal nature of the story.

Not all non-fiction needs an index but the decision has to be taken carefully. In memoirs it is often the case that the author has dropped the names of everyone they ever met, places they went, food they ate, and things they did. But a book like this dealing with an episode in a person’s life don’t fall into that category.


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