Category Archives: 2013

Amazon and the ‘see inside’ function – now you see it, now you don’t

The winner of the FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award for 2013 was Brad Stone’s book about Amazon. I haven’t read the book but you can get a feel for it from the trail the FT gives for it here.

No-one would argue that Amazon has transformed the way we buy, read and use books. Also doubtless there are students writing theses about the various social and business implications of how Amazon has influenced the book industry and associated activities, such as studying, writing and publishing.

I’d just like to focus for a few seconds on the ‘look inside’ feature which allows potential buyers to browse inside books. Most usefully, when this feature is activated there is quite a lot material available to the potential purchaser, and it often includes the index. I have referred to many such indexes while I have been looking at potentially award-winning books. However, in many cases you only get to look at the Kindle version of the book, and as the Kindle version doesn’t carry an index, you can’t see the index for the physical book, even if that was the version you wanted to buy.

As a member of the Society of Indexers I have to say that pretty much all non-fiction books should have an index, and the presence of a good index can be a selling point when it comes to deciding to buy a book. However, wilfully restricting the access of potential buyers to the ‘view inside’ without an index may mean that said buyers will not continue to value indexes, not require them or demand them in books and instead be content to buy e-books without proper indexes. If you are someone who likes to see the index when you ‘look inside’ and you get frustrated when it isn’t there, please make your feelings known to Amazon by using the ‘feedback’ button on the Amazon Reader page for the book you are looking at.

The future of non-fiction electronic publishing is not cut and dried, there’s a long way to go yet. There is a lot of information about the efforts of the Society of Indexers and others on the Publishing Technology Group‘s website. Its remit is to advise Society of Indexers members, publishers and authors on reconciling powerful text retrieval techniques with emerging delivery technologies in publishing.

what would we do without …..?

the Internet? and indexes?

I’ve been managing without the Internet since Sunday, but fortunately the BT man fixed ours today and I’m back. Lack of the wherewithal at the weekend meant I missed catching up with blogging some indexing things.

The Samuel Johnson Prize was won by Lucy Hughes-Hallett and her book, The Pike, which is  about Gabriele D’Annunzio. You can see the comments I made about the index to this book on my previous post here. Well done to Lucy for her win, and I hope all the team who contributed to the book, including the indexer, took time to bathe in the reflect glow from the prize.

The other prizes I wrote about recently will be awarded over the next couple of weeks, so let’s hope one with a great index also wins those categories, although there’s a chance that a book without an index could win too!

So what would we do without indexes?

The most fundamental thing is that readers of books without indexes won’t know what is inside the book, except in the most general terms. I’ve been practising my indexing skills on a book of essays about cycling and I’m astounded by the sheer number of names that get dropped by all the authors, even when the article is ostensibly about someone or something else. More on this book another time, as I’ve not finished the index yet.

You can read more about why books need indexes over here at the Society of Indexers. While some of these quotes are a few years old now and you might think that e-books can do without an index because you can easily search a book, take a look at this page which talks about why human indexers do a better job than text searches. In these days of time-poor readers, having someone else fillet the bones out of a book and make a proper index surely makes sense?

more on Mortimer Wheeler

Going a bit off-topic with this, but I have been surprised to see how many people draw inspiration from the old chap, even though he died in 1976.

Draw was the correct term to use for this cartoon from the Institute of Archaeology:

Moshenska, G and Salamunovich, A 2013. Wheeler at War. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23(1):12,

and this cartoon about his moustache and a pun on the term EDM

followed by this cartoon about his pipe

However, the old chap was no slouch at illustration himself  having first considered a career in art and been influential in the development of archaeological illustration techniques, and I hope he’d be pleased that people are still inspired to draw him.

singer Morrissey writes autobiography – and omits index

I usually wake up to Radio 4’s Today programme. All too often as with most news it is all doom, gloom and tragedy. However, yesterday morning I surfaced just before the brief item about the launch of the singer Morrissey’s autobiography and my ears pricked up when they mentioned it was published without an index. There are many other reasons that this book is newsworthy:

  • Penguin has published it as a ‘Classic’ along with the ancient writers, Louisa May Alcott and the rest – so bold because while there are those fans who claim his music as having greatness the quality of his writing was less certain
  • There are no chapters – so maybe it is more fiction than non-fiction?
  • The opening paragraph goes on a bit over four and half pages
  • There’s masses of name dropping and he says what he thinks about an awful lot of people
  • He’s written about relationships which interested his fans for many years.

But as an indexer I have to say it was a brave choice on someone’s part to leave out the index altogether. Of course, it means people have to read the whole thing to pick out nuggets about other celebrities and whatever else he has written about so getting information out as ‘news’ took longer than it should, but really, is leaving it out serving the audience in the longer term? As with Mortimer Wheeler and his teachers and contemporaries in my previous blog, it is those very celebrities and people he has worked with, had relationships of any kind with, the songs he’s written, and the music industry players who have affected him, who will be sought after by readers in the future. Valuable information may be easily missed by people who don’t have the time or inclination to read the book to extract every scrap that could so easily have been done by an indexer.

[Edit May 2014] Here’s a fan’s index that can be searched online by keyword. It’s not an analytical index in the true sense, but a labour of love that might be useful. Unfortunately you can’t print it out either.

“Still Digging” Mortimer Wheeler’s memoirs and deep echoes from the past

This was the title of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s ‘memoirs’, first published in 1955 and it is a book I really ought to have read a very long time ago. Somewhere, quite a while ago because I can’t remember where or when, I bought a copy of the Reader’s Union edition published in 1956. It’s the kind of book I like to read today as it recalls a time that’s so very long lost. In the early part he reminisces about his early days in Edinburgh, Bradford and London, at the tail end of the 19th century and before the first World War. To establish his place among the great and the good he drops the names of his contemporaries who later become somebodies, and lecturers and teachers who were academics and teachers of note at the time. Unfortunately, many of those ‘somebodies’ haven’t lasted as household names into the early 21st century. That or I am irredeemably ignorant about some topics. Sadly from the indexing point of view, the edition I have is totally devoid of an index, so if I were researching those contemporaries and teachers I’d be having to read the whole book to find out who he’d named in the book.

As one of the early popularisers of archaeology to the masses, Mortimer Wheeler directly or indirectly influenced many of today’s media-friendly archaeologists. A quick Google shows that the following people have reason to be directly grateful to him even though they hadn’t or couldn’t have met him at the critical point in their lives when they decided to become archaeologists (there are doubtless many others and many who did work with Mortimer and his wife Tessa):

  • Barry Cunliffe – Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford University (and my tutor when I took my MPhil)
  • Paul Blinkhorn  – Anglo-Saxon pottery specialist often seen on Time Team
  • Colin Merrony – Teaching Fellow at Sheffield University
  • John Swogger – archaeological illustrator

Should any of the people whose lives were touched by Mortimer Wheeler at a critical point come to write and publish their memoirs, I sincerely hope they will have their books properly indexed. Sadly, the life of Mortimer’s wife, Tessa by Lydia Carr, was not provided with an expert index, as you can see inside with Amazon. This index suffers from the following issues:

  • there are many undifferentiated locators after some of the headings – for example the entry for ‘Hawkes, Jacquetta’ gets 24 page numbers, but 6 is usually the maximum before splitting down.
  • some headings have several subheadings but there is relatively little material to cover and some of those subheadings could be done away with – for example the entry for ‘Carleon’ has two subheadings for site reports that both refer to the same pages.
  • cross-references that were misused – for example the entry for ‘Carleon’ says ‘see also Isca’ [Isca Augusta being the Latin name for the military site] but there is no entry for ‘Isca’
  • there could have been a useful double entry for Agatha Miller under ‘Christie, Agatha’ because many people will know that Agatha Christie was married to an archaeologist, Max Mallowan, but few will know her maiden name was Miller before she became Christie. If the book discusses her as Miller, that’s fine, but to make it more accessible the double entry would have been helpful

Those things aside, the book has received some good reviews, so maybe I’ll read it after I’ve finished with her husband.

changing and different meanings of the word ‘index’

First stop  – the Oxford Concise English Dictionary 1976 edition that I used at school, with my thoughts in [square brackets]

1) Index finger – forefinger – used for pointing [I like this use of the word index because a book index shows you what is in a book and what is important]

2) (On instrument) – pointer showing value of quantity or position on scale etc  [a book index doesn’t assign value to information, but it does pick out the important information]

3) Index number – quantity indicating relative level of prices or wages at a particular date compared with that at a date taken as standard. [This is one definition that has found a lot of new uses in recent years – Global Peace Index, Social Progress Index, and Human Development Index just three among many.]

4) Number expressing physical property etc in terms of a standard (refractive index)

5) Guiding principle; thing pointing to a conclusion [again a useful thing to bear in mind about book indexes, picking out the important things and showing where they are]

6) Alphabetical list, usu. at end of book, and verb to make the index [The OED gives 1578 as the earliest use in this sense]

7) Historical use – list of books forbidden to Roman Catholics, or to be read by them only in expurgated editions. [This was new to me when I looked today so I took a deeper look – this dates from the Council of Trent in the mid 16th century and continued until the last publication in 1948 and was abolished in 1966. So a defunct use of the word and you can take a look at the list of books and authors here.]

8) Typographical – Hand shaped symbol used to draw attention to note etc

9) Mathematical – Exponent

Second stop – OED online to look at new uses of the word index that weren’t included in the 1976 published dictionary

Computing. A set of items each of which specifies one of the records of a file and contains information about its address (first found in 1962 but not relevant enough for the 1976 school dictionary)

index-link   v.  [as a back-formation] (trans.) to make dependent on such an index (i.e wages and pensions – index-linked was first recorded from 1970)

index plate – car number plate (another 1970s term that I don’t think we use these days)

So the language continues to evolve – I wonder what uses the word might be put to in future?

Great British Bake Off and cookery book indexing

I spend a lot of time baking and also run another blog about my experiences, both good and bad. I also like watching the BBC series Great British Bake Off and like getting ideas for my own baking from the programmes. Recently they have looked at some of the oldest cookery books in England and recently included the book written by Richard II’s cook, usually called The Forme of Cury. It is reckoned to be England’s oldest cookery book and is kept in the John Rylands Library Medieval Collection in Manchester. Here’s a link to the index

Rather lovely isn’t it? But really, it is just a list of recipes in the book, not even in alphabetical order. All too often this is all that modern cookery books contain too, but you can get better treatment if you’re prepared to put in a bit of effort. Like baking really.  A great cookery book index gives the user a chance to find out which recipes have the ingredients they want to use. One of my favourite baking books is Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet.

If you take a look inside on the Amazon page you can find the index and see the following:

  • There’s a heading for each ingredient that lists all the recipes that contain that ingredient, for example “absinth” is found in one recipe for ‘Green fairy cakes, and “ale” is found in 11 recipes ranging from bread and rolls, to beef pies and Christmas pudding.
  • The index uses bold text for the ingredients and the recipe names, which are also given an initial capital so they stand out nicely.
  • There’s some useful cross references, for example “Cupcakes, see also muffins and fairy cakes” – subtle differences in baking methods mean that the recipes are filed in the correct place. But all cookies are filed under “biscuits” for simplicity.
  • Other cross references include some see references, for example “almond paste, see marzipan”.
  • Alternative ingredients, for example lemon marmalade in marmalade flapjacks instead of orange marmalade also get their own, non-bold entry.
  • Additional information included in the recipe introductions are also given entries, for example “kourambiedes  241” – leads to a recipe for “Orange almond butter biscuits” with the information that these are similar to the Greek cookies called kourambiedes, which are made without the orange.

Not only is the index fantastic, the recipes are great too.

History indexes reviewed

Further to my blogs below about how book reviewers address book indexes, I find that Catherine Sassen from the University of North Texas has written an article on reviewer’s comments about indexes appearing in Reviews in History between 1996 and 2013. The article appears in the September 2013 issue of The Indexer, so is not free to view. In over 1400 reviews she found 123 reviews which contained 131 evaluative comments about the index, and 8 further reviews commented about the absence of an index. Catherine then goes on to categorise and discuss the different kind types of comments that were made, for example about the accuracy, the exhaustivity, the extensiveness, the usefulness of the index etc.

All very interesting stuff. However, it also means that less than 10% of reviewers found anything at all to say about the index of the book they were looking at. The Guidelines for Reviewers document doesn’t specifically ask for comments on the index of the book. So given that reviews can stretch between two and three thousand words, it is perhaps unfortunate that so few reviewers thought to add a mention about the indexes that they encountered.

Catherine closes her article with a quote from David Dymond’s 1999 publication Researching and writing history –  “In a substantial book, the discerning reader deserves an index”. And I’d like to say that any history book review should comment on the index. Of course history books fall into a myriad of different types and fields and the type of index that is appropriate will vary from book to book. But in the territory between local history publications meant for dissemination across a relatively small geographical area and in-depth academic research studies surely it should be possible for them all to have an index?

I’m very much interested in expanding my indexing skills by taking on projects indexing history books so please do contact me if I can be of any help to you.

‘Taking the plunge!’ and indexing cycling photos

Chronologically speaking, ‘Taking the plunge!’ comes first …

The Society of Indexers runs a number of optional CPD courses throughout the year. Often they are suitable for anyone who is taking the training course or already a qualified and working indexer. However, during July I participated in the ‘Taking the Plunge!’ workshop, which is targeted at indexers towards the end of the course. As I’d already taken the Practical Indexing Assignment I was the most well-qualified student there. And I wrote the report of the session which has recently appeared on the Society’s website here. Now I just need to get on with some more marketing work and find some paid work as an indexer to make it worth having worked so hard to complete the course.

In other news …. The Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 cycle ride was a total blast from start to finish, and it took me just over 7 hours to do the course, which was faster than Boris Johnson, and much faster than I’d anticipated in the run up. However, it was one of those things that I really didn’t want to be over and wished it could have carried on and never stopped. So much so that I’ve entered the ballot for next year’s event, and maybe I’ll take it slower next year. Of course, if the weather had been hotter, windier or wetter I wouldn’t have had such a nice time this year, so if I get in again I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for good weather again next time.

I don’t think I managed to get onto the TV coverage but you can find me pedalling away in still and video content if you look for me on the official photo website here. Which got me thinking about indexing photos, and how big a task that must have been – nearly 20,000 participants, if they all had about 30 photos is 600,000 entries. Some photos have more than one person in, I seem to have been teamed with a big chap in an orange top in a couple of mine, which reduces the overall number of pictures but increases the complexity of indexing more than one person per picture. We all had numbers on our bikes and on our helmets, so as long as they can see the number you get the right photos, and there’s a selection available of those that they couldn’t get the numbers clearly in. But they are very quick, they get all of that done in a couple of days. Big job, well done, Marathon Photos!

Prudential Ride London 100 mile and indexing cycling books

Getting this weeks’ blog out a bit early as I’ll be cycling my legs off on Sunday 4th August doing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 mile route. That’ll teach me for thinking I never win in lucky dips! I had a 1:4 chance of getting a place and lo and behold got one on the first try. So I have spent the last few months training away, when I’ve not being doing my indexing course, working and trying to squeeze in all the things a human being does. (I don’t sleep a lot!).

If you tune in to the BBC coverage during the day. starting at 11:30 on BBC1 and continuing at 4:30 also on BBC1, you might spot me in my Simon’s Cat cycling jersey hurtling along the roads or maybe walking up Leith Hill and Box Hill with a sympathetic voice-over saying something like “… and here are the older competitors who should have known better…”


I like watching the professional cyclists competing in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España. mostly because they are fit young chaps and it is all a bit bonkers to spend that much time and effort just cycling about. And there’s the books of course. If you watch the ITV coverage you’ll be familiar with Ned Boulting and his interviews and coverage of the different race stages. He’s written some books on the subject, and the first, How I Won the Yellow Jumper, is laugh out loud funny in some places as you cringe with Ned’s memories of the gaffs he made as he was learning the ropes on the Tour. It includes lots of names of riders, teams, places – on the routes, the hotels, the detours, and themes such as results, points, prizes, training, drugs, bikes and even the promotional men who give away stuff to the crowds at the finish points. The kind of things that fans of Ned, newly-minted cycling fans and more established ardent cycling fans are likely to go looking for in a book about the Tour de France. All good stuff for the indexer’s mill, but unfortunately Yellow Jersey Press chose not to get an index compiled for this or for the subsequent book On the Road Bike. So another couple of books that are a bit poorer for the omission of indexes. Ned might be a little shy of what he knows and the stories he tells, but it would be much better for all of us if these books were indexed.