The fourth of April, 2011: a shameless exhibition

Having just spent a couple of hours thumbing through an unhelpful index, I was put in mind of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle (1963).

After reading through a (very Borgesian) index entry for ‘Aamons, Mona’ in a book by Philip Castle, Vonnegut’s narrator turns to his co-passengers.

I showed this index entry to the Mintons, asking 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 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 that 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 observed, 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.’

‘Embarrassed?’

‘It’s a revealing thing, an author’s index of his own work,’ she informed me. ‘It’s a shameless exhibition – to the trained eye.’

‘She can read character from an index,’ said her husband.

I’d love to know if any known authors are self-indexers (the term sounds a bit unsavoury, when you phrase it like that). Indexes – indices, if you want – should have full credits appended.

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