Indexgate

posted by SWC on December 4th, 2009 · 2 Comments | | Printer Friendly Version

Last week the silent service got an unexpected fifteen minutes of fame without doing a thing. The thing was of course the Sarah Palin memoir, Going Rogue, published without an index by HarperCollins.  For this lapse the publisher was awarded a “Golden Turkey” by the American Society of Indexers.  Soon after announcing the Award, ASI President Kate Mertes sent out word that she had been swamped by hundreds of inquiries about indexing.  And ordinary people were talking–actually arguing–about indexing.

Interesting. How often we find curious onlookers attempting to penetrate the mysteries of our seemingly humdrum craft. To them, good luck.  But now it was as though suddenly everyone had an irresistible urge to visit Cleveland.

It did not end there, however.  Since the author was Sarah Palin, whose name is catnip to the media, the Award story was retold unflaggingly by influential online magazines, political websites, and news blogs: Daily Kos, Huffington Post, and Slate, to name a few.  Their reader comments gave voice not only to a wide sweep of opinions on Going Rogue but also on indexing, a subject about which, it turned out, nearly everyone had something to say. For instance from The Daily Beast:

“Give me a data file of the whole text, a six-pack of interns and a reference copy of the bound volume for each of them to use, and I’ll get you an index for a book much thicker than Palin’s within one business day.  Honestly.”

And: “Adobe InDesign has the same thing. A couple hours, tops, and several mouse clicks and you have an index.  You can skip the interns.”

On the other hand: ” Software does not write indexes anymore than it writes books. PEOPLE write indexes–after reading and analyzing the manuscript.  And it does take days or weeks, not hours. Indexing is a profession.  Done by people.  Software simply helps.”

Meanwhile, the Pleasantville Diner crowd, disappointed with Harper’s no-index decision, was entertaining itself with the idea of inviting indexers at large to fill the empty pages in Going Rogue as a competition. June Bissell asked what the prize might be. “You could publish the winner’s index in your blog,” George Tuesday suggested.  “Not a good idea.” P. del Sorto, the indexing dean, said. “An index of two or three thousand lines would bust your blog.”  The issue was soon settled, because by the next day we were all talking about the raft of index parodies joyously satirizing Palin that were appearing on the Cybersphere.  They averaged around 200 not 2000 lines.

“One of the great moments in Indexing,” del Sorto said.  “And please pass the ketchup, George.”

“I know they could have just as well been written if Going Rogue had never been published.” George said.  “And they weren’t prepared with anything like grammatical observance, but . . . don’t you think they’re funny?”

“I’ll tell you when you pass the ketchup.”

Later, June Bissell was making the point that a comparison of the Rogue indexes showed the risk of having several indexers, even the speediest, work on the same book. “When they are done you might never know that they were working on the same book,” she said, examining some notes she had written on the back of an index card.

“Take ‘God’ for instance, a topic you might expect the political left to look for in a book inspired by the political right.  The New Republic indexed 48 references to ‘God’ with no subentries, but Slate only found nine, although each came with a subentry like ‘deliberate causation of premature birth of Trig of’ on page 195, and Huffington Post had not a single reference for the “God” or religion for that matter, whether out of respect or for religious correctness or what who can say?”

“Marvelous,” del Sorto said.  “But do you really think the Rogue indexes are worth the Higher Criticism?  Just another small skirmish in the American Culture Wars.”

As I got up to take the train back to Chappaqua I asked del Sorto if he had any idea of how to title our blog post on the no-index controversy.  “That’s above my pay grade,” he said.  “But I’ll think about it.”

2 comments

  1. I wonder what Chief Dragonman would have to say on the issue. Sadly, he was never consulted.

  2. Meu esposo e eu tropeçou aqui diferentes
    página e pensei que eu deve checar as coisas. Gosto
    do que vejo então agora estou a seguir-te. Ansiosos para
    olhando sua página web novamente .

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