Another One from the Mothballs: The Art of Indexing

I always thought it would be interesting to attempt to tell the story of
your life purely in index form. I tried it once, without a whole lot of
success. I’m sure there are others out there like me, though, people for whom
the indexes of thick biographies are often better and more fascinating reading than
the books themselves.

I was obsessed with indexing for a time. I acquired and pored over
scores of books on the subject (H.B. Wheatley’s How to Make an Index from
1902, A.L. Clarke’s Manual of Practical Indexing from 1905, Robert L.
Collison’s Indexes and Indexing from 1959, among others). I even paid way too much money to acquire a copy of Der Index der Verbotenen Bucher (1899),
which was in a language I do not read, and appears to have no practical bearing
on my own interest in the subject. The great indexers are legendary obsessives.
In 1848 a man named William F. Poole published a book called An
Alphabetical Index to Subjects Treated in Reviews and Other Periodicals to
Which No Indexes Have Been Published.

In his more recent Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting, Brian
C. O’Connor poses the single most relevant question regarding the indexer’s
art: "Can we design systems that detect the treasure for each
user?" Perusing indexes it’s clear that every indexer worth his or
her salt brings to this question a deeply personal set of priorities and
proclivities. Check it out some time; it’s fascinating to see what sorts
of bizarre minutiae an indexer will choose to extract from a book’s tangle
of detail and incident.

I’ve been collecting these minutiae for years. Here’s just a small sampling
(and I would, of course, welcome any interesting contributions you might have
stumbled across):

From Margaret Drabble’s Angus Wilson: A Biography:

Fear of falling, 556, 592;
tendency to fall, 599,
601;
lack of sense of balance,
603, 604;
serious fall,
623-4;
in nursing home,
642-3.

 

From Gerald Clarke’s Capote: A Biography:

Dancing of, 58, 101, 102; eavesdropping and snooping of, 180-81,
206-7, 294;
as love life advisor,
166, 168;
sleepwalking of,
44;
Montalban, Ricardo,
298.

 

From Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The
Life Of Alfred Hitchcock:

Gastronomic Life: potatoes,
14;
three-steak meal, 187; gulping, 412; Personal Life, Habits,
Attitudes, and Traits:
mustache,
95;
woman in the back of a taxi,
162, 374, 432, 433, 531;
destruction
of crockery, 187, 192;
interest
in strangling, 353, 527;
spiritual
transvestism, 432-33.

 

From William Manchester’s Winston Churchill biography, The
Last Lion
:

Silk underwear for skin sensitivity, 399; national crisis while bathing, 418-19; attitude while playing polo, 241-42; skin donation to wounded soldier with Kitchener,
283;
bricklaying, 776,
883.

 

From John Baxter’s Bunuel:

Death, fascination with,
15, 24;
menagerie, 14; obsessive punctuality, 183; orgies, participation in, 116-17; phone, hating, 295; pistols, fascination with, 202-3.

 

From David Sweetman’s Van Gogh: His Life and His Art:

Tooth trouble, 203, 262; wears candles in hat, 278; throws glass at Gauguin, 289; razor attack on Gauguin, 290, 306; kicks attendant, 307.

 

From Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s Jackson
Pollock: An American Saga
:

Beguiling smile of,
2, 4, 94, 808;
dimples of,
2-3, 44, 161, 808;
drunken binges
of
, 2-3, 6, 7, 117, 120, 168, 170, 197, 212-14, 247-48, 249-50, 255,
266-67, 294-95, 296-98, 302, 306, 310-11, 314, 335-36, 359-60, 448, 449, 491,
572, 669-71, 686, 844;
fights
provoked by
, 6, 140-41, 145, 204, 212, 228, 247-48, 265, 267, 297,
302, 310, 350, 481, 488-89, 498, 570, 572, 715, 755, 900;
mouth harp played by, 208, 220, 247, 833,
834;
urinary habits of,
50-51, 469, 478, 489, 541, 612, 671, 753, 760, 762, 770, 788, 813, 818, 867,
876, 904;
weeping of,
249, 297, 581, 740, 763, 770, 778, 782, 787, 901, 904;
Ives, Burl, 170, 828.

 

From Mary Tyler Moore’s After All:

Richie’s rescued pigeon,
208-210;
assassination threats,
269-71;
Blue Chip stamp collecting,
382-83;
crossword puzzles,
383;
Gomer Pyle, 113; hitting bottom, 349-50; mother’s addiction to pinball machines,
12-13;
as inept liar,
279-82;
O’Neill, Tip,
280, 281;
Kershaw, Doug,
236;
Busey, Gary, 207.