The Importance of Indexing

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I'm in the final stages of finishing up a book right now—and that's writing a book, not just reading one. I've written several books before, some that took less than two months to complete, some that took more than ten years. The current one, from when the first words contained in it were originally written by me, until now, is closer to the longer figure given in the previous sentence. It's been an interesting journey of discovery and ever-unfolding wonder at every stage during which the bits of the book were written individually, until I began collecting them together in the summer of 2010 to become the book that will soon be complete.

The final stage of the book I'm working away at presently, though, is the index. This is the fifth index I've ever created (one of my previous books did not have an index, and I've made indices for two other books that were not my own), and in fact I can trace my own original involvements with publishing to index generation. During my junior year of high school, I was on the yearbook staff, and I was taken on as the copy editor/proofreader, but in doing so I suggested that likewise I be in charge of compiling the index. As I would be reading every page of the yearbook that was completed, I could then also add all of the names on each page to the index, rather than many people on the staff having to work frantically during the final deadline of the year to look at every page and do it poorly in a rush. The following year, when I was editor-in-chief for the yearbook, I continued with having such a position on the staff, and we stood in good stead as a result. I don't know if the yearbook staff in years after mine continued in a similar manner, but I know that having done so during my years of involvement saved a lot of difficulty.

With a book that is often prepared haphazardly, with some pages from non-consecutive sections being completed and turned in at random intervals (like a high school yearbook), indexing-as-you-go is an easier process. With a monograph, it's often a bit more difficult, and the book concerned has to be near to its final form before such a process can begin. Woe to the one whose pagination changes when their index is half-complete!

While I know that there are computer programs that make indexing easier, or even automatic, that are currently available, the materials I've often written about have been more difficult to index because of variant spellings of certain significant terms, which can be exacerbated even more if there are long quotations in non-English languages throughout a text. Very often, I've looked in the index of a book and found it inadequate for various reasons, and so having more direct control over the index and its contents for my own books, at the expense of having to do it "manually," is a decision I've made and to which I'm deeply committed. A good book is made great by a good index, in my view.

But, as I have been doing this, I've noticed some other interesting things. While the majority of indices are arranged alphabetically, is there an overall pattern that can sometimes emerge, or at least suggest itself, based on what terms in the index appear adjacent to one another? When a book is long, or contains a huge number of names, is there a manner in which the index or the book itself can end up functioning as a form of bibliomancy? What deity-names or other concepts get used so frequently as to become passim, and which appear hardly at all, but must nonetheless be noted when they do appear?

I'm currently a little bit further than the halfway mark on this index, so a number of interesting patterns have emerged at this stage. The book is about Antinous, and so he was passim from the beginning; but the Emperor Hadrian (unsurprisingly) became so likewise when I found more than half of the first hundred pages had at least one reference to him. Both "hunting" and "syncretism," as well as "Greek," "Roman," and "Egyptian" have also become so frequently mentioned as to no longer profit from individual listings in the index. Every letter of the English alphabet has at least one entry at this stage, though Xyphilinus (a Byzantine author) and Zeus are rather lonely-but Zeus' singularity is compensated for slightly in the larger number of references to him in the body of the book at present. Apollon leads the listings for gods (other than Antinous) at present, followed closely by Hermes and Dionysos, with Herakles following closely behind; Diva Sabina Augusta currently leads for female divinities, followed by Diana. Other topics frequently mentioned include the moon, stars, hounds, lions, heroes, and Sancti.

11/11/2011 5:00:00 AM
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  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    About P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.