Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 2nd September 2021
Indexes don’t exactly sound like the most scintillating of subjects, I guess. On the face of it, they’re such a utilitarian thing, and most of us don’t give them a second thought. But I really enjoy histories that dig into things we take for granted like this, and it’s usually surprisingly rewarding, so I thought this sounded like a good time — and I wasn’t wrong. It’s not just about the minutiae of how to create a good index (although that’s certainly part of it), but also about people’s attitudes to indexes, and what that says about people’s needs, wants and fears when it comes to literacy and scholarship.
The highlight of the book is probably Duncan’s delighted tour of how to use an index to be truly petty. Would you imagine that an index could cost a politician an election? Well, there’s at least one case where an index was a factor. Can you picture getting one over on your rival with a catty little index entry? There’s some really fascinating stuff lurking behind some indexes, and it’s fascinating.
I also thought the examples of using indexes as a format for telling fiction were interesting; as Duncan says, they don’t quite work because they can’t quite imitate the random, non-chronological format… but there are some really imaginative stories out there which give it a go.
Overall, this was everything I’d hoped for.