Monthly Archives: November 2013

Costa Biography nominations 2013

Yet another shortlist of potentially award-winning books came out yesterday. The winner will be announced in January 2014. Here’s a useful pdf with a summary of what each is about and here are a few thoughts about the indexes if I can find them.

So half the books don’t have an index, and one was already an award-winner, I thought Hanns and Rudolf would get it, but The Pike won again.

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Amazon and the ‘see inside’ function – now you see it, now you don’t

The winner of the FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award for 2013 was Brad Stone’s book about Amazon. I haven’t read the book but you can get a feel for it from the trail the FT gives for it here.

No-one would argue that Amazon has transformed the way we buy, read and use books. Also doubtless there are students writing theses about the various social and business implications of how Amazon has influenced the book industry and associated activities, such as studying, writing and publishing.

I’d just like to focus for a few seconds on the ‘look inside’ feature which allows potential buyers to browse inside books. Most usefully, when this feature is activated there is quite a lot material available to the potential purchaser, and it often includes the index. I have referred to many such indexes while I have been looking at potentially award-winning books. However, in many cases you only get to look at the Kindle version of the book, and as the Kindle version doesn’t carry an index, you can’t see the index for the physical book, even if that was the version you wanted to buy.

As a member of the Society of Indexers I have to say that pretty much all non-fiction books should have an index, and the presence of a good index can be a selling point when it comes to deciding to buy a book. However, wilfully restricting the access of potential buyers to the ‘view inside’ without an index may mean that said buyers will not continue to value indexes, not require them or demand them in books and instead be content to buy e-books without proper indexes. If you are someone who likes to see the index when you ‘look inside’ and you get frustrated when it isn’t there, please make your feelings known to Amazon by using the ‘feedback’ button on the Amazon Reader page for the book you are looking at.

The future of non-fiction electronic publishing is not cut and dried, there’s a long way to go yet. There is a lot of information about the efforts of the Society of Indexers and others on the Publishing Technology Group‘s website. Its remit is to advise Society of Indexers members, publishers and authors on reconciling powerful text retrieval techniques with emerging delivery technologies in publishing.

SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award 2013

A late-comer to the annual book of the year awards was announced earlier this week. The (long) shortlist has 12 books on it, so I’m taking a very quick peak inside of each to look at the index (or lack thereof) in each. Why am I bothering? Because, as a member of the Society of Indexers, I believe that every non-fiction book needs an index  – unless the book is likely to be read once and then discarded, an index is essential and a non-fiction book without an index causes its readers considerable frustration. So, sadly, some of the publishers of these books think they are as disposable as a tissue, which is a shame given the effort that must have gone into writing them.

On the Road Bike: The Search For a Nation’s Cycling Soul. Ned Boulting. Yellow Jersey. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon, but I suspect it probably doesn’t have an index. Which is a shame. I have read this book on Kindle and it contains information about a wide range of unknown or forgotten people who have been the backbone of grassroots cycling in the UK.

Racing Hard, 20 Tumultuous Years in Cycling. William Fotheringham. Faber and Faber. Replete with index, lots of names and races mentioned, but suffers a bit from undifferentiated strings of locators for some of the key characters – Lance Armstrong, Dave Brailsford etc. who appear throughout the book.

Cycling Anthology II, Tour de France centenary edition. Lionel Birnie and Ellis Bacon. Peloton Publishing. Doesn’t have an index, which was a conscious decision on the part of the editors. You can take a look at my free index for volume III and see the kind of thing it is missing.

Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike. Rob Hayles. Bantam Press. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon.

Domestique. The True life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro. Charlie Wegelius. Ebury Press. No trace of an index. But was the eventual award winner, gaining the highest number of public votes http://www.tourseries.co.uk/news/9047.php

Hunger. Sean Kelly. Peloton Publishing. Not much sign of an index.

Mountain Higher: Europe’s Extreme, Undiscovered and Unforgettable Cycling Climbs. Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding. Quercus. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon. However an earlier volume on the same topic did have an index, so just maybe there is an index.

Sean Yates: It’s All About the Bike. Sean Yates. Bantam Press. No look inside for the printed version available on Amazon. Other Bantam publications have indexes so maybe there is one.

The Race Against Time: Obree, Boardman and the Quest to be the Fastest Man on Two Wheels. Edward Pickering. Bantam Press. Got an index, with a lot of subheadings for each of Boardman and Obree, but some of the other people mentioned suffer from undifferentiated locators, i.e. the entries for Indurain and LeMond.

Project Rainbow: How British Cycling Reached the Top of the World. Rod Ellingworth. Faber and Faber. No look inside available for the printed version.

Mapping Le Tour de France. Ellis Bacon. Collins. Long index of entries covering each time a place was in the Tour de France with a separate subheading. However, lots of undifferentiated locators for the participants, so you can’t cross reference by using the index to find out for example, when a particular rider went through a particular place. That might have made the index a lot longer but chapeau to whoever compiled it anyway.

Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team. Tim Lewis. Yellow Jersey. No index in this book I’m afraid.

The public voted for Domestique, so congratulations to Charlie, but shame it didn’t have an index.

If you’ve writing a book about cycling and you’d like to talk about including an index, please get in touch by using the contact tab above.

The Cycling Anthology Vol III – free index

To have a bit of practice at compiling indexes to multi-authored texts I’ve compiled one for The Cycling Anthology, published by Peloton Press and edited by Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie. It was published without an index. This was an interesting exercise as there are lots of names of riders and teams and some common themes spread among the 12 essays. A good buy for cycling fans for their Christmas stocking, and you could print off my index for a little added extra.

The index can be downloaded here: The Cycling Anthology Vol 3.

The book can be bought from here and other online retailers.

what would we do without …..?

the Internet? and indexes?

I’ve been managing without the Internet since Sunday, but fortunately the BT man fixed ours today and I’m back. Lack of the wherewithal at the weekend meant I missed catching up with blogging some indexing things.

The Samuel Johnson Prize was won by Lucy Hughes-Hallett and her book, The Pike, which is  about Gabriele D’Annunzio. You can see the comments I made about the index to this book on my previous post here. Well done to Lucy for her win, and I hope all the team who contributed to the book, including the indexer, took time to bathe in the reflect glow from the prize.

The other prizes I wrote about recently will be awarded over the next couple of weeks, so let’s hope one with a great index also wins those categories, although there’s a chance that a book without an index could win too!

So what would we do without indexes?

The most fundamental thing is that readers of books without indexes won’t know what is inside the book, except in the most general terms. I’ve been practising my indexing skills on a book of essays about cycling and I’m astounded by the sheer number of names that get dropped by all the authors, even when the article is ostensibly about someone or something else. More on this book another time, as I’ve not finished the index yet.

You can read more about why books need indexes over here at the Society of Indexers. While some of these quotes are a few years old now and you might think that e-books can do without an index because you can easily search a book, take a look at this page which talks about why human indexers do a better job than text searches. In these days of time-poor readers, having someone else fillet the bones out of a book and make a proper index surely makes sense?

Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2013

The prize is given for science books written for a non-specialist audience, and the winner, Sean Carroll for his book about the Higgs particle, was announced on 25th November.

  • Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury) – what it is like to be a bird! The indexer to this volume has done some additional work by finding and adding the Latin names of the birds mentioned in the text, and they have also indexed the notes section. They have also grappled with the singular and plural issue identified in the book about bees in the Samuel Johnson Prize. However, the additional work of adding the Latin names doesn’t always make sense when the information about the birds is limited – for example they have added the Latin names for both the greater and lesser flamingos that appear on page 204, but the information on page 204 doesn’t distinguish between them and only briefly mentions them. But perhaps the editor or author asked for all the Latin names and who is to question what the piper wants?
  • The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll (One World) – the search for the Higgs particle. A professional-looking index where the indexer has added cross-references from abbreviations (which abound) and not used double entry to give the locators in both places, for example ‘Compact Muon Solenoid see CMS’. References to illustrations appear in italics.
  • Cells to Civilisations by Enrico Coen (Princeton University Press) – about how evolution works. Another professional-looking index. The subheadings are in run-on format, which can make them difficult to read and find information within when there are lots of subheadings – for example see the entry for ‘learning’. There are double entries for the common and scientific names of plants and animals. The scientific name is also given next to the common name and these seem to appear in the text so there was no extra work for the indexer to find them out.
  • Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (Profile Books) – about how memory works. Another nice-looking index. Set-out subheadings which makes it easier to use than run-on subheadings, and as with the preceding book, this index does sometimes have a lot of subheadings under a main heading. There is a separator letter to distinguish each section of the index. This can be helpful so the eye can easily find the start of each section. Film and book titles are given in italics, the books are filed only by their author, although they could have been double entered by the book titles or character names. For example, a discussion of how literature and films treat memory mentions Harry Potter novels and the film Avatar, the former are indexed under Rowling, J.K. with subheadings for both book titles, the film Avatar is indexed under Avatar. The filing of the heading ‘St Gall Abbey, Switzerland’ places it at the start of the S sequence, probably because the indexer has sorted it as though it were spelt out in full as ‘Saint Gall’, however another possibility would be to file it in word-by-word order before ‘stimuli’.
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Granta) – no view inside available
  • Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) – how our seas are changing. Another detailed index with some classification. For example, all of the fish mentioned in the book are gathered up as subheadings under the heading ‘fish’ and they do not have their own separate main entries unless there are too many locators, i.e. ‘sharks’, and the birds, seaweed and shellfish, etc, are treated in the same way. This can be a useful way of checking the breadth of coverage of a book without having to find each heading individually. There are see also cross-references between trawling, dredging and fishing, which methods of catching fish each have many subheadings.

FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year 2013

I had high hopes for this list, with a prize of £30K awarded on 18 November. The award should go to ‘the book that is judged to have provided the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues’, so current affairs that readers really might want to refer back to in the near or perhaps distant future. My comments on the indexes in the shortlisted books follow:

  • The Alchemists: Inside the secret world of central bankers by Neil Irwin (Headline publishing) – a professional-looking index, done in what I think of as the US style with all the headings starting with a capital letter, which works OK in this context, but can lead to terms looking more important than they actually are. Some nice cross-referencing going on – ‘Employment losses’ directs to ‘Unemployment’, ‘Super Mario Brothers’ directs to ‘Draghi, Mario; Monti, Mario’.
  • Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cuckier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – another professional-looking index. Not many examples of undifferentiated locators, so perhaps the entries that had them couldn’t be given subheadings. Some use of double entry to make it easier to locate information, for example ‘marine navigation’ has a main entry, and also a subheading under ‘Maury, Matthew Fontaine’ and all the subheadings under ‘correlation analysis’ also appear as main headings.
  • The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.
  • The Everything Store by Brad Stone – sadly for a book about Amazon you couldn’t see the print book when I first wrote this blog in November 2013. By late January 2014 the ‘look inside’ version was available and you can see a detailed index, quite heavy on names of people, brands and products and with some undifferentiated locators for some of the subheadings. But at least the feature has been enabled.
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen) – Some examples of undifferentiated locators, for example ‘Facebook’ gathers 30. Sandberg works for Facebook, so it was obviously going to feature in the book. But without subheadings the browsing reader can’t see what she’s written about it. This is odd, given that some headings accrued masses of subheadings for a relatively small number of locators overall, for example ‘parenting’ where 14 subheadings have been teased out and three of them cover aspects of ‘stay-at-home’. So the indexing is a little uneven, although it may reflect the contents of the book.
  • Making it Happen by Iain Martin – print book not available to look inside on Amazon.

Something of a shame that there are only 3 available to ‘see inside’ on Amazon. The winner was the book about Amazon by Brad Stone.