Tag Archives: oliver sacks

100 best non-fiction books – Awakenings

For 2016 Author Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the 100 best non-fiction books. These are “key texts in English that have shaped our literary culture and made us who we are”, in the Anglo-American English language tradition, the list covers “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture”.

Number 11 was a book of poetry, North, by Seamus Heaney which didn’t have an index in it’s Amazon incarnation. Poetry books can have indexes of titles and first lines, however this doesn’t appear to have had that treatment.

Number 12 is Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, the account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically ‘frozen’ by sleeping sickness.

This book has a traditional style index in run-out layout that is hard to find anything to say anything critical about. There are a few instances of entries having lots of locators. It might be a bit on the light side at 7 pages for 400 pages of text, but for a general interest text that might be enough. And I’d like to know what he says about Judy Dench, but unfortunately the Amazon version doesn’t allow a search, so perhaps I’ll have to find a copy and see.

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Wellcome Book Prize 2014 – indexes in the shortlisted books

Regular readers will know I sometimes look at the indexes of books that appear on prize short lists. Of course, I can’t read all the books to see how accurate they are, but you can get quite a good view of the index from taking a close look at how it is laid out and how the main and subheadings are dealt with. The Wellcome prize is given for  books with a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness. It can include fiction, but I’ve only reviewed the non-fiction books. Of course I think it’s a shame that the indexes are included in the criteria for selecting the short-listed books.

Last week Andrew Solomon was announced as the winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2014 for his book Far from the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love. Published by Vintage, it’s a monumental tome that apparently took a decade to write. I bet he’s pleased as he’s won £30,000. The index starts on page 907 and runs for 51 pages of double column layout. Not a bad job, but it could have been better. There are some headings that could have used a further breakdown and there appear to be many headings with a string of locators followed by a number of subheadings and their locators. My software encourages me to get rid of these by suggesting that that there are too many locators at one heading or, in the second case by asking if I’m sure that I want those locators at the main heading. It, is of course, OK to have locators at the main heading, but they shouldn’t be the left-over ones. There are also some headings which have been over-analysed and given subheadings where there are so few locators it does not seem worthwhile to include them.

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, published by Picador, has an index that also could have been better. Again it suffers from long strings of locators for some headings, both with and without subheadings. There are cases of see references being used where double entry would not have used up more lines, for example “cannabis (marijuana) with 5 locators” and “marijuana see cannabis”.

Creation by Adam Rutherford, published by Penguin, has an index which seems to have been scrambled on Amazon because the book can be read from both ends. The index again has long strings of locators at the main entry and a few at the subheading – see the entry for DNA on page 128 for example, this surely could have been broken down into more subheadings.

Wounded by Emily Mayhew, published by Vintage. This index is laid out in run-on style, which can be annoying and makes it harder for readers to find the subheadings they want. Otherwise, it looks good, without long strings of locators at main headings. Minor criticisms would be see entries where double entry would not have increased the number of lines used i.e. radiography see X-rays, where there are only 2 locators.

Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise, published by Vintage,  was on the shortlist, but I can’t see the index at Amazon currently. This review in The Guardian newspaper says it has 23 pages of index, which for a book that length is close to the ‘average’ of 5% of a books length that is a rule of thumb for index length.