A well-made index can be a great aid helping us “arrive swiftly but unruffled at the passage—the quotation, the datum, the knowledge—we need.”
The vanity of writers, if I am myself any example, knows few bounds. If I have a book in hand that is even tangentially about a subject I have written about, I go straightaway to the book’s index to see if I am mentioned. Forty-nine times out of 50 I am not mentioned, but if I am the 50th time the 49 disappointments are all made well. I have not yet caught myself looking for my name in the indexes of books written before I was born—though, who knows, the time may come when I do.
That I am not alone among vain scribblers who haunt indexes I long ago learned from an anecdote, retold by Dennis Duncan in his history of the index, about William F. Buckley, Jr., and Norman Mailer. In the anecdote, which I hope is true, Buckley gave Mailer a copy of his book on his, Buckley’s, 1965 run for mayor of New York City. In the index to the book, alongside Mailer’s name, Buckley, a man not without his own vanity, dabbed in the word “Hi!” We don’t know Mailer’s reaction to this superior gambit, but one likes to think it left him hoist, as I like to say, by his own foulard.
Then there is Googling oneself. To Google oneself—how masturbatory the phrase seems, and mentally perhaps is—certainly is not a good habit. Google is a form of index, if not concordance, or listing of all the appearances of a word in a text, and I use the site often: frequently as an aide-memoire,