Never Index Your Own Book
As for the life of Aamons, Mona, the index itself gave a jangling, surrealistic picture of the many conflicting forces that had been brought to bear on her and of her dismayed reactions to them.
‘Aamons, Mona:’ the index said, ‘adopted by Monzano in order to boost Monzano’s popularity, 194-9, 216 n.; childhood in compound of House of Hope and Mercy, 63-81; childhood romance with P. Castle, 72 f; death of father, 89 ff; death of mother, 92 f; embarrassed by role as national erotic symbol, 80, 95f, 166 n., 400-406, 566 n., 678; engaged to P. Castle, 193; essential naïveté, 67-71, 80, 95 f, 116 n., 209, 274 n, 400-406, 566 n, 678; lives with Bokonon, 92-8, 196-7; poems about, 2 n., 26, 114, 119, 311, 316, 477 n., 501, 507, 555 n., 689, 718 ff, 800 n., 841, 846 ff, 908 n. 971, 974; poems by, 89, 92, 193; returns to Monzano, 199; returns to Bokonon, 197; runs away from Bokonon, 199; runs away from Monzano, 197; tries to make self ugly in order to stop erotic symbol to islanders, 90, 95 f, 116., 209, 247 n., 400-406, 566 n., 678; tutored by Bokonon, 63-80; writes letter to United Nations, 200; xylophone virtuoso, 71.’
I showed this index entry to the Mintons, asking them if they didn’t think it was an enchanting biography in itself, a biography of a reluctant goddess of love. I got an unexpectedly expert answer, as one does in life sometimes. It appeared that Claire Minton, in her time, had been a professional indexer. I had never heard of such a profession before.
She told me that she had put her husband through college years before with her earnings as an indexer, that the earnings had been good, and that few people could index well.
She said that indexing was a thing that only the most amateurish author undertook to do for his own book. I asked her what she thought of Philip Castle’s job.
‘Flattering to the author, insulting to the reader,’ she said. ‘In a hyphenated word,’ she observed, with the shrewd amiability of an expert, “self-indulgent”. I’m always embarrassed when I see an index an author has made of his own work.’
‘It’s a revealing thing, an author’s index of his own work,’ she informed me. ‘It’s a shameless exhibition – to the trained eye.’
‘She can read character from an index,’ said her husband.
‘Oh?’ I said. ‘What can you tell about Philip castle?’
She smiled faintly. ‘Things I better not tell strangers.’
‘He’s obviously in love with this Mona Aamons Monzano,’ she said.
‘That’s true of every man in San Lorenzo, I gather.’
‘He has mixed feelings about his father,’ she said.
‘That’s true of every man on earth.’ I egged her on gently.
‘What mortal isn’t?’ I demanded. I didn’t know it then, but that was a very Bokonist thing to demand.
‘He’ll never marry her.’
‘I’ve said all I’m going to say,’ she said.
‘I’m gratified to meet an indexer who respects the privacy of others.’
‘Never index your own book,’ she stated.
Sometime later, Ambassador Minton and I met in the aisle of the airplane, away from his wife, and he showed that it was important to him that I respect what his wife could find out from indexes.
‘You know why Castle will never marry the girl, even though he loves her, even though she loves him, even though they grew up together?’ he whispered.
‘No, sir, I don’t.’
‘Because he’s a homosexual,’ whispered Minton. ‘She can tell that from an index, too.’
A character in Kurt Vonnegut’s indispensable Cat’s Cradle performs a kind of intellectual palm-reading of an author based on his choice of indexes at the rear of his book.
A sober warning to writers hoping to cut costs by working up their own index that, in doing so, they likely spill their secrets for the perceptive to enjoy.