National Indexing Day 2020: some of the best and funniest index entries I know

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A brief history

Today (31st March) is the fourth National Indexing Day. Hooray, hip hip! This now-annual event was invented by the Society of Indexers in 2017 to mark the 60th diamond anniversary of the founding of the Society on 30th March 1957. The first year was a virtual event, but we added events for publishers in London 2018 and Manchester 2019 (see summaries of those at NID I, NID II and NID III). The exact NID date can change slightly each year to accommodate the publishers’ event (previously to avoid Good Friday and a Brexit-that-wasn’t). Sadly this year the publishers’ event has had to be cancelled altogether for obvious reasons, so we are staying in safely and back to celebrating it online instead.

As I’m no longer presenting today at a NID event, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite index entries via the medium of blog.

Literary giants

Let’s start with a bang from the big guns.

J.G. Ballard’s ‘The Index’ is a short story entirely in the form of an index (plus its introductory note) and is meant to be read from A to Z. The note declares it to be ‘the index to the unpublished and perhaps suppressed autobiography’ of Henry Rhodes Hamilton (HRH). Only intriguing glimpses of the peculiar life of HRH can be gleaned from the index, and what’s more the introductory note questions ‘the true role of the indexer’ as ‘This ambiguous and shadowy figure has taken the unusual step of indexing himself into his own index’. The final entry to the index and story reads as follows:

Zielinksi, Bronislaw, suggests autobiography to HRH, 742; commissioned to prepare index, 748; warns of suppression threats, 752; disappears, 761

The whole index/story can be read at the back of Mike Bonsall’s experimental text Henry Rhodes Hamilton: An Autobiography, which imagines the original text of the missing book but with everything not mentioned in the index re-redacted. (See Digital Ballard.)

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire contains an index which is part of the entire fiction. The book is centred on an autobiographical poem by professor John Shade but is swamped by the surrounding foreword, commentary and index by Charles Kinbote, his fellow lecturer. Kinbote’s own entry in the index is twice as long as Shade’s, and the poet’s wife, to whom the poem is addressed throughout, merely merits:

Shade, Sybil, S’s wife, passim

Kinbote’s enemies ‘Prof. C.’ and ‘Prof. H.’, only mentioned in subheadings, are just followed by the parenthesis ‘(not in Index)’. Shade indeed.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle is a novel with no index but does include a character Claire Minton who was a past professional indexer. Chapter 55 is entitled ‘Never Index Your Own Book’. The narrator has shown Claire the index to his friend’s autobiography and asks for her opinion:

‘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’d better not tell strangers.’

Comedy classics

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you’ve landed on this website before, you may be aware of several of the following examples, but whether you’re a newcomer or not, here are some choice selected highlights.

Director, writer and actor Richard Ayoade has now published three books, all on a filmic theme, and all with comedic indexes that are full of strange things. From Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey:

dew, mature stag glistening with, 255
sheep, ten billion gently gavotting, 249

A couple from Richard Ayoade Presents: The Grip of Film by Gordy LaSure, written by his mainly foul-mouthed alter-ego:

stories, mice deprived of, xxvii

And some from his latest book Ayoade on Top (‘the definitive book about perhaps the best cabin-crew dramedy ever filmed: View from the Top, starring Gwyneth Paltrow’), which should soon make into its own blog post on here:

42, Level, 9
Dec, Ant and, 107
fast, (no way of knowing) the tide was coming in that, 9n

Charlie Brooker had a good play with the indexes – which he ‘joke-i-fied’ himself – to his collections of columns for the Guardian newspaper, including this nice set of circular cross-references from I Can Make You Hate:

ceaseless repetition, see déjà vu
déjà vu, see make it stop
endless loop, see unbreakable cycle
I can’t, I just can’t, see endless loop
make it stop, see I can’t, I just can’t
unbreakable cycle, see ceaseless repetition

The mighty Alan Partridge (aha) has funny indexes to both of his books, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan and Alan Partridge: Nomad (spoof memoirs of the TV character written by Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan). The index to I, Partridge is crammed full of Partridgeisms, particularly the subheadings under his main entry:

dress and grooming
aftershave (Pagan Man) 122
dressing gown, when alone 132
food and drink
interfered-with sandwiches 24
omelettes at Travel Tavern 151
Toblerone addiction 203–4, 213–23, 228–9, 231

Another spoof memoir is that of renowned thespian Steven Toast (Matt Berry’s TV character) in Toast on Toast, with the index written by Berry’s co-author Arthur Mathews. Lots of fun being had in this one from Toast’s perspective on his fellow media colleagues (some fictional, some not):

101, Dalmatians, 101; Toast counts individually, 102
Brand, Russell: attempts to overthrow government, 88; ‘rare moment of calm’, 654
Fandango, Clem, 60; wears ridiculous clothes, 78–89, looks like a woman, 89–99; acts like a prick, 189–99

Francis Wheen has written some excellent indexes too, including highly entertaining ones for his books Strange Days Indeed and How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World which cover political and social change from the 1970s to the early 21st century. I’ve written about these elsewhere on this blog and in The Indexer, where Francis was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on his indexing experiences (see The Indexer website).

As a brief sample, a couple of well-balanced pairs from Strange Days:

Moore, Roger: regrettable lapels, 2
Reynolds, Burt: regrettable toupee, 2

And from Mumbo-Jumbo:

Aitken, Jonathan: admires risk-takers, 59; goes to jail, 60
Ronson, Gerald: eulogised by Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Robinson, 59; goes to jail, 60

If any of this takes your fancy, you can see more on all the above comedy book indexes in my full blog collection at Baindex blog.

Novel adventures

A couple of recent works of fiction with indexes here that I have yet to blog about but posts may well be forthcoming, as there’s a lot to enjoy in both of them.

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan is a novel masquerading as a history of a Scottish punk band and its index has much to investigate, including copious swearing.

baked potato place in Airdrie, 172
fuck knows, 181
snowdrops (so white and forlorn), 138

Just go and read the whole thing, including all of the index.

Another of my recent favourites is Their Brilliant Careers by Scottish-born Australian author Ryan O’Neill. Hard to summarise this one quickly, but it is a spoof set of biographies of ‘sixteen extraordinary Australian writers’. O’Neill as the biographer portrays himself as a less than sympathetic, and hopefully fictional, persona. You find out part way through the book that the index was written by Ryan’s late wife Rachel Deverall (also fictional), whom he was rumoured to have plagiarised, and worse. She makes her views on her husband pretty clear in her index, the last words to his book:

adulterer, see O’Neill, Ryan
dickhead, see O’Neill, Ryan
egomaniac, see O’Neill, Ryan
pyromaniac, see O’Neill, Ryan
wanker, see O’Neill, Ryan

A few of my own

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a few books where I could add my own entertaining index entries where it seemed appropriate although – important disclaimer – this would only be recommended professional practice where the tone of the book suits.

In Copyright and the Value of Performance, 1770–1911 by Derek Miller, I was rather fond of the second subheading in this entry. This is an academic theatre and performance studies book (a very good one too) and as the index entry reflects exactly what is discussed on the page I thought it was fair game for inclusion.

NID wig

I was also – still am – delighted to have got the following sequence of index entries into  brilliant comedy historian Jem Roberts’s Soupy Twists! The Full, Official Story of the Sophisticated Silliness of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, with the author’s blessing.


Part of me can’t quite believe this made it into the final printed book, just as part of me can’t quite believe that the BBC let Fry & Laurie get away with broadcasting the sketch character names Peter Cuminmyear and Ted Cunterblast on national television in the first place, but I’m glad of all of it. [Note: Benedict Cumberbatch is a real person.]

As a bonus, I received a nice credit in the acknowledgements of both of these books too. Happy author + happy indexer = happy readers.

The end (and beyond)

Please join in with the hashtag #indexday online and keep sharing the love for indexes, indexing and indexers. Follow @indexers, @The_Indexer and me @PC_Bain on Twitter for much more today and in future.

You can try your own hand at indexing with the Society of Indexers competition, where the best index submitted to our Last But Not Least leaflet will win a free online Indexing Basics workshop (see SI Indexing Competition 2020, closing date 3rd April 2020).

If you’re an editor or publisher wanting to know more about indexing and how to work with professional indexers, the Society of Indexers has also launched a new Indexing for Editors online workshop today, similar to our in-house publisher workshops, which is now available for booking on the SI website (see SI Indexing for Editors online workshop).

A collection of all the National Indexing Day 2020 social media activity is available at NID 2020 #indexday Wakelet summary.

Happy #indexday!


Paula Clarke Bain is a professional book indexer and editor. She likes comedy, books and indexes and really likes comedy book indexes. See more at her website at or on Twitter @PC_Bain.

3 thoughts on “National Indexing Day 2020: some of the best and funniest index entries I know

  1. I’ve been saving this to look at later, ie a month later… Always a pleasure, esp the Alan Partridge analyses from a while back. There’s modest fun to be had from the indexing of John Lloyd’s original ‘Meaning of Liff’ and the recent retread on a fairly well-beaten path, Afterliff.


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