Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The letter C

I have been wrestling with a virus (stomach, not computer) and an index - between the two of them, they have thoroughly eroded the quality of my life over the last few days...

But my health seems to be on the mend, and the index and book proofs are winging their way back to the copy-editor in New Jersey as we speak, so this is very good.

Official publication date is January 2009, but my editor had a vision of us having it for the MLA conference at the end of December that seems (barring unforeseen calamity) as though it will be realized - in retrospect, I am extremely grateful, as it was only the power and plausibility of her vision that made it possible for me to complete the final book revisions in January and February of this year. I was in a seriously exhausted and zombie-like state and had no spare will-power for self-motivated and seemingly non-essential book-finishing!

I had a funny bit of correspondence after the glimpse I gave last week of my indexing process. Old friend Steve Burt, whose Randall Jarrell biography contains some words of Jarrell's that speak to me more strongly than almost anything else I've ever read, commented mildly, with a link on his blog, "That’s not the way I did it…" A brief correspondence ensued:
JMD: I want to hear how you did yours! I fear that the way we tackle this sort of project is deeply revealing of thinking preferences/habits... And in fact I was looking at your Jarrell one, because my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style was at the office; I wanted to look at a Columbia UP example!

SB: I never look at Manuals of Style any more, just at models (same journal or same press).

I went through the proofs with three colors of highlighters, one for names of people, one for other proper nouns, and one for common nouns ("personhood," "totalitarianism," "squirrels") that I thought I wanted to index. Then I read through the highlighted MS and created a word file. This works for everything except the entry for the idea or person the whole book is about ("Randall Jarrell," "adolescence"), which editors insist you have, and which you have to create by flipping through the book rapidly after the rest of the index has been prepared.

I'm not sure what that reveals.
My mother, a longtime elementary-school teacher, always used to quote one particular sixth-grader's words when she asked him how that day at school had been. He said (of a strict and demanding but much-loved teacher), "Mrs. Hineline busted my brain!" It is in the nature of indexing that it busts the brain, that is its charm and its purpose.

(Well, perhaps that is hyperbolic, its purpose is not brain-busting - but you do want the index to sort of crack open the book in a disconcerting and unexpected way, it's one last shot at making your case!)

I got some truly wonderful corrections and comments from my overseas assistant; I have not asked his permission, I'm afraid, but I'm pasting in a sample page that includes the absolutely delightful query (on my use of hereditary as a subheading under inheritance) "a bit pleonastic?" (This also gives me the opportunity for an irresistible new post label below which I will endeavor not to make excessive use of in future.)

And here is the promised sample letter:

13 comments:

  1. That is a great collection of tags. I hope you can come up with another use for PLEONASM!

    ReplyDelete
  2. (Like the next time I use my favorite phrase "mental insanity"!)

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete