December 16, 2007

From serenity to offense in 5 miles or less

Category: Academic,Books/Articles — Biella @ 5:22 am

When you live in NYC and have a demanding job, you tend to ignore the city (at least I do), that is until guests descend upon your place. And since a Large Family Clan has recently landed in my apt, I have spent the last few days trekking north, south, east, and west, across bridges, in parks, and memorials, eating, drinking, and passing out at night after the constant flurry of activity.

Yesterday we headed pretty much as far north as you can go to pay a visit to the lovely Cloisters sitting high on a cliff. The Cloisters provides stellar views of the Hudson at the same time as it transports you back in time when a lot of energy was put into scribbling religious material on paper in really stunning and ornate ways. I have not paid a visit to the Cloisters since my undergraduate days and after yesterday’s stroll, I am sorry I waited until the frigid winter to do so. It is an *incredibly* serene place, especially the inner courtyard gardens, and if you need serenity (and I think anyone who lives in NYC, needs to counter the low-grade and high-grade exposure to constant noise with some noiseless environments), this is the place to go.

We then made our way to the Columbia area to check out the campus, St. John the Divine (currently under renovation), and so I could pick up a book being held for me at the Book Culture bookstore (which I wish was a lot closer to me than it is)… It was nice to escape the blustering winter conditions and browse the rows of books in a warm and well lit environment. But after purchasing Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Digital Age, parts of which I am hoping to teach next semester, and flipping through the book, my new found serenity was replaced by some serious offense when the only index I could find was an author index. There was no subject index in sight, which at the time left me totally surprised!!

Anyone who is in the business of using books as research tools knows the index is —-> indispensable. And a well indexed book is much appreciated (never mind what a non-existent index does). In fact, I felt like I stumbled on some rare object because I don’t think I have ever seen an academic book published in the last 30 years not sporting this useful tool and I wonder if 1) I have a bunk copy 2) The editors/authors forgot to include it and just pushed out the book anyway 3) This was a willful choice made for reasons hidden to the reader. I think I may have to contact Duke University Press and let me know they momentarily robbed me of my serenity :-)


  1. Make sure you say hi next time you swing by Book Culture without family encumbrances; I live two (four?) doors down.

    Comment by Luis — December 16, 2007 @ 5:27 am

  2. As for the index, I wish it weren’t so, but first book authors often have to fight for the inclusion of a bibliography and pay for their own indexing, if they don’t choose to take the 3-4 weeks to compile one themselves. This is the sort of thing that cash-strapped university presses have shifted onto authors. I loved doing mine — using index cards for the very thing they were invented, or at least named, for. But I ran out of time with my edited collection, and now owe over $1000.00 to the press for the index. Luckily, I’ll be able to use research funds to pay for it, but this might explain why there wasn’t an index in that Duke UP book you purchased. Now, if the book were available as a scan on Google Books, you could do your own indexing. . . . Here’s to a transformation in scholarly publishing, however rocky it may be in transition. . . . .

    Comment by Meredith — December 16, 2007 @ 6:43 am

  3. I wonder how much indexes will still make sense in the age of full-text search. (I mean, they’re still very useful, when all you have is a print copy, but if doing a search on the electronic text could tell you the page numbers of the result, that would be great…)

    +1 on the cloisters, btw :-) .

    Comment by Karl Fogel — December 16, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

  4. Karl,

    Electronic text searches are useful but you first need the categories too. While I can throw in my own categories, which is great (and one of the ++ of electronic text’s), my mind can be pretty uninspired and I would like a little help and structure. So the actual work of the index, I think, is still helpful whether the text is electronic or a treeware version.

    and Yes, CLOISTERS. We will go when you are here in Jan!

    Comment by Biella — December 17, 2007 @ 4:49 am

  5. Thanks so much for visiting our store this weekend. We have a brand new blog that just launched, so we thought we’d stop by your website and say hello. Thanks for mentioning us and for shopping at Book Culture. Please do visit us again!

    - Kelly at Book Culture

    Comment by Book Culture Blog — December 17, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  6. And here I thought you were fleeing the family clan in order to find serenity, not travelling with them.

    But I guess I’m projecting.

    Did you go through the museum while there, or just the park. It’s a great spot for a picnic lunch in the warmer weather.

    Comment by John Eckman — December 19, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

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