As we were exchanging updates on our children over dinner my friend across the table suddenly started waving. Following her gaze I looked back over my shoulder and saw a woman quickly approaching. Our husbands swiveled their heads in that direction as well.

It came out that she (let’s call her Mary) was a neighbor of our friends. Soon the neighbor’s husband (let’s call him John) joined us as well. A six way conversation flew around the table. Into one of the rare pauses my husband threw out the fact that I was an indexer. John stared into my face.

I prepared myself for the typical response of “What’s an indexer?”

Instead I received “An indexer!” Said something nice then threw at me “Ice-nine.”


“Ice-nine. As an indexer you must have heard of it.”

In desperation I scanned the rest of the audience.

Blank faces.

I turned back to my interrogator. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Ice-nine. A Kurt Vonnegut story with a section in it about indexing.”

I felt chastised.


A few days passed. The incident was not forgotten.

I visited my local library in search of this story that all indexers must know.

I searched on “Ice-Nine”. Nope.

I searched on Vonnegut, Kurt. Nope.

In desperation I went onto Wikipedia. Bingo! There is no story called that. Or short story either. It is a chapter in Vonnegut’s book “Cat’s Cradle.”

Not having said book on their shelves I submitted to my library a transfer request.

Within a few days the book was in my hands.

Of course I immediately looked up the chapter on indexing for enlightenment. It was titled “Never Index Your Own Book.” Instantly I was taken with it. Here was an author who was on my side. Someone who understood the need for professional indexers. I read on.

Three (small) pages later I was done. “Well. That was interesting.” Vonnegut had used an excerpt from a fictitious index to further his story by providing background for a character. Brilliant! Yes, one can skim through an index to get a good idea of what is in the text—providing it is well written of course.

To better understand the context of this chapter I decided to read the complete story. Which, by-the-way, actually did help me better understand the indexing chapter.

And so now I would like to share a few passages from that one small chapter.


Revisit this page in March for the Vonnegut excerpt.