Category Archives: Book reviews
Many technical writers do other types of writing too. This week I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting one of them in person. Cynthia Chin-Lee is a manager in information development at Oracle, and also the author of a number of books. She made me a present of two of them – such a generous gesture.
One of the books Cynthia gave me is Amelia to Zora, Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World. Cynthia is the author, and the illustrations are by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.
Each page is about a woman who’s done amazing, beautiful, world-changing things with her life. Cynthia has managed to pack an enormous amount into just a few words about each person, with a quotation from each one. The illustrations by Megan and Sean are unusual and lovely. My favourite is the page about Imogen Cunningham, a photographer:
The second book Cynthia gave me is Operation Marriage, a story about a family of four: two mothers and two children. The mothers are gay, and at the start of the book they haven’t yet married. When they first decided to commit their lives to each other, marriage of gay couples was not legal in their part of the world. The story tells how their two children get together to persuade them to marry.
Cynthia Chin-Lee is the author and Lea Lyon is the illustrator.
The story is sensitively and neatly told, and the illustrations are just gorgeous. This is my favourite page, showing the family settled down on the couch to watch a video of the mothers’ commitment ceremony:
You can find details of the books on Cynthia’s website. Thank you Cynthia for a thoughtful gift.
I’ve just finished reading a new book called Non-Mortuus, by Zola. Are you a fan of vampire fiction, villains who turn out to be heroes or vice versa, and fast-paced action interspersed with thought-provoking otherworldliness? Then I think you’ll enjoy this book!
What’s it about? Vampires and vampire hunters. That seems straightforward. But the going gets a bit murky when you and the characters discover it’s hard to draw the line between undead and hunter.
It’s a good-sized book, coming in at nearly 450 pages. A good length to get you fully engaged in the characters and the world that the author sets up. And Zola has set up a very convincing world for you and the characters to make your own.
The book is full of detailed descriptions of locations, such as the streets of Lisbon in chapter 2, and the busy sidewalks of Calcutta (Kolkata) in chapter 25. I found these descriptions very interesting, and they add to the feeling that you’re in a real world.
Here I’d like to make a quick disclosure: Zola is a friend of mine. I bought the book because he wrote it. I read it with ever-growing pleasure.
The book is written in three parts, each narrated by a different character. The first is Aníbal Ferreira Silva, a trained hunter in the Order, and sworn to track down and kill the non-mortuus (vampires) of this world. The second part of the book is written in the voice of Eleanor, also known as Elle. She’s a non-mortuus. And the third narrator is Billy Ray, another of the hunters.
The author, Zola, is writing in his second language. His first is Croatian. This leads to an odd turn of phrase every now and then. It adds to the atmosphere of the book, especially in the first part where the narrator is Aníbal, who is also not English. I’d recommend a little more proof-reading to fix some grammatical and spelling errors, especially in the parts where Billy Ray, an American, is the narrator.
Billy Ray’s section is quite different in pace and style. There’s much more swash-buckling action as the book comes to its climax. I loved the characterisation in the book. Aníbal is very human in his foibles and strengths. Elle is cute though a little cold…
I recommend this book for its authoritative voice, sound theming, engaging characters, and good placement in geography and time. Zola cleverly introduces new plot elements throughout the book, with well-timed revelations about the Order and non-mortuus alike.
So, suspend your disbelief (I found that easy, right from the start) and enjoy the ride with Zola, Aníbal, Eleanor and Billy Ray. Let me know if you survive. Mua-ha-ha…
A number of people have written reviews of my book, Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication. The reviews are thoughtful, quirky, in-depth, and creative. I love the variety of styles. Here’s a roundup, for those who’d like to know more about the book or simply to see what people are saying about it.
The latest is a review with a difference. It’s by Randall Ward of Appfire Technologies. He has called it a “book review and wine/chocolate pairing guide“. If you’re the slightest bit interested in wine, chocolate, or wikis, you’ve got to read Randall’s post. 😉
All reviews to date:
- Book Review and Wine/Chocolate Pairing Guide: “Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate” by Randall Ward at HotOnCollaboration.com, 31 May 2012.
- Tasting a little Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate by Scott Nesbitt at Communications from DMN, 2 May 2012.
- Must Read: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate by Anne Gentle at Just Write Click, 26 April 2012.
- Book review: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate by Ellis Pratt at Cherryleaf, 26 March 2012.
- New Confluence Wiki Industry-Shaker Book – by Sarah Maddox – Get it by Ellen Feaheny at AppFusions, 24 March 2012.
More reviews will probably appear after the date of this post, as people start receiving their copies of the book. To see the latest reviews, drop in on this wiki page: Book reviews and blog posts and webinars and more.
Thanks so much to everyone who has spent the time and energy writing up a review!
Who cares about content? I do. Passionately. But then I’m a technical writer, so that’s only natural. However, more and more organisations are beginning to realise the value of their content, be it the words and images on their websites, their product documentation, online forums, or any other way in which they make their presence known. Content, especially online content, is their primary way of interacting with customers and potential customers.
I’ve just finished reading Alan Porter’s new book, The Content Pool: Leveraging Your Company’s Largest Hidden Asset, published by XML Press. It’s a great read, in Alan’s inimitable story-telling style. If you’re in any way involved in the world of business and its content, then this book will give you plenty of points to think about.
The book’s theme is that content is a strategic business asset and should be treated as such. In fact, the final chapter makes the case for appointing a Chief Content Officer (CCO) so that content is managed at senior executive level.
Kudos to Alan for identifying this topic and running with it. It’s a topic that all organisations need to pay attention to. High-quality content, well managed, is especially of critical importance to commercial organisations that target a globally distributed customer base. Wise and smart content management is the way to make and save $$.
Thoughout the book you will find stories drawn from Alan’s own experience, illustrating his points and making the book a joy to read. It’s like sitting down at the fireside with a friend, discussing your troubles and mulling over the possible solutions.
This is a great quotation: “I’m a writer. I take the truth and give it scope.” (From the film “A Knight’s Tale”, quoted on page 82.)
I loved chapter 11, “Answers are the Answer”, and its tale of the purple monkey (page 134). A senior technical writer at a certain organisation was convinced that no-one ever read the “Description and Operation” documents that he produced. So he had taken to adding the words “purple monkey” in the middle of the documents, completely out of context and in the middle of a sentence. No-one ever complained.
On page 36, Alan writes, “With all this talk of the future and new media, don’t forget about your legacy information and your older, or disconnected, audience. Paper is still the default for the vast majority of people in the world. It is still the best user interface and delivery mechanism ever created.”
Those are good words. They gave me a new perspective on paper.
Alan makes the point that we need to design content that will still be readable in a few years’ time. And that will also be available on that legacy format, paper. For that reason, we should develop content in a presentation-neutral format.
…leading to my own musings
This led me to thinking about longevity of content. How true is it that our content needs to stand the test of time? Some of it must, of course. But perhaps the vast majority is disposable, as is so much else we use. I guess that part of content management is the ability to recognise and delineate the content that needs to be in a format that will survive.
Focus on questions and considerations
In some sections of the book, I thought that perhaps there was plenty of attention paid to the problems an organisation faces concerning its content, but perhaps not enough information about the solutions. An example is chapter 4, which talks about the language we use in our content and the problems we may encounter if we get it wrong. Only one solution is proposed: the use of a controlled language, which I think may not suit all environments. Chapter 6, on collaboration, is also a bit light on the “how to” details. Chapter 13 is about choosing a technical solution: a tool or platform for content development and management. It has good information about the questions you need to consider, but no details about the technologies available and the relative capabilities of each.
On the other hand, the book makes you think. That’s what you want a book to do.
What about the picture on the cover?
Ellis Pratt has written a great review of The Content Pool over on the Cherryleaf Technical Author’s Blog. But I disagree with Ellis about the picture on the cover of the book. Douglas Potter has done an excellent job. The book is attractive and engaging, and the artwork reflects the informal style of the content.
What do you think? (Purple monkey.)
Highly recommended sections of the book
Chapter 9 has a useful section on the points to consider when choosing a new standard for your content and for the processes that surround its production. Pages 104-9 list the questions to ask, followed by the tasks to follow when pursuing your selection strategy.
Chapter 12 covers user-generated content. It’s a very useful introduction to this complex topic. Alan also touches on the question of integrating a platform that allows user contributions with a more structured authoring environment, as recommended in the earlier section on round tripping in chapter 10.
Summing it up
Sit back, grab a glass of something warm and comfortable, and settle in for a good read. By the end of the book you’ll have a much clearer understanding of what content is, why it’s so important to an organisation’s well being, and the points to consider when setting out to improve your content management strategies.