Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Managing the Design Factory" by Donald G. Reinertsen

The dude who wrote this book came to my office for two one-day seminars to turn all of us R&D types into more efficient designers, and the person who hired him bought some copies of the book, which he left around for us to read. Being a bit of a keener and wanting to get ahead, I took one home.

Wow. The presentation we took was eight hours of PowerPoint and anecdotes, and the book seemed like it was written pretty much from those same slides. The anecdotes weren't nearly as great when written down. It seemed like there were less of them, or maybe there was just more content in between them. I finished the book on a vacation day in one giant 90-page slog because I just wanted it over with, and wow, every section seemed like it was a fleshed-out slide heading, and then a list of bullet points underneath, kind of like this:

Reducing Boring Reading
There are four reasons to reduce boring reading, as described in the next paragraphs.
First of all, you should not read boring books, because they will make you fall asleep, which leads to napping, which in turn leads to poor night time sleeping.
Second, boring books make you start to hate reading, and knowledge comes from reading.

Well, I can't think of a third, but you get the idea. Each chapter had an extensive introduction, that was like a powerpoint overview slide. Each chapter had a summary at the end, which added nothing except a recap. I kept wishing he'd used more commas. The book didn't seem that well copy-edited. And when I notice that sort of thing, you can bet I'm bored.

I would say, if you can afford the course, do that. It will leave you way more inspired to reduce your queue sizes and plan better for your fuzzy front end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"A Thief in the House of Memory" by Tim Wynne-Jones

Notwithstanding the author having the same combined last names as one of my favourite kids' authors, he is also the current writer-in-residence at the TPL, so I thought I should get out one of his books and read it so if I went to one of his events I could at least look intelligent. It's like going to a job interview and having read at least the one-page corporate bio on a company's website.

It took me about two weeks to actually get around to starting this book. I read the first two pages when I got it out, and then sort of abandoned it to the point where I read an entire book that I almost randomly picked up (the Book of Absinthe) before returning to this one. But yesterday I decided to bite the bullet and get started.

And today I'm writing the review, so clearly it was a one-day read. At only 180 pages and with a light word words per page ratio, this was not a "stay up all nighter". The chapters were short, often four or six pages, though there were a few that were two pages long. That might have been something that kept me going, in a knitting "Just one more row" kind of way. Short chapters certainly make it easy to read while I'm cooking dinner or something like that.

The book is about Declan Steeple, a 16-year-old boy who lives I guess outside of a suburb of Ottawa with his sister, father and father's girlfriend (?). The relationship between the father and Birdie is a little vague, for the reader and for Dec. Dec's mother abandoned the family six years ago, and an incident where a thief dies in an apparent accident after breaking into the old, abandoned family home (they live in a new house down the hill from it) brings questions to the surface of Dec's mind about what happened to his mother.

Nothing really happened after the "inciting event". Most of the transformation and conflict was inside Dec's head, and in conversation with him and his father and step-mother. There wasn't much action at all, really. But it mostly worked, I thought. It wasn't boring, and Dec's young friends seemed totally unrealistic to me (it was like the prodigies from about eight different towns all wound up at one school), but I finished it.

And then I went to the author's event, and I was totally glad I'd read the book. This one took him 13 drafts, and he sent the fifth one to his editor, so I guess he struggled with it pretty hugely. He got the idea while thinking while washing the dishes.

The event was interesting. I've not been to anything like this in a very long time. There were about 60 people, and maybe 10 of them men (why am I fascinated by the demographics of things like this?) The youngest person was probably 12 or 13, the average was probably my age, there were some very old people, most of the room looked to be caucasian. One woman was way more talkative than the rest of us, and in a way that I thought was vaguely irrelevant. She had read a collection of the author's short stories, and seemed to quite like one of them, and asked over and over where he got the idea for one of the characters. When she finally got the answer to that question, she asked whether she should get a mac or a PC when her computer needs replacing. OMG who cares.

The whole thing didn't exactly inspire me to go home and edit, which is probably what I ought to do. But, it did give me a bit of optimism about my future as a writer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"The Book of Absinthe: a Cultural History" by Phil Baker

Picked this up once before at the library and read the intro, but put it back because I had too many other things to read. So on Saturday I was sort of trapped at the library for an hour or so (the horror!) and sought it out.

Cultural histories are the way history should be taught. I've read a few -- John Hawkwood's bio, the Basque History of the World... This one had amusing interludes about why more writers tend to be drinkers (maybe because it's a job you can't exactly escape from, though I've found things like running through dance steps sometimes keep me awake at night, so maybe any job can stick in your brain and not let you go), the interesting timing of Absinthe being banned in France (just after the start of World War I, the invading teutonic bock-drinkers were going to overrun the deranged Absinthe drinkers), a bit about the american goth subculture.

But it did seem oddly organized at times. It didn't run linearly from the invention of absinthe to its banning and its current status, though it did end with a review of the current brands. I guess it started with the height of absinthe culture (if it could be called that) with Oscar Wilde and some dude named Dowson (Edmund?), then it went back to the invention of absinthe and forward to what it actually does as compared to other types of alcohol. I found it somewhat unbelievable that people would drink some of the things they did -- Gin and DDT? I shudder to think what sort of fetal alcohol syndrome that would cause.