September 30th, 2010

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 14

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  1. Ishiguro, Kazuo — A Pale View of Hills (182 pages)
  2. Niven, Larry — Ringworld (284 pages)
  3. Anderson, Poul — Tau Zero (184 pages)
  4. Eisenberg, Bryan & Jeffrey, with Lisa T. Davis — Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (273 pages)

Page count: 4265.

The company I've for whom I've been working for the past several months wants to make me permanent staff, and we've been negotiating a deal that would pay me approximately what I make as a freelancer and would also make me head of the clientside team. In discussing my ideas for the team and the company with the managing director, we veered off into a discussion of issues concerning our clients' websites particularly and online retail in general.

Suddenly the MD pulled this book out of his satchel and proclaimed it the best book ever published on the subject of e-commerce. He insisted I read it. My eyes glassed over — after all, my reading list is already so long I have little hope of finishing it in my lifetime — but I decided to be a good prospective hire and read the durned thing. If nothing else, the book might give me some further insight into this company's philosophy on creating web entities for retailers.

I am sure that, to the right audience, Call to Action is a useful, perhaps even a good, book. The problem is that I'm not the right audience. I can see how this book would be invaluable to a Managing Director, a Project Manager, an Information Architect, a Marketer or Salesperson, even perhaps even a lead Designer. But to a Clientside Developer?

I have little interest in or knowledge of such things as conversion rates, sales, marketing, etc., so a lot of this book's content went in one eye and out the other. It all seemed to be pretty common sense stuff. I mean, my inner voice kept saying, "Well, duh!" forgetting that most marketing people I've dealt with seem to lack basic common sense.

The parts of the book that dealt specifically (though not the least bit in depth) with my areas of expertise elicited either more "Duh!" reactions or "Whoa! That's wrong!" reactions. For example, the authors seem to be convinced that the way to increase search engine visibility is to employ keywords and use table-based layouts, ideas which left me banging my head against the nearest solid surface hoping no client of mine ever reads these sections.

Halfway through the book, I had another conversation with the MD. He wanted to know my thoughts so far. I asked him, if Call to Action is supposed to sum up our company's philosophy on e-commerce sites, why is it so much of the seemingly valuable information in the book is ignored. (Fortunately, because the company has hired more-or-less competent developers, the book's mind-numbing suggestions on code development were also completely ignored.)

The MD shrugged. His answer indirectly pointed a finger at who the true audience for this book ought to be: clients! It doesn't matter how much expertise we bring to the table, clients always think they know best. And our attempts to shake them of their ignorance mostly fails, which is why the industry standard for conversions will continue to sit at around 2%, why sites will continue to throw up barriers to users with assistive technologies (estimates for these users anywhere between 7% and 19%) or who have technology limitations (IE or other crap browsers, no JavaScript, no Flash or other plugins, etc.), and why e-commerce will continue to fail to reach its full potential.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 15

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  1. Ishiguro, Kazuo — A Pale View of Hills (182 pages)
  2. Niven, Larry — Ringworld (284 pages)
  3. Anderson, Poul — Tau Zero (184 pages)
  4. Eisenberg, Bryan & Jeffrey, with Lisa T. Davis — Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results (273 pages)
  5. Andrews, Stephen E. and Nick Rennison — 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels (205 pages)

Page count: 4470.

If there's one thing I enjoy more than reading books, it's reading about books.

(Okay, I admit there are a few other things I also enjoy more, but they don't quite make my point.)

I have lost track of how many hours I have spent on Amazon. Some days, my routine seems to be: wake up, go to work, spend lunch break reading about books on Amazon, go to rehearsal/performance/lesson, read about books on Amazon… oh shit, sleep! (That my Amazon Wish List — feel free to send goodies my way, if you're so disposed — is only 28 29 pages long is a minor miracle!)

So, when I discovered this little guide on Amazon for about a third the price of a normal book, I bought it (along with a companion in the series, 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels).

Okay, so maybe 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels wasn't meant to be read cover-to-cover. As I pointed out above, I'm a sucker for reading about books. And this book proved perfect for dipping into during a spare few minutes here and there. Plus, the foreword by Christopher Priest and the introduction by Stephen Andrews (explaining what makes a book SF (whether you take that to mean science fiction, speculative fiction, or structural fabulation — the authors prefer to refer to these books simply as SF) and giving a brief but interesting outline of the history of SF) made for fascinating reading.

100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels is not a "best of" list. It is meant to be a representative list covering all the bases. In several instances, the authors point out that a selection is perhaps not the featured author's best work but rather the work most representative of his or her oeuvre or perhaps of a specific sub-genre or theme. Most authors in 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels get only one entry, but a few considered to be particularly important to the development of the genre (Asimov, Ballard, Bester, Bradbury, Dick, Heinlein, Le Guin, and Wells) get more. Each entry gives a brief, non-spoilerific synopsis of the book and explains what about the book or author is, to quote 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels directly, "representative of [a] particular theme— [or] singularly important to the development of the genre." Each entry is followed by "Further Reading" suggestions and, where relevant, a list of movie and/or television adaptations, sequels, spin-offs, etc. Additionally, addenda are scattered throughout the book, providing information on awards winners, music inspired by SF, books on specific themes, and more.

I may have read 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels cover to cover, but I anticipate I will be dipping back into it repeatedly for reading suggestions.