February 9th, 2015

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 18 (2014)

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  1. McCoy, Horace — They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (119 pages)
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book cover: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

The prisoner will stand…

I stood up. For a moment I saw Gloria again, sitting on that bench on the pier. The bullet had just struck her in the side of the head; the blood had not even started to flow. The flash from the pistol still lighted her face. Everything was as plain as day. She was completely relaxed, was completely comfortable. The impact of the bullet had turned her head a little away from me; I did not have a perfect profile view but could see enough of her face and her lips to know she was smiling. The Prosecuting Attorney was wrong when he told the jury she died in agony, friendless, alone except for her brutal murderer, out there in that black night on the edge of the Pacific. He was as wrong as a man can be. She did not die in agony. She was relaxed and comfortable and she was smiling. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile. How could she have been in agony then? And she wasn't friendless.

I was her very best friend. I was her only friend. So how could she have been friendless?

Whew! That was Chapter One of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, a powerful story of Depression-era America. The story takes places in the span of one moment, as the sentence for murder is being read in court; or over the span of several weeks leading up to the aforementioned death.

Robert and Gloria have come to Hollywood with the dream of finding redemption through the movies. They meet outside Paramount Studios, having just failed to land roles as extras, and agree to take part in a dance marathon. As long as they can stay alive in the competition, they will get free food and a free bed. Over the course of the next several weeks, we learn what makes the two of them tick, what leads to Robert shooting Gloria, and we are faced with the question: Was it a brutal murder, as the Prosecutor asserts, or was it an act of love and friendship? Will "God [or the reader] have mercy on [his] soul"?

Through this dance marathon, McCoy treats us to a sample of what life was like during the Depression. It's a story of broken people with shattered dreams doing what they can to survive and having the humanity sucked out of them. Gritty, powerful stuff!

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 19 (2014)

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  1. Krug, Steve — Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (197 pages)
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book cover: Don't Make Me Think.

I was sceptical when my line manager handed me a copy of Don't Make Me Think. He'd heard me grumble many a time, with my standard, "I'm a developer, not a designer," about the lack of a designer on our team. Of course, I do know something about design, having read books and blogs and having done a few simple designs; but that doesn't make me a designer. And reading one more book on UX design wasn't going to change that. I certainly didn't expect much of Don't Make Me Think.

I sold it short. Simply put, it's the most sensible book on web usability I've read. It's beautifully (and functionally) designed, clear and concise, and makes its points memorably. Other books may try to say the same things, but the ones I've read have fallen short of Krug's mark.

Ok, no, I'm not any more a designer than I was before, but I do feel more comfortable making design decisions on our projects at work. It's mostly just common sense, keeping things simple, remembering that a website is for its users, not for the designers/developers/etc. A good deal of it was stuff I knew, but there was quite a bit that was new to me, or stuff I hadn't thought much about.

If I want to nitpick, some of the code examples (html/css/javascript) weren't particularly good, but since this book is not about coding, such was of minimal importance. This book is about making the web usable, and it should be required reading for anyone designing, developing, or managing a website project.