Totoro Book Available

The Totoro Forest Project book is now available at the project website. See my previous post for an account of the project, and a sample of some of the lovely illustration contributed to it.

The very limited supply of books is expected to go soon. I wish that more had been printed, and sold through an existing online channel. That might have raised more money and awareness for the Totoro cause. Well, at least my order seems to have gone through.

Update, a few hours later: sold out.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

I’ve just finished reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. It is my favorite of the Michael Chabon novels I’ve read, which is saying something (I’ve yet to read Wonder Boys, by the way). The opening paragraph sets the tone wonderfully.

Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.

That Landsman is a detective establishes one genre for the novel. That it is set in an alternate universe establishes another; indeed, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union captured both of the major science fiction awards.

I found myself torn between lingering to enjoy the writing, and racing on to find out what happens – and what happened, since this is a fine example of suspense looking back as well as forwards in time. I don’t just mean that we want to know who killed the dead yid.

We want to know how detective Landsman got into the state he’s in: living in a crummy hotel is not the worst of it. We are also interested in the part of the state of Alaska he and many other Jews are in, and the alternate universe of which it’s a part. That said, I still found the writing itself, both narrative and dialog, the most interesting thing of all.

I recommend, not just the novel, but also the book. I like the trade paperback for the cover by Will Staehle, the included NYT article on Chabon and YPU and piece by Chabon on writing YPU, and for other things as well as the text itself. You can find the NYT article online, and may well be able to find everything else online, but a good book is a great thing, and this may well be a great book.

Groundswell Review

I should write something resembling a review of Groundswell, since I have a review copy. I’ve already given it 5 starts at Goodreads. Why?

The book is incredibly well crafted. Many times I found myself applauding decisions made by the authors and the rest of the team (editors, etc.). For example, although the book is to a large extent about how to succeed amidst the groundswell, there are failure stories as well as success stories. There are just enough to provide balance and to avoid too rosy a picture, but no more than that.

Another decision the authors made, and made very well, concerns the discussion of specific social technologies. Although technologies such as blogs and social networks are fundamental to the groundswell, the authors resist the temptation to provide a lot of detail about specific tools. They are right to do so, because the tools will change, while the basic groundswell of people using the social tools to hand at the moment will continue.

If there is one thing not to my taste about the book, it’s that it is so thoroughly crafted that I sometimes wished for rough edges to provide some texture. To illustrate this, I’ll follow in the footsteps of those who have placed Groundswell in a tradition going back through Naked Conversations to The Cluetrain Manifesto. (One such is Conversations co-author Shel.)

Cluetrain is wildly uneven. It’s like an album on which the central track is an all-time classic, but some of the other tracks serve best as warnings of the effects of drug use. Conversations is an excellent early mapping of Blogistan, complete with travel guide for businessfolk. (Perhaps I am biased toward it, since I provided feedback on the chapters as Shel blogged early drafts.)

Like Conversations, Groundswell is rich with case studies. However, Groundswell also includes more numbers. It also provides a more specific framework for action than does either of its forerunners. That POST framework is illustrated by my previous post. You might also want to see my Groundswell mindmap post.

So this is the third of three posts I probably wouldn’t have written were it not for getting a review copy. I like to think I’ve more than justified the publisher’s investment in my copy.

Energizing the Groundswell Groundswell

I have a review copy of Groundswell. The publisher, Harvard Business Press, sent a copy each to 100 bloggers (and I believe that their generous stock of blogger review copies is gone now).

Sending out blogger review copies provides an example of Groundswell thinking. So let’s use it to illustrate the POST framework developed in the book (and illustrated in the Groundswell mindmap I did yesterday).

  • People. The first question is who? Groundswell describes people in terms of their position on a ladder of social technology use. On the top rung are Creators of content. Bloggers are on this rung. (While the target audience of Groundswell includes many who don’t create web content, this example is about those who do. If you want a summary of the other rungs, there’s a short presentation giving more detail about the ladder.)
  • Objective. Having recognized the existence of these bloggers, HBP considered its objective. There are five main objectives; each gets its own chapter, as you can see from the book’s table of contents. We’re concerned here with energizing: helping your customers sell to each other. Selling here doesn’t mean hard-sell shouting. It means telling each other about the book, in this case via blog posts.
  • Strategy. How to achieve the objective? Send the books out! Strategy is a rather misleading term, implying a grander action that putting 100 books in the mail. More generally, I don’t think that strategy is the best word for this third step. I’d prefer action or tactics, but that would mess up the acronym (POST), and this is the kind of book that needs an acronym.
  • Technology. This is the most obvious aspect of the groundswell. HBP in giving away books to people like me is using a specific social technology: blogging. It’s also using some very old technologies: paper, and delivery to a building. In some ways it seems strange to use such old technology, rather than to offer us a download. I’m not complaining or criticizing: I probably wouldn’t have “read” Groundswell in any new fangled digital format.

There seems to be something missing from this example. The chapter on energizing includes an example of return on energizing activity, and there are other examples of return on groundswell activity elsewhere in the book. I don’t see evidence that HBP are tracking the blog posts and other web content generated as a result of energizing bloggers with free books. So it doesn’t appear that they are calculating return on their investment in blogger review copies.

I may be speaking prematurely. It may be that we the freebie-blessed bloggers are about to get an email asking us for links to content that has been energized from us. Then there might be a page at the Groundswell web site linking out to all that content, and presenting it as an example of energizing the groundswell. I think it’s a good example.

Mindmapping the Groundswell

Groundswell, mapped using MindMeisterHere’s a mindmap of the book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. To be precise, here’s an image generated from the mindmap. You can click on it to see a larger image.

I recommend going to the map itself, which includes includes richer content such as notes and links. To create and host the map, I used MindMeister. I also tried and Gliffy, having consulted Mashable’s mindmapping tools post.

The thing that tipped me toward Mindmeiester was the ease of adding icons. I’ve used them to emphasize the POST framework, and to link steps in the framework to chapters of the book. I was at first thinking of using lines to connect each of the four steps to corresponding chapters, but I realized that would turn the map into a mess of crossed lines. While that would have been a faithful representation of my mind, it wouldn’t have much help to you, the user.

By the way, I looked only at mindmapping tools that were web-based and free, or freemium. After choosing MindMeister, I continued to discover features I liked: offline access via Gears; OpenID; ease of undoing silly things; and the people behind it seem to be based in Vienna and Munich, two cities in which I had a lot of fun when I was based in Europe.

This is version 1 of my Groundswell mindmap. (I don’t claim to be the first to do a Groundswell mindmap; I believe that distinction belongs to Kaspar.) If you have suggestions for improvements, or any other comments, please go ahead and leave them here.

Book Reviews and Ratings

Thoughts on book reviews and rating got bumped out of a post yesterday. Two difficulties were on my mind.

The first concerns the ubiquitous 5-star rating system. I find it very hard to give a perfect score to any book. It’s not just books: I have the same difficulty with music, board games, etc. On the other hand, 3 stars or below seems harsh in these days of grade inflation, sensitivity training, etc. So I tend to give a lot of 4-star ratings.

The second difficulty relates to how thoroughly the reviewer read the book. Some books I don’t finish, usually because I don’t like them. Is it fair to give a low review (e.g, 1-star) to a book on the basis of an incomplete read?

Then there are books that aren’t intended to be “read” in the start-to-finish sense. Reference books fall into this category. I was recently reminded of a less central member of the category: Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

Perhaps there should be some symbol accompanying a star rating to indicate how the reviewer has read the book: thoroughly start-to-end, dipped in to, etc.

Reviewing and Similar Modes of Writing: Costello Connections

Elvis Costello has received a high proportion of my musical attention so far this year. One of the ensuing posts has accounted for a high proportion of this blog’s recent traffic.

I’ve read a couple of books on Costello. This post is about them, and about writing about music, and about writing about books. The first book is Elvis Costello – God’s Comic: A Critical Companion To His Lyrics & Music by David Gouldstone. It’s an update of the same author’s A Man Out of Time. The main difference is that God’s Comic has a chapter on the 1989 album Spike.

Although I enjoyed the extra chapter, and agree with Gouldstone that Spike is among Costello’s best albums, I think that A Man Out of Time is a more coherent book, focusing as it does on Costello’s first decade. The inclusion of good material that reduces the coherence of the whole is appropriate in a book about Costello, especially when the material relates to the sprawl that is Spike.

Writing about music is notoriously difficult. The music blog Dancing About Architecture quotes Costello himself as stating that: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture… it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” Let’s not get into tracing the history of that quote, otherwise we’ll never get back to the books.

I think that Gouldstone does a pretty good job in giving his take on Costello’s music and, especially, lyrics, without claiming that his are the last words or the only right words. The writing in God’s Comic is analytical without being heavy.

In that, it contrasts with the writing of the second book: Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition. Consider the following sentence.

He [Costello] readily models existing musical, literary, or cinematic techniques in service of his songs, and in so doing, enhances his lifework’s sonic diversity.

I couldn’t get through even the part of the book on Costello, let alone the rest of it (even though Joni Mitchell also interests me).

At this point, I think that I should bump the thoughts on reviewing books into its own post, and close by remarking that I have high hopes for another book on Costello. It’s Graeme Thomson’s Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello, which will probably be part of my next Amazon order.

SWPL Can Has Bookdeel

The NYT reports book deals for two blogs: Stuff White People Like and I Can Has Cheezburger. I don’t get the latter: LOLcats don’t make me L, certainly not OL.

But I do get the former. That’s probably not surprising, coming from a white guy married to an asian girl. Having said that, SWPL isn’t one of the feeds in my reader. SWPL is a site I visit when I link reminds me of its existence.

Today’s link came via Toni, who blogged about the book deals. I’m glad it came today, because I really love today’s SWPL post, about music and the piracy thereof.

I didn’t mention book deals in my account of making money from your blog. Perhaps I should have done. But given that there are millions of blogs, and a handful of book deals, the omission doesn’t seem too serious. On the other hand, SWPL apparently got a $300k advance.

Word of the Year: Free

It’s not yet March (check time: yes, we have another 23 minutes of this extra day of February, or at least, we did when I started this parenthesis), but I will state that the word of the year for 2008 is free. That’s free, not as in freedom, but as in $0.00.

Chris Anderson has just published an article in Wired explaining Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. It’s a preview of the book he’s writing. As I’ve previously noted, the book won’t be out until 2009. I don’t know what the word of 2009 will be.

So back to the word of 2008: free. That’s how much I’ll charge you for these links.

Much though I consider Harlan and Alex to be worth reading, I find my own views to be closer to those of Neil and Chris.