The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein (4 stars)

"This is what I would like. To play in those fields for a little longer. To spend a little more time being me before I become someone else." — Enzo, the dog

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, was presented to me as an easy, quick read. I agree, although I misinterpreted that as meaning light. To be honest, I’m surprised the conceit of the book that the narrator is a dog works so very well. I would not have expected the entwined theme of racing cars to work for me, either. Somehow, the book — the narrator, Enzo — overcame my resistance and disbelief and moved me to tears. This book is heavy, but a good read.

Eye of the Storm

Yesterday (Monday, 12/29), I sent Wiley the last quarter of my latest book, Digital Photography for Seniors for Dummies (really). I just finished my second book in 6 months; my third book in 2 years. (I finished Windows Vista Solutions just before going to a New Year’s Eve party.)

Given that I completed Digital Cameras & Photography for Dummies in less than 6 weeks, this latest book, on a related topic, was an easier task. In fact, 3 weeks ago, I imagined I might finish a week ahead of schedule – which was already moved up a week. But, a 3 week cold wrecked my sleep, and I had a class to teach, so, I had to be content with finishing on the deadline, not before.

But finish isn’t the word. Hurricane watchers know that the eerie calm isn’t the end of the storm, but the eye. Indeed, the trailing edge of a hurricane is fiercer than the leading edge, albeit shorter. (Anyone over 30 knows the second half of anything is shorter than the first half.) The part of the storm yet to come is Author Review, in which I reread every word I’ve written along with all the questions, corrections, and comments inserted by the copy editor, the technical editor, and the development editor. (It is a rainbow of Word revision marks.) It is a time to suppress ego and to avoid argument, to seek a better way to explain things. Reviewing a chapter might take one hour or four. I’m expecting to spend 40 hours on the task, which will include recreating every single figure because I was slow to understand the original figure requirements. (Seems the previous project taught me bad habits.)

As I await the first wave of Author Review, I’ve rearranged some furniture (singularly pleasing), vacuumed, and, even written a blog entry. It may be another week or two before the next. In the meantime, Happy New Calendar! peace, mjh


It turns out I’m not alone in my obsession with the Amazon Rank of my book. It’s a “known problem,” which sounds like something Rumsfeld would say — wasn’t it great to see him on Capitol Hill the other day, as uncooperative and unclear as ever? — but is actually a technical phrase. Anyway, I check “my” rank far too often. (I also try hard to think of it as “my book’s rank,” not my own personal rank.)

Recently, Amazon added several sub-ranks, or ranks within categories as opposed to the original rank among all books. While this gives me more to obsess over, it also may be fairer to compare my book to other computer books than to Harry Potter and Kurt Vonnegut. This new sub-ranking also reveals the problem of automated categorization. My book is doing well in the NT category, which is a surprise since it has nothing to do with NT. Of course, neither do books on CSS, which often show up in the same categories as my book. Oh, well, all numbers are equal. mjh

Amazon Rank

The Highs and the Lows of Rankings on Amazon – New York Times, By LYNDON STAMBLER

Forget writer’s block — many authors put their manuscripts aside because they cannot stop checking their rankings.

“There really should be a 12-step program,” said Harry Kirchner, a senior national accounts manager with Ingram Publisher Services, a book distributor that counts Amazon as a customer.

In the News

Almost 20 years ago, I was accused by the then-Dean of UNM’s Division of Continuing Education of “biting the hand that feeds me.” It wasn’t the first or last time I was thus accused — I take it as a compliment. At the time, an article had appeared in the paper in which a UNMCE instructor — vital to the program and long since gone — raved about the value of classroom training for computer users. I wrote a letter to the editor (this was years before blogs) saying classroom training isn’t for everyone. Heresy, albeit true. (I’ve found no perfect means for learning or teaching.)

I dredge this up as I think about UNM as a community. UNMCE has really made me a professional computer trainer. Foremost, my students deserve the credit for enduring and improving me, but UNMCE gave me many opportunities. I certainly could not have enjoyed self-employment (or, in truth, long-term semi-retirement) without the continued support of my friends, colleagues and students at UNMCE.

Even though Wiley Publishing has given me new opportunities, UNM continues to make what I do possible. Already, UNM has been much more generous about spreading the word about the book than Wiley has. (Does Wiley feel a nibble on its fingers?) UNMCE’s blog was the first “press” (beyond advertising) the book received. Now Benson Hendrix on main campus has written a very generous story for UNM Today: UNM Continuing Education Instructor Pens First Book [emphasis added]. (I am half-amused and half-embarrassed to be compared to Sisyphus, who is still toiling, if you believe such stuff.) mjh

PS: It occurred to me today that people will soon be asking, “what have you done lately?” Then my 15MB of fame will be full. (I’m tech-editing someone else’s book.)

Following the Masters

The Writer’s Almanac from American Public Media

Leaves of Grass came out on July 4th 1855. Whitman paid for its publication himself and arranged for it to be sold in different formats, at different prices, to reach as wide an audience as possible. He anonymously wrote wildly enthusiastic reviews of the book himself. He said: “The public is a thick-skinned beast and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you’re there.” But despite all of his efforts, he sold only 10 copies of the first edition, and gave away the rest.”

Who am I to argue with Whitman. Gotta go check my Amazon rank and write myself a wildly enthusiastic review. mjh