The Ends of Books

One of these days, I’m going to read the ends of most of the non-fiction books I’ve picked up in the last few years.

The truth is, often I start a book, and one of two things happens:

  • The book is really boring, I put it down and never pick it up again.  This is the easy one.
  • The book is really interesting, it generates so many good ideas it makes my wisdom teeth ache, and all I can think of doing is writing down my thoughts, underlining the great passages in the book, and getting excited about all this.

The second event is the more difficult one – because inevitably, I get so knotted up in my own paths running out in so many directions from a truly stimulating book, that I never get around to finishing the book.

In theory, a book is a portable, random-access, mass storage device.  Emphasize the random-access part.  Non fiction books, today, are not necessarily meant to be read in linear sequence, they are designed more like web sites, ideal for jumping around in, as you search the parts that interest you most.  But I grew up in the era of linear book reading, and I can’t quite lose the habit.  I always think I’m going to miss some important link to something earlier in the book.

This is certainly nonsense, but it wouldn’t be the first, nor the last, nor the silliest of my silly habits.  The result is that I have rarely read the parts in “the back of the book.”  I also harbour the secret notion that this is where the real interesting “meat” of the book is located.  Probably also nonsense, but then, if you spent years dealing with textbooks as part of your education, you understand about the “advanced” stuff being at the end.

So, one day, I’m going to pick up all those unfinished books, and just jump to the end, and read only the parts I’m really interested in.

Meanwhile, some advice for non-fiction authors who want to reach people like me (and I’ll bet they mostly already know this):  Put all your good stuff up front, and use the back of the book for – um – er – backup.

Where do you go from here?

I remember one company where I worked – a very large multinational that has a meatball for its logo – where they considered hiring all us contractors on as staff members. We were asked if we were interested.  We mostly all said yes, we had nice interviews, and then – then…………

………well, they decided not to hire any of us.  Why?  “You’re not engineers – there’d be nowhere for you to advance in this company.”

Our profession needs to sit down with HR people and give them the straight goods on the multiple skills, talents and capacities of technical communicators.  Most of us are what author Barbara Sher calls “scanners” – people who refuse to do just one thing.

Paths for advancement?  Just let us at them – we’ll figure the rest out for ourselves, Mr. or Ms. HR…