If you don't judge a book by its cover, then by what criteria do you judge it?
Confessed bibliophiles consider the wrapping as important as the contents of the package. For example there's German publisher Die-Gestalten Verlag and their minute publication The World's Smallest Book by Josua Reichert, 2001. Its design speaks volumes before the text ever could. This teeny book comes with a magnifying glass. It is contained in an exquisitely crafted mahogany box. And the book itself has very little knowledge to impart. It is the alphabet in a leather bound tome the size of a match head that sold for $110.00 when first published. I judged it superb.
With covers in mind, let us consider the publisher no starch press and writer Wallace Wang. We'll take a physical tour of his two instruction manuals: My New Mac, Snow Leopard Edition and My New iPhone, each bearing the sub-title: 52 Simple Projects to Get You Started. (Snow Leopard edition refers to the latest version of the Macintosh operating system, OS X. The iPhone/iTouch is a hand-held computing device.)
The idea for this review came simply enough. Oliver, age five, Emmett age three, and me, age indeterminate comprised a small motley crew accompanied by a 45-pound, 8-month old Rottweiler/Shar Pei mix on a six-foot lead. We just walked the lump-puppy around the neighborhood, trying to wear her out. Our journey complete, we rounded the final corner toward home. Just then, Oliver spotted the mailman coming down the stairs of our front porch. "It's a package! It's a package! Can I open it?"
To which I replied, "Knock yourself out, kid. I'll put Roxanne in her kennel while you tear into it."
Oliver picked up the box and I heard him exclaim, "It's about MACS! Look! EMMETT! MACS! We have books about MACS!" Remember, Oliver is five and cannot read. What was on the label of the box from no starch press that he so readily recognized? A picture of a white rectangle with a black border. Two black rectangular eyes and a straight-line, two-squares up smile. Mac. Smiling Mac. The ubiquitous Hello icon of the Apple kingdom. Now, I could wax poetic about Oliver's discussion just a few days ago when he told our neighbor about how we "used to use Linux, that's an operating system you know, but now we have Mac laptops and there's an iMac upstairs that looks like a mushroom and I go to PBSkids DOT org and sometimes the DisneyChannel with a slash and something." But that would be bragging, so we'll refrain from that and get back to the new objects of our affection — Wallace Wang's two hot-to books.
And the importance of packaging, of "cover".
The package, the box containing the review books? Obviously that first bit of 'cover', the Mac icon, grabbed our attention. Our familiarity and comfort soothed; our curiosity piqued by a label.
Now let's open the box and take out the two books. Ooops, there are three. We won the reviewer prize, an extra book, this one about the history of Apple. Nice…
What can we learn from the back covers of Mr. Wang's books? Curiously, there's quite a bit of information here. Not quotes from famous geeks recommending purchase, instead we read a "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" logo proclaiming the books construction is of Certified Fiber Sourcing. And there's more. These are RepKover books "I LAY FLAT". This is a durable binding that does not snap shut. For me, that puts these instruction manuals a shelf above some of the others I've purchased lately.
Then there is the About the Author blurb. Wallace Wang not only writes computer books, he's a stand-up comic. Of course he is. He uses a Mac. John Houseman is the only comedian who wittingly uses a PC and that is, arguably, because he's paid to pimp Microsoft. (Please excuse that little bit of geek humor, folks…)
The subtitle: 52 Simple Projects to Get You Started, intrigues me. Many of us learn better through completing a project, step-by-step hands on training rather than theory. I like the cover, I'm judging it positively.
Now for the interior. The meat of the how-to. Wang's My New Mac introduction:
"Most people don't care how their computer works; they just want to use it. Tell the average person how to give commands to his computer's operating system and his eyes will glaze over with boredom. But tell that same person how to have fun and do something useful with his computer and his eyes will light up immediately."
So true. Within moments, I conclude that Wang's books don't just teach how to use a Macintosh or an iPhone/iTouch; they show you how these devices make your life easier without your having to learn to be a computer expert.
Wang begins My New Mac simply enough. "Turning Your Macintosh On and Off Manually or Automatically". I attempt to follow the projects, one at a time, on my MacAir. I'm a pretty adept Mac user, so much of this is preaching to the choir, but how will Wang's lessons come across to novice Mac users? Nicely indeed. Succinct. Easy to follow, step-by-step but not condescending, instructions. Macintosh made a name for itself early on in the operating system marathon race with its graphic user interface. The format of these project books mirrors the GUI screen representation with the same look and feel of your Mac screen.
My New iPhone? Wang begins:
"When most people see an iPhone, their first reaction is awe with a little bit of covetousness thrown in for good measure. After most people buy an iPhone, their feelings of awe and envy soon change to a desire to show off and start using their new handheld computer."
But then new users are overwhelmed with the possibilities and impatient to begin. The book's 52 projects illustrate why the iPhone/iTouch is in a class by itself. Wang proudly proclaims that anyone will be able to master all the "features crammed and buried" in this sophisticated handheld computer. I concur. Our iTouch is handier than pockets on a shirt, and Wang did teach this old dog some new tricks.
For me, a geekophile, no one can own too many computer / technical books. There are never enough manuals to suit my needs and curiosity. For me, no starch press seems to live up to its logo with these two books. Perhaps they are "The Finest in Geek Entertainment". Why? The author knows of what he writes; the format works; the tech-to-person dialog is entertaining; and the book's intended purpose is fulfilled. I learned something. I'll buy more of Wang's books. He seems to have style and substance.