Bookproject update 005: Year Two

Project background
– Updates 001, 002, 003 and 004.

It is long, long past time that I give you at least a quick update on my second book, The City Is Here For You To Use, which I’d originally planned to have shipped as of the beginning of the year.

I should first admit that I basically killed any prospect for useful work on the book during the second half of 2008 by signing onto this job, what with the international relocation, the (ahem) “onboarding,” and everything else thusly entrained. (Onboarding? Is that anything like waterboarding?) In retrospect, it was foolish to believe that I could manage all that – or that, routine job-related travel, the usual speaking commitments and a Nordic winter – and still have any psychic bandwidth to devote to anything else, let alone anything so meaningful to me and so important to get right.

Now that we’re a little more settled in, though, and the days are however incrementally getting longer again, I’ve been able to devote reasonable amounts of time and attention to research, reflection and writing. Word count stands at 95,379 as of this morning; even in ever-useful Scrivener, this is far more than it’s practical or wise to edit on-screen, and the result has been my recourse to paper, Scotch tape and the dining-room table. Generously line-spaced for editing, the document comes to some 320 pages of hardcopy marked up in ink, sorted into conceptual chunks (premature to think of them as “sections” or “chapters”) and tucked into actual, physical file folders. I’ll upload pictures to Flickr at some point soon: they make quite a stack, and there’s something deeply pleasurable about seeing these concrete, analogue indices of progress strewn across the tabletop.

I’ve also left a PDF containing about 94,850 of those words with intrepid Erin Kissane in New York. Erin’s the first editor I’ve been fully comfortable with since a guy named Joe Levy at SPIN, about a million years ago. Working with Joe taught me that a good editor brings a discrete but vitally complementary set of skills to the production of writing, and that in the hands of someone possessed of these same, even my workmanlike prose can be buffed into something diamondhard and gleaming. Erin has them in spades, and unerring taste besides. I’m delighted, and flattered, that she’s taken on this project.

As I may have mentioned in the past, the really difficult thing about this book for me hasn’t been keeping on top of all the emergent manifestations of urban informatics, or even developing a satisfying spinal argument about their significance, it’s hitting just the right note as regards voice: factually correct, technically authoritative where necessary, but always and ever generous, accessible and humane. What you can expect is that we’ll go through a number of iterations on the way to completion, with expansion followed by contraction as the argument is successively bolstered, clarified, sharpened, and pruned of distractions. I’m especially concerned that my darlings get well and truly killed this time, most particularly the in-jokes and shibboleths I have a weakness for and of which I’ve been so indulgent in the past. A few rounds of this – very much dependent on Erin’s availability – and I’ll be closer to having an actual ship date for you.

With regard to design and production, Nurri and I have collected various inspirations both proper to and outside the universe of book design, and begun to gather them alongside the moodboard images which furnish us with the balance of our motivation. Our intention is that the book look much like it reads, that it operate in the visual register with the same warmth and simplicity I’m struggling to invest the text with.

We’re also considering this the first of our efforts under the Do Projects aegis: Do 801. The meaning of this, I hope, will become clear in time. For the moment I wish to thank you once again, and from the very soles of my feet, for your interest, your enthusiasm, and your faith in this project. I trust the final result will reward your patience.

10 responses to “Bookproject update 005: Year Two”

  1. ville says :

    “it’s hitting just the right note as regards voice: factually correct, technically authoritative where necessary, but always and ever generous, accessible and humane.”

    that’s an admirable target and sounds like the tone i’d like such a book (and many other books) have.

    out of curiosity, do you consider some books on any imaginable topic, to have this kind of voice in them?

  2. John Statistician says :

    That’s excellent to hear. I don’t think I have any concerns about the pace things are developing, but I’d just like to offer some public encouragement that maintaining the kind of engagement you’ve had with the work and your reading public will do much to bring the topic the kind of justice you are intending.

    @ville: Some of David Foster Wallace’s later nonfiction shows great concern for, and often achieves this, in “Consider the Lobster” and “Everything and More”

  3. John Statistician says :

    Also, I’d say “Design Noir” pursues and often achieves that effect as well.

  4. AG says :

    ville, I’ve always thought of this as “my Jane Jacobs book,” if that isn’t flattering myself overmuch. Certainly The Death and Life of Great American Cities strikes most of the notes I’m trying to reach.

    Other exemplary texts, in one way or another: Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, which was basically my introduction to cultural studies. Reyner Banham’s writing. Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching (!).

  5. Erin says :

    Thank you, Adam, for the extremely kind words — I’m quite pink in the ears reading them — and for bringing me in. I’m so thrilled to be working on the project.

  6. nicolas says :

    Keep on fighting, Adam

    I am sure though that this delay is valuable too, sleeping a bit on the material can also help (I see the good side of things)

  7. ville says :

    AG, thanks for the references.

    I guess, “factually correct, technically authoritative where necessary, but always and ever generous, accessible and humane” also equals to the aim of being able to speak to a large as possible audience that is also very heterogenic in its contents.

    so, you are aiming for the book to be a “crossover hit” that people from many different disciplines, levels of expertise, cultural backgrounds, will find accessible. and i guess, you will encounter the same challenges as you discuss in one of your previous blog posts:

    personally, i’ve been lately thinking about the necessity of communication skills in design/research work and lately having to write a shitload of stuff, those of creative writing and penmanship in general when aiming for maximum impact in all spectrums of the audience members.

    there is, in my opinion, at least one silver bullet which helps: the right introduction, often in the form of some kind of story. good intros pretty much separates enjoyable, good books/presentations from the bad – they lubricate, help the rest of the message go down easier. :)

    even though i think that bill buxton’s sketching user experience, is not a great book as a whole, the introductory chapter’s mountaineering story really hits the spot but unfortunately, the rest of the book doesn’t add up to the expectations set in the intro.

    many “professional” or disciplinary books expect that the readers are already engaged and curious when starting the book. and this is why they usually fail to make the case for anybody “outside the scene”.

    well, this was just my 2 euro cents of some stuff what i’ve been thinking about. and as a payer of the $10 pre-order fee, i will hope that the book has a brilliant introduction. :)

    (this stuff might be book authorship 101, for which i am then sorry :)

  8. AG says :

    Don’t apologize! It’s an excellent point, and one which can never be reiterated enough.

    Unfortunately for me, Dan Hill’s already written the intro I planned to lead with. Seriously: the day after Dan’s piece appeared I quietly flushed something like 1,500 words of scene-setting, as the overlap in scenario and tone was just too significant.

    Nevertheless. We solider on. There’s more than one way to tell a story.

  9. Dan Hill says :

    Apologies for the 1500 words, AG. My piece already feels outdated anyway …

    As for “801”, surely a reference to the short-lived post-Roxy art-rock band?

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