69.3 August 2022

Book Reviews

By Jackie Damrau, Editor

Books Reviewed in This Issue

The reviews provided here are those that are self-selected by the reviewers from a provided list of available titles over a specific date range. Want to become a book reviewer? Contact Dr. Jackie Damrau at jdamrau3@gmail.com for more information.

design and digital interfaces: Designing with aesthetic and ethical awareness

Ben Stopher, John Fass, Eva Verhoeven, and Tobias Revell

News Media Translation

Federico Zanettin

Comic Book Women: Characters, Creators, and Culture in the Golden Age

Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis

CritiCALL!: (un)professional everyday design criticism

Joannette van der Veer, ed.

Life and Death Design: What Life-Saving Technology Can Teach Everyday UX Designers.

Katie Swindler

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Jack Hart

Teaching Environmental Writing: Ecocritical Pedagogy and Poetics

Isabel Galleymore

Tomorrow’s Communities: Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises

Henry Tam, ed.

The Art and Craft of Asian Stories: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology

Robin Hemley and Xu Xi, eds.

The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture

Mark Bould

The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action

Steve Hamm

Disasterology: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis

Samantha Montano

Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age

Michelle Jayman, Maddie Ohl, and Leah Jewett, eds.

You Should Write a Book

Katel LeDû and Lisa Maria Marquis

Teaching Writing in the Health Professions: Perspectives, Problems, and Practices

Michael J. Madson, ed.

Making Research Matter: Steps to Impact for Health and Care Researchers

Tara Lamont

InCredible Communication: Uncover the Invaluable Art of Selling Yourself

Steven Lewis and Rebecca Weintraub

Should You Believe Wikipedia? Online Communities and the Construction of Knowledge

Amy S. Bruckman

The Geography of Words: Vocabulary and Meaning in the World’s Languages

Danko Sipka

The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged): Adventures in Math and Science

Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry

Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention

Wake Smith

On Revision: The Only Writing That Counts

William Germano

design and digital interfaces: Designing with aesthetic and ethical awareness

Ben Stopher, John Fass, Eva Verhoeven, and Tobias Revell. 2021. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. [ISBN 978-1-350068-27-8. 178 pages, including index. US$40.95 (softcover).]

design and digital interfaces: Designing with aesthetic and ethical awareness is reader-friendly by module, chapter, or jumping to the color-coded content most relevant to the reader’s interests. The book begins with examples and images that highlight the influence of digital interfaces on the self and society. The authors explore the social consequences of digital interfaces with appropriate focus on the consequences that mediate social action. The comments on social robots and the need for a more consciously ethical approach to social interfaces are especially thought-provoking. The exploration of legal and political implications of digital interfaces and their power dynamics is presented with poignant revelations. Complexities in ethical responsibility in interface design are also aptly revealed. Operational aesthetics in digital interfaces are explained, as the authors argue that digital interface aesthetics can help technologies to be empowering while avoiding inequality and bias.

Critically important is the focus in Chapter 4 on the potential unethical behaviors “enabled” by designers’ digital interfaces, such as hate speech, harassment, and such. The authors use the design of Apple AirPods in-ear headphones as a familiar example of digital interaction well beyond simple visuals on screens. Chapter 5 “explores the connection between how digital interfaces are imagined and built, and the mutual feedback loop that exists between future…and present innovations (p. 109). The last chapter reflects historically with reference to the 1968 ACM/IEEE Conference introducing the relational “concept” of a computer user interface and handheld mouse, which became available to eager users 20 years later. design and digital interfaces closes with a warning that design imaginaries and future interface designers are to be careful with the “potential” of their creations. History has taught designers about aggressive negative reactions if their creations do not produce the demonstrable outcomes expected by their excited user fans.

Concluding the book are four interesting interviews with experts discussing interface design which add an intimate dialogue to the book’s focal point. The conversations offer enticing discussion points and ponderings. A helpful glossary and detailed references close this elegantly designed, innovative, and powerful book.

Lynn O. Ludwig

Lynn O. Ludwig is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, WI. Previously, she managed the IBM System Administration instructional design team in Cambridge, MA, edited rocket booster test reports for NASA, and wrote SAP user manuals for companies on the U.S. east coast and Germany.

News Media Translation

Federico Zanettin. 2021. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-47070-4. 248 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]

Federico Zanettin’s News Media Translation offers students a densely researched and thorough introduction to the history, issues, and techniques of news translation and proposes a “novel approach” (p. 133) for minimizing the cultural distortions that inevitably arise during translation.

“Translation proper” naively assumes that translation occurs between “equal and homogeneous national languages and cultures” (p. 3), allowing “a linear correspondence between a source and a target text” (p. 1), when in fact translation “primarily” involves the “translation of cultures” (p. 31), and is therefore a “site of power differential,” with power issuing “from a more prestigious to a less prestigious language” (p. 22). English, for example, is the current “global lingua franca” because translation flows “mostly from English” into other languages (pp. 22–23).

Translation evolved into “‘culture as translation’” (p. 31) when printing led to the “standardization of vernaculars,” increasing literacy, inaugurating the development of newspapers, and establishing the “ground for national identities” through the agency of “national languages” (p. 3). As a widely-printed language—initially French, then English—began to dominate translation, the power differentials among nations became more acute. Broadcast and digital news media further intensified the differential through their ubiquity and immediacy.

Power differentials are integrated into news translation through domestication, “transediting” (p. 81), gatekeeping, and localization; methods that render the source text acceptable to the target audience in ways that inherently reveal cultural differences. Zanettin proposes to mitigate distortions by employing inductive methods like Conversation Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis, and Membership Categorization Analysis. A key premise of these tools is that “a constructivist approach to reality” does “not take reality as a given that has to be uncovered but as something that is construed as it is being described and explained” (p. 137). Focus on tacit communication techniques—turn-taking, body language, inferring broader categories from specifics—inductively reveals how communication, however fluid, is “regulated by conventional procedures” (p. 140).

By working from what is observed, not from predetermined theory, these tools can most neutrally reveal the differing cultural realities and the power differentials between news media accounts, as demonstrated by Zanettin’s helpful case studies. These analyze how Palestinian and Israeli versions of the same incident vary; how an Italian translation of an English newspaper account of a women’s rights advocate emphasizes a perspective different from the source text; and how an interpreter’s struggle to translate a heated, televised political debate between an English politician and a Swiss Muslim academic reveals cultural and power differentials and the difficulty of achieving an objective translation.

Pure “translation proper” may be unattainable but understanding how particular choices by specific people in real situations influence the meaning of the translated text can only benefit a world of instantaneous news generation, distribution, and translation. For students, Zanettin’s introduction to news media translation offers an in-depth historical account and an analytical method most likely to reveal the “reality” behind reported events, as far as it can be.

Donald R. Riccomini

Donald R. Riccomini is an STC member and was a senior lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specialized in engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.

Comic Book Women: Characters, Creators, and Culture in the Golden Age

Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis. 2022. University of Texas Press. [ISBN: 978-1-4773-2411-0. 315 pages, including index. US$45.00 (hardcover).]

Comic Book Women: Characters, Creators, and Culture in the Golden Age by Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis highlights the contributions of women to comic books as creators, characters, and consumers. University of Texas Press published Comic Book Women as part of a World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction series which, as the website puts it, “focus on the analysis and interpretation of comic books and graphic nonfiction from around the world” (https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/series/world-comics-and-graphic-nonfiction-series)

Through this book’s pages of Comic Book Women, we’re reminded of women characters such as Miss Fury, Sally O’Neil, Señorita Rio, and the Black Cat, as well as creators such as Toni Blum, Barbara Hall, June Tarpé Mills, Lily Renée, and Ruth Roche. Brunet and Davis analyze these women through the lens of genre: superhero, jungle, crime, horror, western, science fiction, and romance. Besides a chapter for each of the listed genres, there’s a chapter dedicated to title characters in comics. Many of these women make reappearances throughout the book since many contributed to multiple genres.

Brunet and Davis celebrate these contributions but—most importantly—clearly state when they were problematic. For example, when discussing women in the superhero genre, they write: “At the same time, it should not be forgotten that though these superheroines opened up new avenues of representation for women to pursue, they also essentially functioned to assimilate women into the ideologies of American nationalism in more active ways” (p. 53). Brunet and Davis also recognize the oppressive representations for people of color, minorities, and members of the LGBTIQA+ community. Their sensitivity to these issues is noteworthy. I think they state it best when they write, “The roots of this struggle are far older than much of the literature about comics’ history would have readers believe, but the struggle is not futile; if change is going to be made in the industry, then the characters and creators who have made inroads for that change need to be recognized for their complicated—sometimes messy, often problematic—place in this fight” (p. 259).

In conclusion, Comic Book Women recognizes the often-unremembered women characters and creators of the industry while recognizing their sometimes-problematic roles. After you check out this book, I expect that—like me—you’ll want to check out the other books in the World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction series which explore other topics poignant such as sexuality, race, or civil rights in comic books.

Sara Buchanan

Sara Buchanan is an STC member and a content strategist at LCS in Cincinnati, OH. In her free time, she’s an avid reader, enjoys cooking, and doting on her cats: Buffy and Spike.

CritiCALL!: (un)professional everyday design criticism

Joannette van der Veer, ed. 2021. Onomatopee Projects. [ISBN ‎ 978-9-4931-4849-9. 104 pages, including index. US$18.00 (softcover).]

Expanding design criticism has been identified as a goal by many design critics. Though these critics will tell you that design criticism is a robust field and criticism of design can be found everywhere, it has been noted that those who are participating in design criticism are deeply engrained within the design field and that the current call for more criticism is to expand into non-professional criticism, or criticism from everyday people. CritiCALL!: (un)professional everyday design criticism sets out to meet that goal, indeed this book is a collection of short essays on design criticism from everyday people. The book seems to stand by this as many of the writers of these critical essays are not well-known, though the introduction is written by noted design historian and critic Alice Rawsthorn and the book concludes with an interview between the editor, Joannette van der Veer, and Ellen Lupton, educator, critic, curator, and historian. Aside from these two distinguished critics, the essay authors are not established names in design criticism. Even googling most of them turns up little details, and the publisher’s website, Onomatopee Press, lists most of the contributors as simply writer or critic.

Rawsthorn’s introduction sets a good tone for CritiCALL! and reminds the readers why design criticism is important; design needs not only to be understood but it also needs to be held accountable. The essays in the collection are short, most extending only two pages while the longest tops out at six pages, making the entire collection a very quick read. Yet despite the brevity of the essays, there is some very good criticism within the pages tackling concerns from big to small including the lack of diversity in design and how online criticism affects our shared cultures. While some essays were difficult to connect with, this is probably reflected by the diversity of the writers, not a flaw of the text.

CritiCALL!’s design is simple, the narrow format only accommodates a single column of text, yet it is still evident that it is a book created for designers. The colophon at the end provides details on the typeface selections and including the use of GT Haptik Rotalic for headings. This typeface choice is an interesting one and features the jaunty angle of rotated letterforms as an alternative to italics would likely cause modernists to have a fit. The introduction is set apart from the rest of the text by its centered alignment, and the overall design of the book feels like an upscale zine, which will appeal to many designers. Beyond that, CritiCALL! will appeal to anyone with an interest in design and its criticism, from professional designers, to students, educators and even to those not actively engaged (the everyday people) within the design field but who are interested in design more broadly. This book highlights the importance of everyone and anyone to engage in design criticism, not just designers or design critics.

Amanda Horton

Amanda Horton holds an MFA in Design and currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in the areas of design history, theory, and criticism. She is also the director of the Design History Minor at UCO.

Life and Death Design: What Life-Saving Technology Can Teach Everyday UX Designers

Katie Swindler. 2021. Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-84-2. 250 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]

Do user experience (UX) professionals consider “use under duress” as a significant design metric? I suspect not and neither did Katie Swindler, which is why, she has written Life and Death Design: What Life-Saving Technology Can Teach Everyday UX Designers, a book that will change the way you frame every design challenge and every product you use.

As Swindler observes in the Introduction, “The original concept for the book had been simple—take the fascinating and plentiful research on human stress and design from life-and-death fields like health care, the military, and avionics and see if there were lessons applicable for designers who create products for users who are under other types of ‘everyday’ stress” (p. xv). She is referring to design factors for a wide range of products, both digital and physical, that only become stressful when the user is pushed to their limits.

As a design strategist, Swindler writes from experience and offers examples of how design principles and insights have evolved to improve both systems and products. The information flow through the chapters is beautifully scaffolded; this is no small feat given the depth and scope of the material covered.

The initial chapters explore the Human Stress Response, The Startle Reflex, The Role of Intuition, and The Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. While you might think these droll topics, you might want to take a long, stress relieving breath. Swindler has wrapped these subjects in a warm UX blanket that leaves one thinking, “Of course, now I understand!”

Each chapter contains “The Case Of” side stories and “Design Quick Look” breakouts illustrating real life examples of failed and successful design work related to the chapter topic. The illustrations are top quality and are also available for free use under a Creative Commons license at the Rosenfeld Publishing website. Additionally, each chapter contains both an effective summary and a list of referenced sources.

After devoting the first half of Life and Death Design exploring the limitations, flaws, biases, and psychology of the human stress response as it relates to the UX world, Swindler now dives into solutions with the remaining chapters: Reasoned Reaction, Recovery, Alarms and Alerts, and Hero by Design.

An area I found particularly interesting was the “When to Trust the Gut” section. This section explores the reliability of intuition using the work of two respected, antagonistic, researchers Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman. Their collaboration produced an understanding of the surprisingly clear conditions required to build expert intuition: “An environment that is sufficiently regular to be predictable” and “An opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice” (p.52).

Life and Death Design is so insightful, comprehensive, and compelling that, besides being included in every professional UX specialist’s library, it should be required reading for every UX student.

Lynne Cooke

Lynne Cooke is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Arizona State University where she teaches courses on usability, digital media, and portfolio development. She is also a member of the Arizona Chapter of STC and the Internship Coordinator at ASU.

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction

Jack Hart. 2021. 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-73692-1. 270 pages, including index. US$18.00 (softcover).]

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction takes a deep dive into the origins and significance of storytelling: from animal-headed deities on cave walls, and hunters sitting round the campfire sharing their adventures of the day (p. xii); to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Author Jack Hart argues that “the same deep-seated archetypes lurk in primal stories created by all kinds of cultures” (p. 3). Scholars suggest that storytelling has an evolutionary basis; that “certain systems of organizing information give us…a way of perceiving the world, that has helped us survive” (p. 3). As the author says, “Story makes sense out of a confusing universe by showing us how one action leads to another” (p. xv).

Neuroscience findings point to the fact that we are hard-wired for story: “that audiences actually preferred narrative presentations; that we actually remember facts more accurately if we’re exposed to them in a story, rather than in a list” (p. 4). “Young children organize their play around storytelling that fits classical narrative form…Story is so central to the lives of young children that it comes close to defining their existence” (p. 6). In short, “storytelling is even more deeply-rooted in our biology than we suspect” (p. 7).

The three basic story elements are plot, characterization, and setting. But different genres tend to develop them differently. Hart compares characterization in these different genres. Fiction, he says, tends to be much more character driven. “The novel rises or falls on the strength of its characters.” Great novels somehow “change the way we see the world,” and they do so through the people who live on its pages (p. 73). By contrast, people in nonfiction tend to be “shadows that reveal only the faintest outline of a complete human being” (p. 74).

He compares newspaper and magazine articles, noting that magazine writers do better than hard-core journalist reports. But they’re still little more than “stick figures” (p. 74). “The genius of modern narrative nonfiction is that it has replaced the journalistic who, what, where, when and why––with character, plot, and scene; putting character in the driver’s seat” (p. 74). This special insight is from Hart himself, who has a journalism background.

Hart also has good comments on setting, or what he calls scenics. He suggests that “We’re hardwired to absorb stories by scenes” (p. 87). The novel, like the play before it, takes its shape from a series of scenes.” A radio drama creates a succession of imagined scenes. The movie is exclusively scenic (p. 87). As one writer put it: “Setting is the gift wrap; story is the gift” (p. 88).

Think of the power of a single image in a story or song, to evoke a complete feeling. Can you remember, for example where “the words of the prophets” were written, in the song “The Sound of Silence?”

Steven Darian

Steven is a Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University. He has taught in over nine countries with three as a Fulbright Visiting Professor. He has written books on business and technical communication, understanding the language of science, comparative religion, a historical novel, two travel books, and his own, Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools of the Trade.

Teaching Environmental Writing: Ecocritical Pedagogy and Poetics

Isabel Galleymore. 2021. Bloomsbury Academic. [ISBN 978-1-350-24327-9. 206 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Teaching Environmental Writing: Ecocritical Pedagogy and Poetics is a critical examination of pedagogy associated with nature and environmental writing courses in the United States and the United Kingdom. Isabel Galleymore draws on interviews from mostly post-secondary teachers of nature and environmental writing and “guidebooks on the subject published between 1985 and 2017” (p. 4). Her goal is to provide guidance on environmental writing and “deepen ecological consciousness and advance new routes into writing about the world we inhabit” (p. 4) by reimaging pedagogy that uses ecocritical theory infused with poetry.

The book covers important ground on critical stances regarding place, use of first person, metaphor, and authenticity in nature and environmental writing. Each chapter is an extensive, detailed academic rumination on ecocritical theory as it pertains to these topics.

Regarding Galleymore’s argument that nature and environmental writing pedagogy can be enriched through poetry, she pays considerable attention to poets and poetry that exemplify her proposed pedagogy. For instance, there is substantial debate on how teachers should instruct students to write about place. Should students be encouraged to learn proper names of trees and plants? Should they focus on local places to foster consciousness of their immediate surroundings? Or should they be encouraged to make global connections through local observations? Should they be looking for spiritual connections with nature? Galleymore explores these and many other questions through her critical examination of several poets and their poems, most especially through the poetry of Juliana Spahr.

By deconstructing several of Spahr’s poems in chapter 1 on place writing, Galleymore hopes to “prompt teachers and students to take up her [Spahr’s] writing as a valuable introduction to place as both a local and a global concept” (p. 56). Similarly, in subsequent chapters, Galleymore uses Jorie Graham’s poetry to discuss best practices for the use of first person and Les Murray’s work for critical stances on anthropomorphism. Although there is a focus on these three poets, many other poets and their poems are examined in each chapter.

Readers should know that Teaching Environmental Writing is categorically a scholarly publication, which affects how it will be received and read. For those teachers who are looking for innovative, practical pedagogical discussion and materials, the reading may be more complex and difficult to get through than expected. Likewise, for readers who are not familiar with poetry or comfortable teaching poetry, the material can be overwhelming and possibly even have the opposite effect that Galleymore says she hopes for, which is to infuse nature and environmental writing pedagogy with poetry. The point is that the book reads like a dissertation, so those who do not have a strong background in ecocritical theory or poetry may find themselves lost, and may, unfortunately, dismiss or overlook insightful arguments and analyses regarding best practices for teaching nature and environmental writing, especially if teachers are looking for ways to encourage their students to make global connections. Readers who do have expertise in these areas may find the book easier to read and grasp Galleymore’s pedagogy with more confidence and understanding.

Diane Martinez

Diane Martinez is an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University where she teaches technical and professional writing. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist. She has been with STC since 2005.

Tomorrow’s Communities: Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises

Henry Tam, ed. 2021. Policy Press. [ISBN 978-1-44736-111-4. 254 pages, including index. US$45.95 (softcover).]

Governments are unreliable sources of aid for disadvantaged communities. Even with the best intentions, policy and funding change in response to polls and with each election. Moreover, governments rarely understand the true issues communities face. In Tomorrow’s Communities: Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises, a collection of 14 essays, Henry Tam and his colleagues answer the question of how to do what governments won’t: empower communities to meet their own needs.

The key? Build and nurture self-sufficient, mutually supportive communities that can sustain long-term development by taking on government roles. Communities often do this more efficiently because they understand the problems and opportunities better. Of course, some problems are too big for communities alone, and require government assistance. Tam and his authors recommend “subsidiarity”: delegating power and accountability to the level that’s best suited to use that power. “Think global, act local” captures this approach: local community actions can, if adopted widely, begin solving the global crises of the title.

Contributor John Restakis wonders (p. 195): “What if an entire economy was based on the premise that it is the social worth of an action that generates its value?” This reflects the book’s emphasis on a human focus for solutions. Tam suggests three principles to accomplish this at a community scale: cooperative enquiry (working together to develop a shared understanding of the situation), mutual responsibility (collective action to promote collective well-being), and participatory planning (so that all voices are heard).

Contributors provide concise case studies and cite others, thereby grounding the book’s theory in the real world. Examples are weighted towards the United Kingdom, but it’s clear how to apply the lessons to other contexts after accounting for cultural and institutional differences. Although the writing’s clear, Tomorrow’s Communities seems written more for researchers; as a result, authors often forget to define key terms, which can be disorienting until context reveals the meaning. The authors also occasionally overindulge in jargon, though I rarely lost the thread.

Communities create powerful flows of information and resources. Technical communicators can apply our audience analysis skills to this context. We can identify sub-communities, their distinct needs, and ways to meet those needs. Ongoing communication’s essential for any community-based project, and that’s another opportunity: we can help leaders understand their audiences and manage expectations, facilitate communication among sub-communities, document and explain information, and identify knowledge gaps to fill.

If we want to change the world, we should start at the community level and build upward. During two pandemic years, I’ve found myself fibrillating over how to help. Tam’s book helped defibrillate me and put me back on the path towards striving for meaningful change. Tomorrow’s Communities isn’t a “how to” manual, but it provides a clear understanding of the community development context and a sound foundation on which to build.

Geoff Hart

Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 35 years of writing, editing, translation, and information design experience. He’s traveled widely and worked with authors from many cultures. He’s the author of two popular books, Effective Onscreen Editing and Writing for Science Journals.

The Art and Craft of Asian Stories: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology

Robin Hemley and Xu Xi, eds. 2021. Bloomsbury Academic. [ISBN 978-1-350-07654-9. 268 pages, including index. US$37.95 (softcover).]

Many STC members also write fiction, and like most writers, eagerly seek new insights into their craft and new techniques. In The Art and Craft of Asian Stories: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology, editors Robin Hemley and Xu Xi gather 24 broadly representative stories from India to Japan and throughout the Asian diaspora. The chosen stories have no uniquely Asian story structure or style; on the contrary, they reveal how strongly human concerns and modes of expression span cultures. Nonetheless, Asian cultures emerge clearly from each story’s characters, context, and details.

Hemley and Xu’s goal is to teach new techniques we can try: “Our aim is to widen the field of models for students of any background from any country” (p. 1). Rather than grouping stories based on micro-scale features such as dialog or plot, they treat each story as an organic whole, in which all parts work together. Examining parts (dialogue) in isolation would lose the synergies that make a story work.

The stories have diverse styles, so (as I did) you’re bound to find several you really enjoy. They’re grouped into 11 themes, from “family” to “invaders.” Because the anthology’s goal is to teach new ways to think, Hemley and Xu encourage us to consider the stories “not as literary critics but as fellow writers trying to understand how to bring the reader most fully into the experience” (p. 16). There’s abundant excellent writing advice, illustrated well by the companion story. Unfortunately, the authors occasionally throw up their hands and refuse to explain an authorial choice that seems purposeless, leaving us to figure it out. That might be justified in a different kind of book, but not in one intended to explicate why writers make specific choices.

Each section begins and ends with a discussion of the stories and exercises you can use to apply what you’ve learned. This makes the book highly suitable for a writing course. The tone is pleasantly irreverent about the writer’s craft, while remaining respectful of the writers and their stories. For example, “Think of several societal taboos and write them down. Next, don’t write a story about any of them. Spare us and yourself the embarrassment please. Now, write down several activities that you consider normal and not taboo at all. Choose one and write about it as though it were as forbidden a taboo as the ones on your first list” (p. 221).

The pleasure of reading these stories is diminished by poor typography (a tiny font with too-wide lines). If, like me, your vision isn’t what it used to be, choose the eBook format instead.

Geoff Hart

Geoff Hart (www.geoff-hart.com) is an STC Fellow with more than 35 years of writing, editing, translation, and information design experience. He’s traveled widely and worked with authors from many cultures. Besides his non-fiction, he’s published 49 short stories, a self-published story collection, and a few novels.

The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture

Mark Bould. 2021. Verso Books. [978-1-83976-0-471. 176 pages, including index. US$19.95 (hardcover).]

Human activity is having an environmental impact on our planet. Some people consider this period, known as the Anthropocene, to be a geological age. Mark Bould makes a comment about this period in The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture that the Anthropocene has become part of humanity’s unconscious. He concludes this by looking at genres including movies and books that he feels reflect what he calls a climate catastrophe culture. This culture reflects how climate change and environmental catastrophe are central issues in our Anthropocene time.

An example of Bould’s commentary includes his thoughts on the Sharknado movie and its sequels (pp. 19–21). These combination science fiction, comedy, and disaster movies reflect Bould’s concept of the Anthropocene unconscious. While the plots of these movies are comical, there could be some serious concerns here as the movies tap into the unconscious fears people have. Consider how Bould states the “first recorded sharknado” (p. 19) was in 2013 with Hurricane David as the author further states that “three massive waterspouts that would tear through the city formed and hurled sharks at unsuspecting Angelenos” (p. 19). Bould’s commentary here is an example of his thinking on the central idea of environmental catastrophe becoming part of our unconscious as reflected in a movie that might make us laugh while still acknowledging a fear of an impending catastrophe.

In general, Bould’s comments in The Anthropocene Unconscious cover a huge scope of references to not only include a movie such as Sharknado, but also the Fast and Furious franchise as well as references to works of literature such as Melville’s Moby Dick and references to the writing of Jane Austen. The author’s connections and comments can be a bit wild, but they are also thought provoking. He often combines a scholarly type of explanation to a non-scholarly subject out of popular culture. Consider this quote as an example from the chapter he devotes primarily to comments about Fast and Furious. “From sharknadoes to slow cinema, from slabs of bourgeois solipsism to the crepuscular domain of ligneous lives, we have seen the Anthropocene lurking within texts that have little or no idea that that is what they are talking about” (p. 131).

In our professional and personal lives, we can ask ourselves what should and can we do based on what Bould observes about our collective unconscious about environmental catastrophes and our fears. Should we try in our own way to lessen the negative impact we have on our planet and that way address at least in part what concerns us in our collective unconscious about possible climate-related catastrophes? Could this mean at the very least drinking from a reusable cup, using fewer plastic bags when shopping, and, of course, looking out for massive waterspouts that could hurl a shark at us?

Jeanette Evans

Jeanette Evans is an STC Associate Fellow; active in the Ohio STC community, currently serving on the newsletter committee; and co-author of an Intercom column on emerging technologies in education. She holds an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University and undergraduate degree in education.

The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action

Steve Hamm. 2021. Columbia Business School Publishing. [ISBN: 978-0-231-20090-5. 294 pages. US$24.95 (hardcover).]

“We believe that recovery from COVID-19 can be a catalyst for achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 and accomplishing the UN’s global sustainable development goals for health, education, and equitable prosperity.” This quote comes from the Pivot Project site at https://www.pivotprojects.org/post/pivot-projects-and-the-pivot and gives an idea of what is meant by the “pivot” described in The Pivot: Addressing Global Problems Through Local Action.

The Pivot Project initiative is a global volunteer collaboration formed as the COVID-19 pandemic started. Steve Hamm documents this initiative’s efforts in the book. A central idea that Hamm discusses is whether the world will be transformed after coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Could societies suffering from issues such as income inequality, climate change, and racism overcome these issues with the shock of a pandemic causing people to “pivot” to a better way of life? Hamm addresses the question when he explains how members of the Pivot Project collaborated to achieve impressive results while modeling how to achieve systemic change.

While some Pivot Project members come from the humanities and the sciences, other members are environmental activists or “regular” people. These people have a variety of personalities and skills. So, how did they get things done? In explaining the methods used, Hamm looks at concepts and technologies such as complexity theory, systems thinking, and artificial intelligence. He also provides informal profiles of a few Pivot Project group members. These are impressive people trying to make the world a better place.

Using a nonlinear design process to come up with her Pivot Project, Ahn Nguyen is a Vietnamese fish exporter studying in Sweden and Pivot Project member. She implemented her idea for raising and transporting salmon on a cargo ship with the approach coming in part from answers generated by an artificial intelligence machine. With Nguyen’s new use of the cargo ship, production and distribution were combined to save energy and money (p. 105). She says she is no longer afraid of uncertainty as her idea helped in its own small way with the issue of effective and improved food distribution.

Nguyen’s profile appears in the Chapter 4, Struggles. This chapter is one of an eclectic mix of ideas with other chapters called the Scrum, Places, Remapping the World, and Talking to Robots. These chapter titles give an idea of what topics and approaches Hamm covers.

Of course, I think I could not do anything in my professional or personal life as impressive as a Pivot Project. But maybe I should think more about what I could do locally to make this a better world as should we all.

Jeanette Evans

Jeanette Evans is an STC Associate Fellow; active in the Ohio STC community, currently serving on the newsletter committee; and co-author of an Intercom column on emerging technologies in education. She holds an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University and undergraduate degree in education.

Disasterology: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis

Samantha Montano. 2021. Park Row Books. [ISBN 978-0-7783-1103-4. 380 pages, including index. US$28.99 (hardcover).]

Disasterology is a science that combines mitigation (detection and reduction of risks) with preparation (developing plans and response capacity), response, and recovery. Disaster managers determine how to cope when emergencies (which can be handled with local resources) evolve into disasters (which require external support) and disasters into catastrophes.

Disasterology: Dispatches From the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis begins with an anonymous epigram: “At the start of every disaster movie, there’s a scientist being ignored.” The sentiment’s familiar to any scientific communicator. Unfortunately, unlike disaster movies, life doesn’t promise a happy ending. New Orleans after hurricane Katrina taught many Americans that governments can no longer be trusted to protect them from disasters or help them recover. This isn’t just an American problem.

Disasters rarely happen without warning; most are preceded by slowly accumulating signs that governments ignore, particularly for “something happening to people [you] did not know in a city [you] had never seen” (p. 28). Montano reminds us that a disaster’s visible damage may be impressive, but it’s less important than the severe but invisible damage to victims. Survivors “are not a life lesson for [us]. They are people…who need [our] help” (p. 94).

Though supported by an extensive literature review, Disasterology isn’t a scholarly book. It’s a deeply personal, often infuriating, account of Montano’s journey. She anchors her story in the government’s ineffective response to restoring New Orleans, where Montano worked as a volunteer, and ends with the catastrophic mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not a comforting read, since the “inherent heartbreak of disaster work [is that] no matter how much good you do, it won’t ever be enough” (p. 78).

The biggest problem is that governments at all levels emphasize reactive approaches, which are insufficient, too expensive, and too slow. Instead, we must push governments towards a proactive approach designed to reduce disaster frequency and severity. The book’s subtitle reminds us that it’s no longer a question of whether we’ll suffer from climate change, but rather how badly and whether we’ll act soon enough to reduce the suffering.

Disadvantaged communities are disproportionally affected. They pose a difficult communication challenge because they often combine low education and literacy with strong distrust of government. Impenetrable government language and strangling red tape exacerbate these problems. Oral communication becomes important and requires the ability to translate complex information into something normal people can understand. The news media and social networks are also essential, since no news does not mean good news: “In a disaster, silence is the scariest sound” (p. 226).

Climate change is already increasing disaster frequency and severity, and we can no longer afford to simply create plans that will be shelved and forgotten. Instead, these plans must become living documents that help us work together and force governments to act now to reduce the risk of disaster and allocate sufficient resources to reduce the human cost.

Geoff Hart

Geoff Hart (www.geoff-hart.com) is an STC Fellow with more than 35 years of writing, editing, translation, and scientific communication experience.

Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age

Michelle Jayman, Maddie Ohl, and Leah Jewett, eds. 2021. Bristol University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4473-5645-5. 210 pages, including index. US$45.95 (softcover).]

Mental wellness and digital technology are traditionally not viewed as collaborative partners, especially in youth development. The negative aspects of digital technology include cyberbullying, inappropriate visual content, social media competition, and the (sometimes) misconception of “too much screen time.” However, nobody can dispute that exposure to technology is unavoidable—from online homework to discussion groups on Zoom, students are required to have an email address in early elementary school. With the new reality of technology-savvy younger children, it is critical to figure out the implementation of it for maximum benefits/fewest risks and how to impose critical boundaries. To this end, Supporting New Digital Natives: Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in a Hi-Tech Age was compiled in ten chapters with sources at the end of each chapter, a section on the background of the contributors, a glossary, and index. The editors selected eight case studies by health care providers, teachers, and mental health professionals/researchers to approach mental wellness from a complex wholistic landscape rather than examining any one influencing factor.

“These eight case studies were selected because of their original contributions, each focusing on different aspects of CYP’s (children and young people) lives which are inextricably linked to mental wellbeing, such as friendships and relationships, play and learning experiences, and opportunities for connecting with nature and the community. More than this, each chapter is a platform for raising CYP’s voice, rightly placing them, as experts in their own lives, at the heart of mental wellbeing interventions and services” (p. xxx).

Ironically, the first case study on supporting new digital natives (as the title states) introduces a pyramid club that removes children from all technology and places them in an intentional support group—an environment where they can practice relationship building in a supportive place. For ten weeks, kids meet with other kids who either lack social skills and/or have trouble with friendships. During these ten weeks, the kids do activities targeted toward connection, building teamwork, and creating a safe space like arts and crafts, food preparation and sharing, and circle time. This approach contrasts with the next case study in which Book of Beasties is used to explore how to get children to build virtual friendships through an online card game. “Children learn best in interactive environments which invite them in as interactive collaborators and include content which is meaningful to them” (p 96).

One of the common negatives associated with digital technology is the reduction of outdoor play for children—this is the basis of Forest School and Girlguiding. These case studies look at the effects of nature on the mental wellbeing of youth and the importance of building a support community. In the girlguiding study, the implementation of digital technology has improved some of the programs and the girls are encouraged to use the technology if it helps them.

One of the final case studies introduces LifeMosaic—an app for a smartphone that tracks various data points that might help children understand their mental health better. For example, after tracking sleep and diet they might see the link between poor eating habits and poor sleep quality—and their overall mood as a result. The app allows children to design their own study and then plot graphs and charts which can be shared within their online LifeMosaic community.

All these studies describe either the use of technology to enhance mental wellbeing or the intentional removal of technology to eliminate a technology-driven issue—the intersection of which is a balance the new digital natives of our generation will be forced to eventually navigate themselves.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

You Should Write a Book

Katel LeDû and Lisa Maria Marquis. A Book Apart. [ISBN 978-1-952616-13-6. 140 pages, including index. US$24.00 (softcover).]

It takes time and effort to turn your idea into a book, but with humor and inspiration from Katel LeDû and Lisa Maria Marquis, you might find that it’s easier to accomplish than you imagined. In this case, we are talking about sharing your career smarts with the industry.

Maybe you’ve got some Python programming panache, know some web design wizardry, or have the scrum master mojo. Whatever your technical or professional subject, the guidance the authors provide in You Should Write a Book will set you on the right path to publication. LeDû and Marquis are big believers that adding your voice and perspective to the industry matters; if you want to write a book, you can write a book.

The book starts with a brief history of publishing to frame the authors’ argument that your finished book isn’t at the mercy of large publishing houses; self-publishing and niche publishing companies are viable options. This segues to dismantling your own insecurities about writing and publishing. Their bottom line is that you don’t have to be an expert, you don’t need to know all the answers, and it’s not a matter of knowing the right people.

LeDû and Marquis help you plan the journey of getting your book out of your brain so you can develop your ideas. They describe the process of identifying your audience and solving their problem, building your narrative, and arranging your ideas to shape your story. If you need advice or encouragement in developing your writing practice and managing your schedule, they cover that, too.

The chapter on editing shares advice on reviewing your manuscript without feeling overwhelmed by the need to fix everything. They explain how to edit for voice and tone, recommend ways to be inclusive and avoid assumptions, and give pointers on tidying up and managing your heading and sub-heading hierarchy.

You Should Write a Book even gets into the decisions you’ll make about paper stock weight and finish, creating eBooks and audiobooks, and distribution methods.

By the time you get to the chapter on preparing for publication, you’ll be ready to tackle all-important tasks like finalizing the title, crafting your dedication and acknowledgements, requesting testimonials in the form of blurbs and a forward, and approving the overall book description.

The breadth and depth of You Should Write a Book and the right amount of humor and empathy for the process make it an engaging read to help you navigate writing and publishing your career-inspired manuscript.

Michelle Gardner

Michelle Gardner is a contracted senior writer at Microsoft focused on their cloud portfolio. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism: Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach, and a master’s degree in Computer Resources and Information Management from Webster University.

Teaching Writing in the Health Professions: Perspectives, Problems, and Practices

Michael J. Madson, ed. 2022. Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-367-75552-2. 204 pages, including index. US$143.00 (hardcover).]

According to Michael J. Madson, editor of Teaching Writing in the Health Professions: Perspectives, Problems, and Practices, the importance of teaching writing in the medical curriculum has been recognized since 1953. However, the ways in which writing has been taught to medical students and students in the allied health fields has historically varied in quality, quantity, and instruction method.

In Madson’s book, he and other authors use evidence-based methods to explore best practices in teaching students in the health fields to write in the genres they will use daily as practitioners. Many medical students underestimate the importance of medical writing, expecting to simply click boxes in a computer-based health record system. However, their clinical notes, patient-care plans, patient medical histories, patient educational information, and other writing can impact a patient’s health as well as affect insurance billing and reimbursement. Further, clear medical writing can improve health literacy for both the patient as well as the public.

Perhaps the greatest strengths of Teaching Writing in the Health Professions are the variety of health fields represented in the collection and the credibility of the contributing authors. In medical writing texts the focus is often on the physician; however, in Madson’s collection, he highlights writing in nursing, pharmacy, emergency medical services, and other medical fields. Further, the authors are experienced both as practitioners and as academics in their respective fields. Many of these authors, such as Elizabeth L. Angeli, have written extensively on health communication and are recognized experts on medical writing.

The chapters within Teaching Writing in the Health Professions are varied according to profession, country, and even the ages and levels of education of the students being instructed. The chapters discuss a variety of methods for teaching writing, including the use of writing centers, templates, workshops, and writing retreats. Each chapter presents a clear outline of the curriculum or method of instruction under investigation. The potential benefits and drawbacks of each method of instruction are discussed in plain, accessible language without cumbersome medical jargon.

Teaching Writing in the Health Professions is intended for academics, including technical writing instructors, and clinical instructors teaching medical writing. Many technical writing instructors teach introductory technical communication to medical and allied health students, where this genre-specific information and the examples presented within the text could help students understand the importance of writing within their fields. This collection is also appropriate for technical writing practitioners within the health fields, as well as graduate students in a health writing or medical rhetoric class.

Nicole St. Germaine

Nicole St. Germaine is a professor in the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance writer and consultant. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican American audience and technical communication in the health fields.

Making Research Matter: Steps to Impact for Health and Care Researchers

Tara Lamont. 2021. Bristol University Press [ISBN 978-1-4473-6115-2. 198 pages, including index. US$34.95 (softcover).]

“Researchers start their work wanting to make a difference. The extra steps and actions set out in this book and elsewhere to reach and engage people in meaningful ways, paying attention to story, language and appropriate channels are part of the job of a researcher in the 21st century. Research findings should not stay in the library or on the university bookshelf. They should be translated and worked up with the right communities into new policies, decisions, conversations and practice” (p. 166). This summary statement of Making Research Matter: Steps to Impact for Health and Care Researchers by Tara Lamont embodies her argument that the relevance of current research and its resulting impact on society are critical now more than ever.

Lamont’s introduction uses her own storytelling tools of chapter 8, the example of Florence Nightingale and her report to the Indian Sanitary Commission, published in 1863. The “pull” Nightingale created for her report included concise and orderly summaries with vivid images. These briefs were circulated among people like John Stuart Mill and even Queen Victoria- people whose support she would need later in promoting the policy and reforms suggested in her report. Nightingale forged ties with decision makers who could implement reforms themselves or communicate with others for influential changes. And she did it all without Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn! It is proof that the skills of impact for research resonate then as they do now despite the vast difference in the technological tools available.

Making Research Matter starts each chapter using the Why, What, Who, When and How format. The Why follows the introduction to clarify the overall importance of her book. In the current information and digital climate, the sheer amount of research available has increased exponentially. It is important for people to discern valuable research from either false data or irrelevant results. Valuable research involves asking the right questions of the population involved. One example compared mechanical devices to manual compressions in treating cardiac arrest in an ambulance. A high-quality research study proved that the outcomes for each showed negligible difference, and therefore the cost of implementation was not worth it. However, when staff were interviewed, they said that the technology allowed them to sit securely in a seatbelt which made them feel safer. This detail addressed a separate issue from cost analysis and could only be determined through interviewing the right people.

Lamont’s arguments for increased communication and interaction between researchers, policy makers, and lay people describes an ideal culture of collaboration, support for necessary reform and openness to change. It is her hope that researchers in all areas of health and care examine their skills, interest, and investment in this type of exchange for the enhanced quality, relevance, and implementation of valuable research findings into all areas of healthcare and wellness.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

InCredible Communication: Uncover the Invaluable Art of Selling Yourself

Steven Lewis and Rebecca Weintraub. Bloomsbury Press [ISBN 978-1-4729-9172-0. 238 pages, including index. US$28.00 (hardcover).]

InCredible Communication: Uncover the Invaluable Art of Selling Yourself is like a trip to the gym. You don’t want to go there because it’s hard work, but you love the results.

The publisher has chosen an unfriendly, dense, small serif font laid out in big text blocks as though they are just daring you to try and read it. And Steven Lewis and Rebecca Weintraub, both highly qualified in this field, seem intent on padding an already overly dense volume with every tidbit of information acquired in their combined 75 years of teaching.

Chapters 2–5, for example, could easily be synopsized in one good paragraph or a few of the following bullet points:

  • First impressions count and it’s hard to regain credibility
  • Communication cultures vary from one organization to another
  • What people experience is what they believe
  • Context matters, and it is variable and changeable

But enough with the flaws; let’s get to the rewards as they are substantial.

First off, Chapter 1 offers an excellent, detailed, self-assessment rubric—that is if you can grit your teeth and wade through an irritating layout with awkward wording. Most importantly, the framework created in this analysis is used as an invaluable template throughout the most innovative section of the volume, Part Three: Practical Advice – Becoming an InCredible Communicator.

This self-assessment rubric explores five prime Communication Dimensions and how, based on your results, you fit into the communication culture network. These dimensions include how you convey, receive, and prepare information; your communication personality and how you relate to others. The authors’ breakdown of techniques is a perfect handbook for the serious communicator who understands the value of style-flexing, an innovative concept that seems to have fallen out of vogue.

The book’s format is creatively applied to a variety of typical communication trouble areas from conflict to storytelling to zooming to high anxiety. The authors dissect each challenging issue in detail using the five dimensions with keen attention to how your strengths and weaknesses play out and how to make substantive changes. A detailed “tips chart” is the backbone of each chapter, which offers a focused, quick reference guide.

So, don’t let the lack of style that immediately jumps out at you and screams “I’m an impossible read” stop you from exploring InCredible Communication. You need to think like a gold miner; just keep digging a little deeper and you will strike the rich vein of intellectual ore marked on the authors’ treasure map.

Lynne Cooke

Lynne Cooke is a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University where she teaches courses on usability, digital media, and portfolio development. She is also a member of the Arizona Chapter of STC and the Internship Coordinator at ASU.

Should You Believe Wikipedia? Online Communities and the Construction of Knowledge

Amy S. Bruckman. 2022. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-74840-7. 260 pages, including index. US$19.99 (softcover).]

Amy Bruckman, Professor and Senior Associate Chair in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, has been publishing about online communities for many years. Her Should You Believe Wikipedia? Online Communities and the Construction of Knowledge essentially brings together her thinking on the potential in social creation of knowledge, pitfalls to watch out for, ways to invent through online resources, and developers’ responsibilities.

She notes that forms of “peer production” can include “open-content publishing (Wikipedia), open-source software, citizen science, and online creative collaboration” (p. 36). She focuses on the definition and design of online communities, the possibility of positive achievement in these communities, the credibility of Wikipedia, effects of the internet on our thinking, online personal identity, remedies for bad online behavior, and the impact of business on online communities.

Each main chapter concludes with “Theoretical Summary” and “Practical Implications” sections. Thus, the chapter on business theorizes about the impact of business; “Practical Implications” include the realities of payment to use a site, the cost to manage behavior, and different ways to finance a site.

Most interesting are the examples of and solutions to poisonous bad behavior, particularly when Bruckman addresses public shaming. She sensibly advocates three possible ways an individual can respond: “advocate for change within the platform” (p. 223), go elsewhere, or form a new subgroup.

Faith in our ability to engineer needed improvements gives Should You Believe Wikipedia? a positive tone. The rallying cry: “Design features of online communities shape human behavior. We can leverage those features to encourage more thoughtful discussions, greater mutual understanding, and the growth of knowledge” (p. 229).

Technical Communication readers will find some omissions. Bruckman doesn’t mention LinkedIn, which has elicited much discussion regarding its published policies on its online communities. We might also benefit from having more than one page devoted to such fact-checking services as FactCheck.org. Finally, there should be some mention of usability testing of sites preceding reliance on visitors to flag bad content.

At times Bruckman sounds out of her element: “Refereed journal articles are arguably the ‘gold standard’ for quality of information. However, a refereed journal article is reviewed typically by three experts. How do you compare three experts to hundreds of self-selected volunteers?” (p. 81)—few serious researchers would subscribe to this logic. Interestingly, elsewhere she commends the superiority of “peer-reviewed scientific publications” (p. 67).

Much of Bruckman’s thinking, as valid as I find it, is not new. She cites Yochai Benkler’s contention “that peer production is a fundamentally new phenomenon” (p. 45), but his paper is two decades old. Her own works that she cites are two decades old. I believe that most technical communicators have long shared her thinking. Should You Believe Wikipedia? will enlighten general readers who have seen none of the dozens of books and articles recently published on peer communities. Readers of this journal will likely find it instead a pleasant review of what they’ve long accepted.

Avon J. Murphy

Avon J. Murphy is an STC Fellow who serves the Society as a researcher and as editor of the annual Summit Proceedings. A onetime college professor and government writer, he is a technical editing contractor and the principal in Murphy Editing and Writing Services, based in western Washington.

The Geography of Words: Vocabulary and Meaning in the World’s Languages

Danko Sipka. 2022. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-79501-2. 256 pages. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Danko Sipka’s The Geography of Words: Vocabulary and Meaning in the World’s Languages explores the “inextricable embeddedness of languages in their respective cultures” (p. 102). Cultures share common experiences like time, kinship, or sports, but interpret them differently. Those differences are reflected in languages, and result in “global lexical diversity” (p. 3).

Sipka’s book draws from the works of the anthropologist Edward T. Hall and the linguist Roman Jakobson. Like Hall, Sipka distinguishes between low- and high-context cultures. In the former “one tells things directly,” in the latter “much needs to be inferred from context” (p. 8), a distinction often illustrated by contrasting American directness with Japanese indirectness. Like Jakobson, Sipka observes that “languages differ not in what they may express but rather in what they have to express” (p. 3). In Russian the sky is either “sky-blue” or “deep-blue” but not just “blue”—English can make the same distinction, but “it is not obligatory; one can simply say blue” (p. 3).

These two principles combined define the central theme: languages may express understanding of common, cross-cultural experiences, but inevitably do so in ways unique to each culture. Each language “bears an indelible mark” of its “space and time” and in “each culture, that mark is different” (p. 219).

Hence the familiar problem in translation, captured in the Italian adage, “Traduttore, Traditore!” or “translator, traitor” (p. 87). However scrupulous and knowledgeable the translator, inevitably there will be misinterpretations “predicated on profound lexical and other differences between languages, which concurrently reflect cross-cultural differences” (p. 91). An English speaker may say “I missed the bus,” but a Slavic speaker would say, “‘The bus ran away from me’” (p. 199). Each language describes the same situation, but within opposing cultural paradigms: individualistic English speakers make themselves the cause of the effect, deterministic Slavic speakers do the opposite (p. 199).

In this example, a translator would switch cause and effect from one language to another, accurately communicating the basic situation—the rider did not get to the bus on time—so that it made cultural or idiomatic sense to the listener. The idiomatic translation, however, unavoidably shifts the cultural assumption in the original language about who bears responsibility for missing the bus, thereby effacing the difference between individualistic English and deterministic Slavic cultures (p. 201). This example (typical of the plethora provided) illustrates Sipka’s argument that “diversity in human languages is a kind of adaptation to the cultural niche every language occupies” (p. 219).

Sipka adopts a playful tone and sprinkles the text with puns, wry comments, and humorous illustrations. One can read straight through or “hop from one chapter to another” (p. 2). Though “intended for a general audience” (p. 2), the book can also serve as a source of examples for teaching introductory linguistics. Sipka has achieved his goal and more: a book for both general readers and linguistics instructors.

Donald R. Riccomini

Donald R. Riccomini is an STC member and Emeritus Senior Lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specialized in engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.

The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged): Adventures in Math and Science

Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry. 2021. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-393-88157-8. 304 pages, including index. US$24.00 (hardcover).]

The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged): Adventures in Math and Science by Adam Rutherford, a geneticist, and Hannah Fry, a mathematician, delivers on exactly what the title promises, covering everything from evolution to love and so much in between. Rutherford and Fry also host the BBC Radio show The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry together; a show where they attempt to answer listener’s questions with science and math. I’ve never listened to the show, but plan to after reading this book. The chemistry between Rutherford and Fry is obvious even in the book’s pages. They’re smart but not too smart for me or you, they’re funny, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Even if (like me) your eyes gloss over at the math and science bits, you’re sure to enjoy this book.

Though, as they discuss in chapter 6, I—and you—may be predestined to enjoy this book and leave a “glowing five-star review” (p. 148) simply because of forces we have yet to understand. Assuming I have free will, my enjoyment of this book—and my review—are the result of their skillful writing. We’d all like to believe that, wouldn’t we? But Rutherford and Fry make a compelling case that we might not have free will at all. Of course, they just present the facts and then very safely end the chapter by saying, “As for us, we didn’t promise that we would answer this question, but we were always fated to ask. We know you believe that you have free will. We do too. But what we believe and what is true are often two very different things” (p. 182). I found this chapter to be both intriguing and extremely unsettling.

All the chapters are equally compelling, but—thankfully—not as unsettling. The book is filled with random tidbits of knowledge, most of which were new to me. I found the footnotes and gray boxes filled with asides to be the most interesting facts. Did you know, for instance, that “Mating between two stationary barnacles some distance apart is understandably difficult. Nature always finds a way, however, and as a result barnacles have extraordinarily long penises, up to eight times their body length” (footnote on p. 52). Or that “Lord Byron acquired his bear in protest of Trinity College rules that barred him from keeping his beloved dog there. Technically, Cambridge University did not specify bears in its statutes relating to lodgings and pets and so, being something of a smart-ass, he argued that they could not deny him a flesh-eating undergraduate ursine companion” (gray box on p. 217). If you find these random facts interesting, you’re sure to love The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything! With that said, Rutherford and Fry weave these seemingly random facts into a coherent book that questions absolutely everything.

Sara Buchanan

Sara Buchanan works at LCS, a property management software company, in Cincinnati, OH. In her free time, she’s an avid reader, enjoys cooking, and doting on her cats: Buffy and Spike.

Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention

Wake Smith. 2022. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-316-51843-4. 402 pages, including index. US$24.95 (hardcover).]

We’ve delayed so long that dangerous climate change is now inevitable. Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is laudable, but insufficient to prevent what’s coming. To mitigate those consequences, we must contemplate the scary topic of climate intervention (“geoengineering”). Why scary? Because the research is incomplete and getting the solutions wrong may have disastrous consequences. But as Wake Smith notes in Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention, geoengineering “sounds like a terrible concept until you…realize that not geoengineering would likely prove worse” (p. xviii).

Pandora’s Toolbox is a remarkable technical communication achievement: Smith explains a dauntingly intimidating topic with clarity and grace, and never overwhelms. Some scientific knowledge and understanding of graphs will enrich the text, but you won’t need more than grade school math to understand his argument. Chapters 1–4 thoroughly describe our situation. His analogies, such as describing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as an increasingly thick blanket that traps ever more heat, are clear and helpful. Chapter 5 describes climate economics and the danger of relying on traditional economics. The book’s meat comes in chapters 6–7, which discuss mitigation (reducing future pain); chapter 8, which discusses adaptation (coping with pain); and chapters 10–15, which discuss geoengineering (further reducing future pain). Broadly speaking, we must both remove CO2 from the atmosphere and reduce the solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface. No one solution will solve the problem in coming decades: we’ll need to combine them all to undo the effects of more than 100 years of cumulative damage. Forty pages of references support this argument.

A book of this scope inevitably has omissions, such as noting (p. 69) that high temperatures improve plant growth but not that high CO2 may divert most of that improvement into inedible tissues rather than food or that dryland rice will reduce methane emission from rice paddies (p. 107). Also, we’ve only just begun to realize the danger of methane release from hydroelectric reservoirs and permafrost. The index should also be twice as long. None of this undermines the book’s fundamental message.

The bad news is that the “real work of achieving net zero and then negative emissions will require substantial economic sacrifice by virtually every current and future human for many generations” (p. xvi). Smith emphasizes that technology notwithstanding, human problems require human solutions: decades of failed climate accords demonstrate the need for fundamentally refocusing on the collective good. “There is a chance that this may not work out as badly as some alarmist observers think—but we are still sailing off the edge of the map” (p. 78). It’s increasingly obvious that we face a crash landing; the good news is that it’s our choice how hard we hit and who will walk away from the crash.

Pandora’s Toolbox is an essential work for providing the information we need to understand the risks we face and invest wisely in solutions.

Geoff Hart

Geoff Hart (www.geoff-hart.com) is an STC Fellow and science editor with more than 35 years of writing, editing, translation, and scientific communication experience.

On Revision: The Only Writing That Counts

William Germano. 2021. The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN:978-0-226-41065-4. 204 pages, including index. US $20.00 (softcover).]

On Revision: The Only Writing That Counts is a valuable resource for writers of academic and scholarly works. The author, a professor of English literature at the Cooper Union, has written books on scholarly writing and publishing and lectured on this topic across the US and internationally.

William Germano wrote the book based on his interest in the topic, his recognition that many writers find the revision process difficult, and the lack of information on revising academic writing, “…I couldn’t find anything that had more than a few encouraging pages about how (much less why) to revise academic writing” (p. 4).

While Germano provides a wealth of practical exercises, advice, and techniques to improve a writer’s work, he also guides readers in a thoughtful discourse on the process and importance of revision. I enjoyed Germano’s use of examples from a broad range of genres and fields to reinforce his points.

In his own words, “I knew I wasn’t writing a reviser’s style guide. I knew that I wanted to bring into the same frame both a philosophy of writing, especially as it applies to the range of forms and styles that academic publishers engage, as well as some centrally important practical issues” (p. 6).

Using that framework, the author begins the revision process by asking his readers in chapters 2 and 3, “…to reflect on what you have, what you know, [and] what you want to say better” (p. 8). If you think of the revision process as a journey, then chapters 2 and 3 reflect the essential preparatory stage. In chapter 2, Germano introduces nine principles that he stresses are the foundation of the revision process. In chapter 3’s succinctly titled Know What You’ve Got, he covers different approaches to the writing and revision process to assist writers in gaining a deeper understanding of their work.

Germano then guides readers through chapters 4, 5, and 6, which focus on the three critical components of revision: argument, architecture (writing structure), and audience. Finally, chapter 7, provides in the author’s words “a summing up.” On Revision also includes a short bibliography for readers who would like to continue exploring this topic.

Ann Marie Queeney

Ann Marie Queeney is an STC senior member with more than 20 years’ technical communication experience primarily in the medical device industry. Her STC experience includes serving as a Special Interest Group leader, 2020-2022 Board member, and CAC (Communities Affairs Committee) Chair. Ann Marie is the owner of A.M. Queeney, LLC.