Book bits

A guide to writing e-mail, three books about writers, and readers' picks.

Send: The Essential Guide to Email, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

'Bad things can happen on email," David Shipley and Will Schwalbe tell us at the outset of Send, their humorous, pithy, and much-needed guide to the art and science of e-mail. To illustrate, they offer the following real-life example:

From: Michael Brown
To: FEMA Staff
August 29, 2005
Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?

Did any of us actually need reminding?

Yes, e-mail is a dangerous thing. It can also be an annoying, time-wasting, discourteous thing and that's exactly why Shipley (New York Times Op-Ed page editor) and Schwalbe (journalist and editor) have produced their wry little volume.

"We don't hate email," they insist." We love it.... We just want to do it better." And they'd like to help the rest of us do it better as well.

They begin by identifying the most pernicious features of e-mail: It gets sent too fast, with too few inhibitions, and so much of the time it feels good but accomplishes nothing. Then there are the eight deadly sins of e-mail, everything from "The email that puts you in jail ('Please tell them that I asked you to sell that thing when it hit $70')" to "The email that's too casual. ('Hiya! Any word on that admissions thing?')"

There are also suggestions on better ways to e-mail, including nuts and bolts like when (and when not) to use the cc feature and how to write a better subject line. These tutorials are peppered with true tales of e-mail misuse that are both illustrative and amusing.

For the more technically inclined, sidebars spell out e-mail's history (the first one was sent in 1971), briefly explain how it works, and define great moments in e-mail history (from 1976 when Queen Elizabeth II became the first head of state to send one to 2001 when the Taliban banned them.) An appendix explains how to read an e-mail header.

The last lines of the book, however, are technology-free and actually read oddly like maxims you heard from your mom and/or Sunday Schoolteacher while growing up (perhaps proving that good e-mailing is not too different from other forms of good living).

Learn these two things from "Send," plead Shipley and Schwalbe: "Think before you send" and "Send email you would like to receive."
– Marjorie Kehe

Three books about writing

He met or befriended eight of the first 14 US presidents, traveled the Wild West, served as the American ambassador to Spain, and was the first to call New York City "Gotham." The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving by Andrew Burstein is the absorbing biography of one of America's earliest literary figures. Burstein, a history professor and biographer, successfully brings to life 19th-century New York.

Alexander Waugh takes on his own forebears in Father and Sons: The Auto-biography of a Family. In this unusual memoir, Waugh traces the lives and family relations of patriarch Arthur Waugh (a columnist and publisher), Arthur's sons, the novelists Alec and Evelyn, and Evelyn's son, Auberon, a columnist and Alexander's father. Waugh, who is a columnist and author himself, shapes a narrative that is razor sharp, funny, and bittersweet.

Thomas Hardy was not an easy man to know, but British academic Ralph Pite's Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life offers useful new insight into the author of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and "The Return of the Native." Pite cuts through some of the myths Hardy himself perpetuated and reveals an emotional, conflicted side to Hardy, one he himself preferred to conceal.
– M.K.

Readers' picks

I picked up Vali Reza Nasr's The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. How the United States understands, balances, and nurtures strategic interests beyond the use of "force" will prove potent. This is what Nasr advocates.

Ali Abbas, Highland Park, N.J.

I'm rereading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The story of the transforming power of love on the individual and society is thoroughly and timelessly and beautifully presented. And in a first novel by a 21-year- old woman! Karen James, Santa Fe, N.M.

Bridging the Divide: My Life by Sen. Edward Brooke. The challenges Brooke faced as an African-American in the US Senate mirrored the challenges the nation faced with racial equality. Brooke led his party and the nation to a realization that race should not limit the potential of any person. He is a man of courage, service, and faith.Jim Patterson, San Francisco

I am enjoying Alexander McCall Smith's series set in Botswana. The first three books, which can be read independently, are The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Tears of the Giraffe, and Morality for Beautiful Girls. Like Tony Hillerman's mysteries about the Navajo, they are more than mysteries and open a cultural window into Botswana. The heroine, Precious Ramotswe, sets up a detective agency "to help people with the problems in their lives," and does so with such ingenuity, wisdom, and good humor that it's hard to put the books down.Judy White, Ashland, Ohio

I recently enjoyed a futuristic, science-fiction book titled Jumper by Steven Gould about a youngster who escapes an abusive, alcoholic father by teleporting. It's light fiction but makes you wish you could teleport. Miriam Rowe, Gravette, Ark.

WHat are you Reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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