Not on the Shelves

From the introduction to the first version:

I was watching Field of Dreams again a couple of nights ago. When the ghostly voice whispered, "If you build it, they will come," I thought, "That's it! If I write reviews of the books I'd most like to read, maybe someone will write the books!"

The next morning, as I was nursing my hangover, I explained my plan to a friend. Her first response was, "Yeah, maybe," but when I persisted, she took the icepack off her forehead long enough to explain the idea of sympathetic magic to me. According to her, there's a tribe whose land is occasionally stricken with drought. When the rain fails to arrive, the tribal elders get out a plow and a handful of seeds and go and till the soil anyway. The idea is that by doing what they would have done if the rain had fallen, they can force it to actually fall. That, she said, is sympathetic magic; by writing reviews of books that don't exist, you're trying to trick the universe into bringing the books into existence.

When she put it that way, it sounded kind of silly, but after reviewing more than fifty computer-related books in the last eight years, I'd be happy to sacrifice a rooster to get someone to write something different. I'm constantly amazed by how few different books there actually are: my local bookstore, for example, has eight shelves of Java books, but if you were to do a set-union on their contents, you'd be left with only two or three books' worth of information. What's worse, a lot of things I really want to know wouldn't be there at all. It's almost as if our notion of what we should put into a book on a new programming language, or on user interfaces, or software engineering, somehow got stuck in the early 1980s.

These reviews of non-existent books are my attempt to point out the gaps in the computing literature, and, indirectly, the gaps in most programmers' education (including my own). If, by chance, one of these books already exists, please drop me a line; otherwise, if you'd like to try writing one of them, please drop me a line as well, so that I can review it for real when it comes out.

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