There are several things I've been wanting to post about, but none that warrant an entire post all to themselves--so here's a little clearinghouse of thoughts and recommendations.
First off, I just finished reading The Exception and wanted to throw in my two cents on top of Rhian's buck fifty from last week. This is really a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. As soon as I realized it was a novel about workplace bullying, I was instantly envious--this is an amazing subject, and Jungersen cleverly uses the microcosm of the office to explore big truths about the nature of evil. He also employs the bizarrely direct tactic of including little essays on the topic in the text of the novel, ostensibly written and published by the main characters. I must say I appreciated it; the essays were fascinating. My only complaint is that the ending, while it certainly satisfies as the culmination of a thriller, imposes itself from without, and I couldn't help but wish that the book had managed to wrap itself up without leaving the hothouse of its setting. In any event, a great read, and very scary.
Second, I wanted to recommend the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase series, a kind of short-fiction literary magazine for cartoonists. I've got books two and three and now need to go back and find the first one--great little stories from up and coming artists and writers, brimming with the vitality that this new art form seems to have an endless supply of.
Finally, and OK, this could have been its own post, but I can't think of enough good examples to support it, I'd like to say that product manuals just aren't what they used to be. Time was, you could buy something, and the manual would include a concise little history of that thing, and put the item into some kind of practical context. These days it isn't unusual for manuals (often poorly translated) to actually serve as an impediment to using the item, as is the case with the documentation for the Oregon Scientific WMR968 Cable Free Complete Weather Station, a great item that is almost impossible to install. I got this thing for Rhian for her birthday, and it is now working great, but it took me weeks to buckle down and figure it out, and the manual was no help at all, packed as it was with references to nonexistent parts, incorrect assembly techniques, and misleading usage tips.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you're into home audio recording, there are some great product manuals out there, like the free-to-download Mastering With Ozone guide, from iZotope, Inc. "Mastering" is the process music is put through before being committed to CD and sold in stores; it seeks to eliminate errors in the recording and give it greater impact when heard on your stereo. It's a rather arcane science, difficult and many-faceted, and this guide not only explains Ozone, the mastering software it serves as the manual for, but what mastering is, why it's done, and whether it's even necessary. It might be the best product manual I've ever read.
This is probably not likely to be very interesting to the average reader, but why can't your hammer come with something like this as well? Your toaster? Your coffee maker? Why can't manufacturers go the extra mile and provide a context for the stuff you own, making the experience of owning and using it more rich and interesting? Perhaps they feel that this would prevent you from throwing it out and buying another one in six months.