Expertise and reality

Big title, little post–and if that makes you think of a moderately recent Randy Newman song, so be it.

This is a minor thought or three on two things encountered while reading a bunch of books on self-publishing and skimming one on ebook design, as part of the work I’m doing on a future book…

Thought the First

Writing a book on a topic does not make you The Expert on that topic. And “reading everything ever written on a topic” doesn’t make you The Expert on that topic either–although making such a claim suggests a weak link with reality, since for all but the narrowest topics it’s an impossible goal.

Maybe that’s all that need be said here.

Thought the second

Maybe it’s reasonable to question your expertise about X when you pretty clearly loathe X, and your expertise on book design in a book I regard as horribly designed.

I won’t name names here, and I know book design is very much a matter of personal taste. However, when a writer sets out to tell me how to use Word to do something, and it becomes abundantly clear that the writer (a) doesn’t like Word, (b) REALLY doesn’t like Word, (c) hasn’t really used it for more than a decade, (d) doesn’t understand Word…well, maybe it’s not surprising that the author then spends twice as much space on using InDesign (which every real writer should, of course, use) as a Great HTML Editor.

And when loads of supposed expertise on how books (ebooks in this case) really should work and all the detailed XHTML-level editing you should do to make them right appears in a book that (a) uses Bradley Hand for headings, (b) uses a body typeface that is not only sans, but a sans that apparently doesn’t have a proper italic version (namely, italic text within the book always has slanted-normal “a”s–with the lower bowl and upper left curve–rather than the simpler a without the upper curve that’s part of every proper italic typeface I’ve ever seen)…could be Verdana, could be Arial, both of which seem to have this defect…

Well, maybe I shouldn’t take your work seriously at all. Oh, and while it’s supposedly about designing for all ereaders, it’s…interesting…that, in a relatively short book, the author finds it necessary to go through the coding and examples for every. single. typeface. that’s. installed. on. the. iPad. Including Zapfino… (Geez. If it wasn’t set in 12 point type with a full 4 points extra leading, the book would really be short.)

2 Responses to “Expertise and reality”

  1. Mark says:

    I have pretty much given up on the word (and concept I suppose of) “expert.” I no longer, if I ever did, know what it is supposed to mean. That is, I understand what it is *supposed* to mean but feel that being expert on any topic of even little merit is not possible, as you say above.

    Part of it is our “cult of the expert” which arose as early as the 1950s, part of it is our media and how it “works,” part the decentering of authority, and part my growing view of “knowledge”(philosophically) and the growth of what can be known and how it can be known, whether via published literature or otherwise.

    The word still slips from my tongue on occasion but I am trying to eradicate it, at least as it applies to any individual.

  2. walt says:

    Well said.