Viral Videos, Amnesiac Boys and Sapient Goblins

This week I finished three books, two that are brand new and one from a year or so ago. One is nonfiction, about how to make a viral video, one is fiction about a boy who wakes up in a train station with no idea who he is, and the third is a Commander Vimes novel where he goes off to the countryside for a vacation. (As if such a thing is even possible. He'll rest when he's dead. Meanwhile there is too much crime for him to relax.)

Viral Video Manifesto
The nonfiction book is called The Viral Video Manifesto: Why Everything You Know is Wrong and How to Do What Really Works and is by Stephen Volts and Fritz Grobe, the two people who did the Coke and Mentos spouting bottles video. The book lays out four simple precepts that should be followed to make viewers want to share videos. They explain the reasoning behind their thinking as well as give examples that demonstrate exactly how they work. They compare very successful videos with less successful videos and explain why the authors believe one is so much more shareable than the other.

The book has QR codes so the reader can use their device to connect to the videos in question. I read an e-galley of the manifesto and was surprised that there weren't links to the videos. I was reading it on my Kindle Fire and it would have been easier than pie to click through and watch the videos, but I didn't have the option.

Overall I think the manifesto has valuable information and is worth a read, but I disagreed with many of the author's statements. I was also annoyed by certain attitudes, such as constantly saying use real people instead of actors, which implies that actors aren't real people, and talking about how shocking it was to see Susan Boyle sing because who expects that voice in that package? They also compare online videos to sideshows, which have a long history of exploitation. Maybe the authors didn't understand how offensive these kinds of comments are, but you would think someone at the publishing house would have pointed it out.

The second part of the book looks at specific videos and breaks down why the authors believe they did or did not work. They go point by point through their system and also state what they would have done differently. The best thing about this book is that the authors do not speak in vagaries. Everything is concrete and having the case studies really helps the reader understand the authors' thinking.

Their official website is here: http://viralvideomanifesto.com/book/ You can download a chapter as well as see the four tenets of the manifesto.

Being Henry David
The second e-galley I read was a YA novel by Cal Armistead called Being Henry David, which has an intriguing premise. A teen boy wakes up in a train station with a head injury and no memory of who he is or how he got there. Near him is the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau and he gloms onto the book, hoping it will have clues to his identity. The police soon roust him but not before a street kid called Jack befriends him.

It's not long before Hank, as Jack calls him, is in even more trouble. He decides to head for Walden, hoping to find some answers and escape the terrible feelings he has whenever he tries to remember anything about his past or identity. But when he gets there he is dismayed to find that Walden now is very different from Thoreau's Walden. It's not going to be possible to live the simple life by the pond that Thoreau espoused, which leaves Hank homeless and penniless, with no back up plan or identity.

Being Henry David is a contemporary story, no science fiction or fantasy, although maybe you could classify it as a mystery. It's a fast read with a lot going on, which makes it feel a little rushed in parts. Hank isn't just trying to find himself and survive, he also gets involved with a battle of the bands and is fleeing from events that happened soon after he awoke in the train station. He's also very interested in a young lady who has no idea he's hiding a ton of secrets. There were a few parts that felt silly, or over the top, but overall it's a solid, entertaining read. I particularly liked how well Hank connected with Thoreau's words and tried to live by them as best he could.

I couldn't find an excerpt, but if you want an excerpt from the actual Henry David's writing there are about a million sites that host his work. The author's website is here: http://calarmistead.com/about/ The book will be released in March of this year. It's available for preorder it now.

Snuff
For some reason I didn't pick Terry Pratchett's novel Snuff up when it came out. Maybe because of the title, which made me think of snuff films, an image I can always do without. I finally checked it out of the library and took so long to get into it that I had to renew it three times. (Sorry anyone else who didn't see it on the shelves because I was hogging it.)

The snuff in the title refers to the tobacco snuff, not murdering people in front of the camera. Terry has tackled racism, classism and other isms in his previous novels, often using races of creatures like vampires, trolls, dwarfs etc as analogies. In Snuff he focuses on goblins, the most despised creatures on the Discworld, so reviled that they are considered filthy animals by many people.

At the request of his wife Sybil, who he would never want to let down, Commander Vimes packs up his family and heads to the family estate, where he is horrified by how loud country life is. He is barely beginning to settle in when he's embroiled in a murder, which leads to a terrible discovery. The mystery is complex and may require the entire world to rethink its mores. Meanwhile Corporal Nobby Nobbs has inadvertently gotten himself into an awful mess, which is getting worse every day. He's not himself, which might not seem like such a bad thing, but is quite dangerous.

Terry has a tremendous ability to use wordplay in unexpected ways, which, especially when combined with his superior ability to use satire, makes him one of the funniest writers of our time. But sometimes those abilities also make me feel a little dim; not quite sure if I'm getting everything he's saying. Usually this happens a few times per book but with Snuff it happened a lot in the first half. This is why it took me so long to get through it, but then either my brain clicked into a higher gear for the second half or the writing wasn't as complex. Regardless, like much of Terry's work, Snuff is a terrific read that will make the reader cringe when they compare the treatment of the characters to the way our society has historically, or still does, treat people who aren't at the top of the heap.

You can read an excerpt here: http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk/index.php/books/snuff

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a fantastic story by Ken Liu called Good Hunting. It blends science fiction, folklore and historical fiction beautifully. It's set during turbulent times of change, which is often when the most interesting things are happening. http://strangehorizons.com/fund_drives/2012/special-issue-hunting1-f.sht...