'emingway

Written by Vincent Bruijn

It was not a big surprise to read that Angus Croll is from the UK. Since he’s an employee of Twitter, my first guess was he’d be an American, but after reading a couple of chapters in ‘If Hemingway wrote JavaScript’, I found that hard to believe, since his vocabulary is more similar to the lists of words I had to learn in high school, than to what you regularly hear on Dutch television of US sitcoms.

I’ve learned, and still am learning, JavaScript as learning a foreign language without schooling, i.e. by just talking, just writing. I have no technical background, although I loved maths in school. I write JavaScript in advance of how I have come it across, in advance of how others on the internet are writing it. And when I find someone writing it in an attractive manner, I tend to figure out what that aspect is which I like, and try to implement this in my JavaScript speech.

This is what makes ‘emmingway very attractive to read: novelists tend to be, just like artists (and visual arts is what I am schooled in), a bit more extreme in their choices when writing, since it is a creative process, in which dichotomies, contrast, experiment and sheer randomness play their role. This is a very intelligent approach for a book: how would great and famous writers write your language, which in this case happens to be JavaScript?

The result of Croll’s endeavour is no other than The Alternative Learning Book. Being one with multiple layers: you learn about the biographies of the mentioned writers, learn about their style and oeuvre, and, parallel to this, you learn different approaches on how to solve playful programming assignments in your favourite language. All this supported by humorous poems of which I hope to be declaiming some lines to my colleagues in the near future:

This and more I sat divining, strength and spirit fast declining,
Disclose the value we’re assigning! Tell me-tell me, I implore!

I really like ‘If Hemingway wrote JavaScript’. I’ve read it with great pleasure, and I still am, since I want to understand each assignment without having to copy it into the REPL/console, and I want to dissect each assignment in a formal way: what design approach is used here? In other words: I want to learn from the book.

At some point I thought for a moment that the novelists’s assignments were a little bit too thought out. Some appeared as if the editor said: “Croll, we need a couple more writers to make a book. Go and add some more!” But it could also have been caused by the fact that it was 1:00 am at the time and my concentration was asleep already.

Anyway, recommending this book is not something I’d immediately do, because I would buy it as a gift for those I’d recommend it to. Would I recommend it to you then, reader? Well, that depends on this: if you’re the type of geek that loves weird sci-fi pulp fiction books, you shouldn’t buy or read it. When you are a bit more aware of the outside world and the facets of life beyond coding and discussions about tabs vs. spaces, you definitely should.