found drama

get oblique

review: If Hemingway Wrote JavaScript

by Rob Friesel

If Hemingway Wrote JavaScriptReading this book, I am reminded first of my friend Mike. Of an evening in Baltimore at a mutual friend’s home. Of vodka consumed and books given conversational chase and perhaps not a small amount of hero-worship on my part as he accelerated into his chosen field and I languished behind a copy machine at the worst-performing Kinko’s in the country.1 House of Leaves may have been involved.2

And I am reminded of my friends David and Jeffrey. Of our many lunches together and how they would veer wildly from one niche subject to another. Obsessive discussion of the high-precision clock in the Web Audio API lapses into puns cobbled together from pop songs which climb slowly into something about the Stoics.

And I am reminded, as I so often am, of that quote from Eric Miraglia in the foreword to Nicholas Zakas’ Professional JavaScript for Web Developers. The one that describes front-end development as being stocked with “many liberal arts majors drafted into web-developer service during the dotcom boom”.3 And it’s with this intriguing lens that I focus as I step back from Angus Croll’s If Hemingway Wrote JavaScript.

In some ways, this is the anti-Good Parts. A book that relishes in all of JavaScript’s quirky crevices. All those confusing features and weird idioms and other “bad parts” that are so maligned and yet one assumes must exist for a reason. Croll puts these on display, dressing them up as though written by some of the world’s literary luminaries.4 He puts them out there as a way of showing off JavaScript’s expressiveness5 — of the many ways to approach a given problem, and the many ways to solve it. (Or make a mess of it.)

And in this, it is delightfully illustrative.6 It shows those many approaches. It shows off those many language features. It shows off what one might accomplish with them. And in this, the astute reader7 will get some cheer from the light-handed (if overt8) mockery Croll has made of The Good Parts — but that same reader will also recognize the places where one’s personal style and whimsy might become impenetrable to others. (But we’ll acknowledge that those are all decisions we must make for ourselves, and at runtime.)

To Angus Croll: thank you for asking me to read this, and thank you for sharing it with the world. It’s a real treat, and a book whose time has come.

And to the rest of you: go get a copy:

  1. The actual performance ranking of that particular store is apocryphal. []
  2. See also: in which we flash back about two years to when this thing first emerged: Danielewski.js []
  3. And looking again at that quote, it maybe doesn’t say exactly what I remember it. But the gist is basically the same. And I know an awful lot of front-end developers that are formerly (and/or aspiring) musicians or physicists or novelists or farmers or what have you. []
  4. And the Fibonacci assignment is so well-executed it’s almost absurd. (And did you enjoy that progression? And did you get the joke re: from Hemingway to Brown?) []
  5. And in so doing, takes a little dig on Java and its verbosity and ceremony and its own idioms and maybe just maybe he’s being just a little hard on Java in the introduction there, but it’s still worth laughing aloud. []
  6. It also has delightful illustrations. []
  7. Undoubtedly an astute JavaScriptician! []
  8. Though always good-natured. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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