You may wonder why I'm reviewing a book for PC clones here in TidBITS. First, I'm not blind to happenings elsewhere in the computer world; I just prefer to focus on the Mac, and second, I think everyone who has a friend learning publishing on a PC should give them this book to cut down on the egregious errors that show up in desktop published documents.
"The PC is not a typewriter" is a direct descendent from Robin Williams's (yes, she of "The Little Mac Book" fame) previous book, "The Mac is not a typewriter." The heredity shows - this latest anti-typewriter book checks in at under 100 pages and is written in the same concise, friendly style. I have to give Robin credit for retaining her ever-pleasant style even while discussing subjects like curly quotes that drive many otherwise peaceful typesetters to violence when desktop publishers blithely abuse hash marks. Despite not being much of a desktop publisher, I must admit to being something of a snob when it comes to printed matter. I like to see curly quotes and all those neat things that the computers allow us to do so easily if only we know. The setext format strips such goodies out of TidBITS because they cannot pass through most electronic mail gateways, but those of you who read the HyperCard editions of TidBITS may remember the curly quotes and em-dashes. Nonetheless, if you want your work to look good in hot toner...
"The PC is not a typewriter" may contain much of the same discussion of basic typographical and publishing terms as the previous Mac version of the book, but that's immaterial; the advice applies all the more in the PC world. Robin covers topics such as single spaces between sentences, curly quotes, proper dashes, special characters and accents, underlining, tabs and indents, widows and orphans, justified text, the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, and numerous other little touches that convey an aura of professionalism. Someone we know (who should know better) periodically puts together a simple family newsletter in WordPerfect 5.0 under DOS, and to put it nicely, she needs to read this book badly.
What sets "The PC is not a typewriter" apart from the standard books is that it isn't a "how-to" book, it's a "why" book. Robin doesn't attempt to describe in excruciating detail how to perform all these beautifying procedures. Instead she clearly explains why you want to avoid widows, orphans, and all capital letters, and why you want to use curly quotes, accents, and bullets. Those of you who have tried to get special characters out of a PC will know that it can be about as difficult as it is for Bullwinkle to pull that rabbit out of his magic hat. To that end, the book includes tables and brief instructions for extracting those characters, when possible, from the most popular PC publishing programs.
Learning to do desktop publishing on a PC can be difficult, but using a Mac or a NeXT isn't an option for most people. If you are in this situation or know someone in it, do everyone a favor and check out this book. If nothing else, it's inexpensive ($9.95 list), won't take long to read, and definitely won't significantly clutter your bookshelf. Highly recommended.
Peachpit Press -- 800/283-9444 -- 510/548-5991