This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

I am not John Cleese

27th November 2008

OK. Lets start this post about my book Beginning CSS Web Development with one of my favourite reviews.

...for a Brit his humor is NOT funny! Collison needs to read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” if he wants to learn about British humor. In the meantime, just skip it; you’re not John Cleese!

That’s an American there, telling me my British humour isn’t funny. Meh, I don’t care, and everyone else thinks both myself and the book are funny. Anyway, he’s right about one thing. I am not John Cleese.

Now, if you’ve time to spare, come with me now as I embark upon a retrospective look back at the process, aiming as I am to work out whether it was really worth all the bother or not…

Two years on, I barely remember I even wrote it

I’ve been very careful not to say too much about my book since it launched, save for the odd promotional item. In fact, I didn’t realise how easy it would be to totally forget I’d written it. Maybe its because writing it lost me seven months, my ability to focus on my other work, and the girl I loved left me. Hmm. It was a funny old year.

Its over two years now since I first pulled a fresh copy out of the box in Autumn 2006, and I rarely go back to look at the thing. I’m certainly not one for continually stroking my ego in that way. The book is hidden away at home and does not get surreptitiously left out when hot girls are visiting (which is a rare occurence these days).

The highs - solid 5/5 reviews and gushing praise

For months it was receiving superb reviews on the US and UK Amazon stores - holding at 5 stars out of 5 for some time, and only outsold by Meyer, Malarkey and Budd (the latter’s book featuring a chapter by me anyway). Websites I loved, magazines, and bloggers I’d once learned from were recommending my book, and it was certainly an exciting time. It was thrilling to see my name on a book, and a joy to receive emails from people who felt they had finally seen the path to CSS enlightenment. I underestimated how well the book would sell and how many plaudits it would receive.

Out of date quicker than you can say “Flock”

So, now its two years since the book debuted. A month after it was published, IE7 was released, essentially outdating the hacks and cross-browser methodologies within. I was not really able to mention CSS3 or anything cool like that either. The list of errata was growing due not only to copy and code errors, but also due to advancements in CSS techniques and the fact that two years of internet is like 10 years anywhere else. Gradually the tide has turned, and I’m now receiving more emails regarding readers’ problems, and starting to see my star ratings on Amazon begin to nosedive.

I’m absolutely fine with the criticism. Its in some ways merited, seeing as time has moved on and the landscape is shifting. Still, I do wish some people wouldn’t take the trouble to write negative reviews when they’ve got their facts wrong. It seems that its the thickest, laziest and most brainless people that want to litter the online world with their incredibly inaccurate rants about the work of others. My favourite was the first review that took me below five stars, that ranted about the book’s lack of advanced techniques, despite it clearly being titled Beginning CSS Web Development.

Was it really worth it?

After all of this time, I wonder how I feel about the book. It served me well. It paid for a new boiler in my house, and a few other decent bits and pieces. It raised my profile and saw a few more people take me seriously as an author and as a web standards advocate. It actually was funny too - I am regularly told - with innumerable references to tea, biscuits and general irrelevances. I was so keen to ensure the book wasn’t just another dry code manual, and I think that worked out pretty well.

Yet, on the face of it, the book had no personality - it was the colour of a wasp, in a generic black and yellow publisher’s jacket. As a thing to hold and flick through it might as well have been a VCR manual. The second edition featured more copy errors than the first (such as the name of my company), and as time has slipped by, it has become less relevant as a CSS document. In some respects, I wish it would go away.

I think maybe it was worth it

But then again, I still get emails from young designers who have found it to be an invaluable way of understanding CSS. They gush with gratitude and I love that. I really love that. My confidence is low sometimes, so that kind of thing naturally makes one feel a bit zestier. Ultimately, I now feel I can look at the whole experience more subjectively, with more experience and more understanding of what I let myself in for.

Ah, fuck it. Lets end on a good review:

Beginning CSS Web Development is one of the finest introductory guides I’ve ever read on any subject.

Yeah. I ain’t no John Cleese, but I did write one of finest introductory guides that chap had ever read on any subject. That alone makes me feel a bit better about it all. There’s plenty more gushing praise right here.

The real reason why I wrote the book

One thing that very few people know is that, despite me having reasonable success with every venture I’d ever undertaken, my late Grandfather really didn’t think I was of much use and thought (largely due to not knowing what the internet was) my latest explorations with the web were worthless. I had no way of illustrating to him that what I was doing actually mattered.

So, I agreed to write a book all of my own. I wanted him to see his name, and the name of his Grandson, on that book jacket. I knew it would make all the difference. A few months before he passed away in early 2007, I gave him a copy of the book. He still had no idea what it was about, but he told me that I’d made him very proud. And he meant it.

With hindsight, I guess that means that losing my relationship, losing my mind, suffering criticism from fools, dealing with constant errata problems - and not being as funny as John Fucking Cleese - makes it all worthwhile. In fact, maybe I am proud of it.

So, would I advise anyone else to write a book?



# Aaron responded on 27th November 2008 with...

Well said Simon, I read the book when it first come out and even though I knew most of the principles at the time I found the book really handy as a reference. I found I could flick though whenever I forgot stuff. I must mention that I really liked the book.

Whether I liked or not though does not really matter because sometimes books fit into your way of thinking and sometimes they don’t. Thats why you flick through a book in the shop or read a few sample chapters, to see if it will be useful to you.

Tech related books go out of date very quick but people need to wise up and buy things that are helpful to them.

Thanks always have to be said to those who are willing to put their neck out and help other people know what they know, that is the best thing about being in the web industry that there are so many people willing to impart knowledge, just a pity there are so many fuckwits who just don’t get it!

# Andrew responded on 27th November 2008 with...

I don’t have the book, but I must say: this is very likely the best blog post you’ve ever written.  Have a celebratory custard cream, won’t you?

# Richard Rutter responded on 27th November 2008 with...

Colly, as one of the technical reviewers of this book, I am very proud to have my name (and photo!) on the inside. It’s a fine piece of work and you should be proud too. And incidentally I certainly raised a smile or two when I was ploughing through the code - don’t think I ever thanked you for that!

The book still holds up well because it teaches CSS in the right way. Sure there’s some very specific techniques and workarounds which are no longer considered best practice, but neither are they bad or wrong. AS you said, time moves on and people naturally find better solutions to problems.

Even as I write this our intern is reading and digesting your tome with relish. (Not literally obviously - jam would be preferable as an accompaniment).

# Emily responded on 27th November 2008 with...

I haven’t read your book partly because when it came out I was past the beginner stage, but I have seriously considered getting it anyway just because you are indeed funny.  (It’s such a relief to have ‘technical’ writers with a sense of humour out there.) 

I’m sorry to think this post means no more books from you! Maybe enough comments here an we can encourage you to have another go: I request a whole book (I know you’ve done a chapter) about working with Expression Engine, please!

# Garth responded on 27th November 2008 with...

It’s the only book that enabled me to understand CSS - even though I think the description of the cascade on p23 is incorrect - embedded style sheets don’t necessarily override linked style sheets if the linked style sheet is placed after the embedded ones.  ;-)

# Keith Bell responded on 27th November 2008 with...

...for a Brit his humor is NOT funny! Collison needs to read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” if he wants to learn about British humor. In the meantime, just skip it; you’re not John Cleese!

Never mind, Simon—what do Americans know about British humour, or humour in general? They can’t even spell it! :-)

You seem to be feeling the same way about your book about code as I do about code itself. I’m reviewing a site that I built for a client about 6 years ago, and thinking, “Hmm, I wouldn’t do that now… oh, and I wouldn’t do that either!” It’s a bit like someone asking you for directions to somewhere, and you saying, “Well I wouldn’t start from here!”

The question with both code and books about code is not so much “How does it stand up now?” as “How did it stand up at the time?” As Aaron said above, tech books go out date of quickly (my shelves are strewn with £££s-worth of them), but if they made a positive contribution at the time they were published—and yours doubtless did—then they are worthwhile. So yeah, what about “Expression Engine - The Missing Manual”, then?

Oh, and I wouldn’t leave the book casually lying around when hot girls are visiting. Sure, some hot girls are interested in web development, but generally… I mean, I’ve got a book called “Derby Works and Midland Locomotives”, but I keep it stashed safely out of sight with all my other railway pr0n.

# Steve Rydz responded on 28th November 2008 with...

All I can say is that you’re book was the first to help me understand how CSS really worked.  I knew enough before to knock up a web page but you’re book made me understand how and why CSS was necessary.

So an American didn’t find you’re British humour funny or authentic?  Big deal, were you trying to write cutting edge comedy? No, but the humour made the book real and gave me something to relate to.

It’s thanks to your book that I didn’t give up on Web development.  I hope one day I can do something that will help people as much as your book has helped so many designers/developers.

Oh, and why do Americans think that Monty Python is one and only comedy we are responsible for?

# John Kelemen responded on 28th November 2008 with...

hey man,

just want to say that this was the first css book i read and introduced css to me and i do loved it.
this was my very first jump in the world of webdesign, since then i moved to photoshop but the CollyLogic name is somehow burned in my mind and the link to your site still remained somehow in the Bookmarks Toolbar—despite the fact that you don’t really write about css techniques , rather bicycles and so. :)

so, don’t forget there are a lot of people out there who know your name and the Simon Collison string will allways tell something to them.
it will tell the book was great ;-)

(John, from Hungary)

ps. and I don’t know who John Cleese is

ps2. i hate Monty Python

# Richard Bateman responded on 28th November 2008 with...

I’ll keep this short and sweet because really it’s this simple.

I’m sitting at my desk right now, working for a design/web agency, happy as larry (whoever he is), working long hours but enjoying every fucking single minute of it. Two years ago I knew nothing about CSS or even about how to build a web site.

One year, 11 months ago I finished reading Beginning CSS Web Development and the rest as they say, is history. I can’t emphasize enough how important this book was, and without sounding like a gushing girl here, it quite literally changed my career path and I am now where I want to be. Yes my eyes bleed, I barely have a social life and I hardly take breaks but would I change it? Would I fuck!

I raise my cuppa to ye…

# Richard Young responded on 29th November 2008 with...

Reading about bad reviews of a good book, what springs to my mind is the story of Columbus’s egg.

For providing me with one of the maps to the promised land; hat duly and gratefully tipped in your direction sir.

# Janie responded on 29th November 2008 with...

Books are for old people, everyone watches videos now! ;-)

# Simon Collison responded on 1st December 2008 with...

Thank you for the kind words and CSS “paths to enlightenment” tales, folks. Very rewarding. It was a cathartic exercise to look back at the book after two years and work through some “issues”. Pfft.

Richard - I am eternally grateful to yourself and Dan Rubin for the tech reviewing. Sterling work.

As for an EE book? Well, I’ve been asked several times and nearly started one numerous times, both on my own and with other EE users you’ll have probably heard of. Could have been a great book, but where does one start with EE? The approach to every site is unique, and the software evolves too fast. There are two or three EE books out there now, but having read them I generally don’t agree with all the approaches within, but that’s mainly because I/we do things so “non-manual” that we’d never agree with anyone’s approach probably.

Still, me and EE have something special to unveil soon.

And man, do I need to turn off smileys on this site or what?!

# Maxwell responded on 3rd December 2008 with...

I still refer to my signed copy all the time.

# Chris Cox responded on 5th December 2008 with...

This book was my ‘proper’ introduction to CSS and I thought it was great. In fact I can clearly remember reading it and trying things out whilst sat on the many train journeys I was taking around that time. I’d tried to learn CSS before but your book was what really helped me understand it properly.

# Dan Flint responded on 7th December 2008 with...

Hi Simon, found your blog after looking for the code from Apress.

I’m halfway through it and think it’s much better than most of the ‘how to books’ I’ve read. I’m enjoying plowing through it. Thanks!

# Paul responded on 9th December 2008 with...

I think it is a great book, it helped me a lot. And it was fucking funny!

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