There is a strange taboo in our society against ending something merely because it is not pleasant — life, love, a conversation, you name it, the etiquette is that you must begin in ignorance & persevere in the face of knowledge, & though I naturally believe that this is profoundly wrong it's not nice to go around constantly offending people.
— Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai
When you publish a book you do a lot of interviews. It gets harder each time. You try to work out what you want to say. Finally you think you have said the thing that matters, then people cut it out because it's not right for the publication. So you get new questions by email and it's hard to go through it again.
It's good to be pragmatic. That is, I say to myself: Be pragmatic! Just write the fucker! Weeks go by.
(Meanwhile, just when I think I am going to be pragmatic, the edited version of another interview turns up in my inbox. I go down to the street, I pace up and down smoking, I go back upstairs and do exercises on Khan Academy.)
For this interview I decided that I could best talk about unfinished books, work in progress, use of Tuftean information design in fiction and even Lightning Rods — the reason we are having this interview in the first place — if I incorporated a selection of charts in Excel. I open the folder, CRAZY, and start opening files. There are 30 or so files, several hundred worksheets, each with a different chart; at some point I sensibly made a list of the best charts, of which this is a sample:
sheet1(15) dark blue b/g, white panel, spiky wings (horizontal)
sheet 1(14) DARK BLUE B/G, white panel, spiky wings, vertical
4(16) fabulous. five sets. 3 minute.
4(13) dark blue b/g, white panel, crazy spiral
4(11) stacked area rows, quite nice
4(9) Oh god oh god oh god
4(8) FABULOUS, these stacked colours with wires connecting
4(7) stacked colours, middle stack a little stump
4(5) like 7 only vertical
4(4) like 5 only not stump
3(13) three stacks, lines crossing - lovely
1 (9) one stack with just three bars, the rest multiple, held up
1 (8) one stack with two bars, the rest multiple, held up
1 (7) one stack with just one colour
1(6) just two stacks. fabelhaft.
1(3)-(5) two stacks below, one above; two above; three above
Which is, obviously, great (at some point I will find a way to use this), but meanwhile I am bewildered by the wealth of charts in Excel.
What I would REALLY like to do, I decide, is have a single screenshot of the list of files in Cover Flow mode, giving some idea of the wealth of charts rather than relying on the brilliance of any individual chart. I switch to Cover Flow mode and get this:
The files, it turns out, are all showing the first page of data tables rather than charts. Which is, obviously, boring. In order to show the wealth of charts I would need to go into 15 or 16 files and move a chart ...read more