Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blogging's Influence on Books

I was skimming through the ARC of Jennifer Lancaster's humorous weight-loss memoir, Such a Pretty Fat, and was rather taken aback at how... tedious it is. It's got lots of energy and a good premise (she's a fat person with no self-esteem problems) but sheesh, she goes on and on and on about herself and her terribly cute daily minutiae, to really an absurd degree. It's like having lunch with a pathologically self-absorbed person: after a bit all you can do is nod and say Uh-huh and keep glancing at your advancing-way-too-slowly watch -- but it goes on for 300 pages! I found myself wondering, Since when does a mildly amusing anecdote about your dog -- the kind that only barely qualifies for speaking aloud, when you have nothing better to talk about -- deserve to be written down for a mass audience?

Oh, yeah. Since blogging.

Such a Pretty Fat
is basically a bunch of blog posts tied together with some contrived and unbelievable story lines (she keeps buying Barbie heads while high on Ambien) in order to turn it into something that resembles a book. But its heart is a blog. And though I'm not really interested in daily-life blogs (why, I wonder? The intimate lives of complete strangers should be interesting to me, but they're not), I'm sure Lancaster's is a fun one. She's very clever. She's probably terrifying to be around in person: one of those people who snarks so viciously about everyone around her you go queasy thinking about what she's saying about you when you're not there. A blog is the perfect medium for her.

But as a book... I don't know. Obviously I'm a fan of blogging and think it's going to be vital to the future of literature (somehow or other), but I hope that future doesn't look like this, like a blog: less edited, less reflective, more self-centered, and with a lower bar for being funny and interesting. Since there's no paper to waste online, you might as well ramble on and on until you accidentally say something worthwhile. Hell, I've done it myself. But a book costs money and uses natural resources and one expects a little bit more.

Have I just contradicted JRL's pro-blog post of a couple nights ago? Oh, well. We contain multitudes.


bookfraud said...

" think [blogging] is going to be vital to the future of literature (somehow or other)"

i'd be curious to see how that plays out. my favorite blog entries read like great magazine or newspaper columns, with interactivity and without the heavy hand of an editor. but, like any criticism, they rarely can be strung together as a narrative. i hope this isn't the future of writing.

Anonymous said...

I think the internet, as a forum, gives everyone the feeling of relevance. Which leads to things like self-absorbed blogs. But I'd never thought how that might influence fiction. Good post.

Gloria, Writer Reading said...

I agree that the best blog posts, even about literature, shine when short and focused. The ones that blabber on and on about fifty random books, trying to mimic the New York Review of Books, are tedious and lack any of the brilliant coherence and specificity of choice of the NYRB -- where more and more of my attention has been going these days as my interest in blogging wanes. Damn it, I'm appreciating the editors!. So I believe even literary blogs will only have a limited place in the future of literature, filling in some space between Amazon blurbs and NYRB. As for blogs as fiction, the same problem arises with lack of coherence, plan, structure. Daily life description blogs, for the most part, raise whining to an art form, only they aren't art, and they don't have a form and they are boring as hell.

G. C. Munroe said...

Agreed! Good post. Good topic.

"think [blogging] is going to be vital to the future of literature (somehow or other)"

Think you're spot on! And the prospect of adapting fiction to this new medium (sub-medium?) - of pushing the limits of fiction through use of the tools that bloggers have developed - is really exciting.

On its surface, it allows for the revival of the 19th century-style serials. This has been tried. Most notably by Eggers at (though there could be others) - with shaky results. It's not hard to see why, though: formally, there's no innovation; its a straight throw-back to the old serials, a simple transference.

What the authors and the editors of these websites haven't taken advantage of are the tools used on Wikipedia, on the best daily blogs, etc., ie. illustrations (also, I guess, used by Boz, etc.), and - more essentially - hyperlinking. Allowing for a more dynamic method by which to navigate, increasing the speed by which the reader can accumulate knowledge.

You can see the rudiments of all this taking place at the fantastic serialized web-based version of Pepys diary. (Which has a built-in reference encyclopedia.)

Now you might be thinking, if hyperlinking takes an essential role in new fiction, how could this ever transfer to books? This, I think, is where ebooks come into play. Touch of a word opens a new window, takes you to a new page, in an instant.

I'll end this horribly long comment with a bit of shameless self-promotion - but also to show that the above isn't all just hot air spewed by a guy who usually posts impassioned, youthful invective:

I'm testing this new medium with a project that I started several months ago. It's called The Duelists. It's massive, its fiction, it's updated daily, it follows a very loose narrative. Unfortunately, it's also "less edited, less reflective, more self-centered, and with a lower bar for being funny and interesting". (And less hyperlinked than I'd like.) But it's a start, I guess - and if I could quit my day job to work on it full time? Hell, maybe it - or something similar - could grow to be something more.

5 Red Pandas said...

My only comment is skepticism about her buying barbie doll heads while "high on ambien". Ambien makes you go to sleep. And sometimes makes you sleep eat, and sleep drive, but I doubt that she's actually bought barbie doll heads while high on ambien. She probably just dreamed that she did.

I got some ambien when I had a painful medical condition, but I hoarded them because those suckers worked. I didn't do anything kooky while I took them, I just did what I too often struggle to do- sleep. And damn, it felt good. Why someone would waste a perfectly good ambien prescription on barbie head buying is beyond me.

5 Red Pandas said...

Oh, and one more thing. As a blogger, I wouldn't want my blog writing to be published in book form- I don't write it to be published in book form. I do, however, write my fiction in a way that I would be proud to have it published in book form. I think there are people who do both and understand the differences between blog writing and book writing, but maybe the publishing industry needs to be clued into this fact.

I also wonder when they're going to learn that people usually don't want to pay for something they'd been getting for free, hence the lack of success of many blog-to-book publications.