When is a blog a book?

By Juliana Adelman

Unsurprisingly the proliferation in blogs has lead to many of them morphing into paperback form.  So far we have had Stuff White People Like, Animal Review, and Postcards from Yo Momma among many.   The last is probably most obviously amenable to the process of ‘bookization’ being a kind of record of correspondence, however flippant the title.  Mutation between literary forms is of course nothing new.  In the 19th C lectures moved into the printed sphere often first as newspaper reports, then possibly became the basis for a journal article, then the article was cut and pasted into lots of cheaper journals, and then sometimes the speaker might have published a book or pamphlet based on the lecture.  Then the same essay might have appeared in a collected works after the author’s death.  And on it went.  Suddenly a few thousands words are available in a myriad of formats to different audiences.  Anyway, I was thinking of this when I was reading Mary Beard’s It’s a don’s life which is a book version of her blog.  I wondered what publishers expect the audience for a book-of-blog to be: readers of the blog? or people who need technology brought to them in paper form?  I suppose I answered my own question by buying the book as both a reader of the blog and also a person who likes things on paper.

Mary Beard’s offering cannot and should not be compared to ‘Stuff White People Like’ (which is actually rather funny as a blog concept but pointless as a book).  Beard is a renowned Classicist, don of Newnham College, Cambridge and a very good writer to boot.  Her book is a selection of pieces which appeared in the blog and covers a huge range of topics, from British politics to university life to specific questions from her own research.  It’s a don’s life works as a book because it’s much more like a collection of very short essays than it is like a typical blog.  In some of the entries she has included comments made in reply, or a selection thereof, which bring it back slightly to bloggishness.  In fact these are less successful for me than the essays which appease a short attention span but also manage to say something. On the other hand, the book now represents a historical record of the blog which may very well leave no other fingerprint once the Times (which hosts the blog) and all other newspapers become obsolete and we are fed a steady diet of Googlenews.

I was hard pressed to discern exactly what I liked about the book.  I don’t mean this as anything other than a compliment.  I’m not a Classicist, I don’t get the Latin jokes (oh yes, it’s a nerdy blog), but still I happily ploughed through the book in a week of evening readings.  I think most of the book’s appeal is Beard herself.  Reading the book gives you the best possible sense of what a personal blog is for when used well.  It’s a kind of instant ‘Life and Letters’, revealing the momentary and unconsidered thoughts and feelings of a person reacting to what is going on around them.  Perhaps taking the analogy too far: it’s instant history.  When the person generating the blog is interesting, intelligent and likeable then a blog can certainly make a book worth reading.

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