I’m going to say this quickly, before I change my mind.
Perhaps it’s worth explaining that I’m not altogether feeling myself today; the flu-like after effects of yesterday’s typhoid jab have left me feeling floaty, free-form, vaguely delirious.
So if what I’m about to say causes a shit-storm, then these are my mitigating circumstances.
(Yeah, nice try Mike. It’s the old “you wouldn’t hit a man with glasses” line, isn’t it? They’re not going to buy that one in a hurry.)
(See what I mean? I’m talking to myself in public.)
(Oh, just get on with it. You said you were going to be quick.)
(Well, that would be a first.)
(SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP.)
Anyone who has spent any time surfing the UK blogosphere over the last month or so will already be aware of 2005 Blogged: Dispatches from the Blogosphere: a newly published anthology of postings from over 100 British blogs, spanning the period from November 2004 to October 2005.
Now, we bloggers can be an awkward, stroppy bunch of buggers when we want to be, and many of us are never happier than when we’re having a good self-righteous rant, or constructing elaborate conspiracy theories from thin air, or wondering just Where It All Went Wrong, because it was Never Like This In My Day. And so, inevitably, the 2005 Blogged project started coming in for criticism well in advance of the book hitting the shops.
“Sticking a bunch of blog posts in a book? A BOOK? That’s ABSURD.”
Not if you’re curious about this whole blogging business, but don’t have the time and determination to sift the nuggets from the chaff. Because, let’s face it, that can be a pretty severe uphill struggle for a first-timer.
And not if you hate reading large amounts of text on a screen, either. I know plenty of people in Real Life who don’t bother reading Troubled Diva for just that reason.
“But all of this stuff is already available on the Internet, for FREE.”
Yes – but I would contend that £8.99 (or £5.39 on Amazon) is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for getting Tim Worstall (the book’s editor) to wade through over 5000 weblogs on your behalf – and presumably all in his spare time, to boot. I can’t even begin to speculate how long that must have taken him.
“And they haven’t even paid their contributors, the money-grabbing bastards!”
Which does rather assume that there’s money in the pot to make the payments in the first place. 2005 Blogged is the product of a small new independent publisher; it will only have a limited print run; and its time-specific “almanac” nature means that it will probably only sell in reasonable numbers for the next couple of months. So what’s less than 1% of next to nowt? Scarcely worth the price of a stamp!
Besides, none of these pieces were commissioned for the book. They already existed – and still exist – on the web, for free; and most of them were probably knocked up in an hour or so, maybe two at the most. Better to pay whatever you can to the people who have undertaken work especially for the book, surely?
And they did ask everybody nicely. And people who said “No” weren’t included. And everyone gets a free copy.
(And I’ve almost convinced myself. People, we live in a micro-payments age. These things are easily arranged.)
But really, none of the above is even any of my business, is it? Especially since I wasn’t even included in the sodding thing. DON’T THEY KNOW WHO I AM?
BIG MISTAKE. BIIIIIG MISTAKE.
(See, I told you. He’s delirious.)
Okay. So far, so reasonable. But, speaking as a punter, who purchased it with his own money in Waterstones earlier in the week, here’s where my issues start.
Firstly, the “blogosphere” which is represented in this book bears virtually no resemblance to the blogosphere which I have been inhabiting for the past four years.
“Oh, he’s just pissed off because his mates didn’t get in.”
No, it’s not that. Besides, quite a few of them did: Acerbia, Blogjam, Green Fairy, JonnyB, Naked Blog, Saltation, Scaryduck, Willie Lupin. Great pieces from all concerned. But my particular beef with Tim Worstall’s selection is this: that the overwhelming majority of pieces come from the “political” wing of the blogosphere.
Politics, politics, politics, for page after page after page. Opinions, arguments, “fiskings“, polemics, rants, rebuttals – most of which concern events which are well outside the real life experiences of the writers concerned.
Sure, that’s a blogosphere. A large one, an influential one, a worthwhile and effective one. Active citizenship. Keeps the self-serving buggers in Parliament and the lazy hacks in the national press on their toes, and Hooray for that.
But it’s not, as this book seeks to represent, the blogosphere.
Because the vast majority of UK weblogs are not political.
And it’s most certainly not my blogosphere, or that of my regular readers and fellow writers.
Okay, so that’s partly because – as Graham Norton once said – I have all the political depth of a puddle. ‘S boring innit?
But it’s also because what many of us look for in a good blogger is not an ability to pronounce on the national issues of the day, but the ability to let us into their lives. Their hearts, their minds, their hopes, fears, dreams, sorrows, triumphs, frustrations, ambitions… their very selves.
Oh dear, I did warn you.
But there is so much great writing out there: oozing personality, full of truth, warmth and wit, packed with illuminating, beautifully expressed observations on people’s everyday lives – sometimes moving, sometimes hilarious, sometimes…
What I’m trying to say is that, leafing through 2005 Blogged in the order in which it is presented, I’m not getting a sense of the true diversity of British blogging. I’m not even getting much of a sense of the diversity of political opinion, at least not far beyond the respectful divide between the erudite gentlemen of the so-called “pro-liberation Left” and the equally erudite gentlemen of the libertarian Right.
After a while, it all becomes rather homogenised; as if the same writer is jumping about from blog to blog, frantically swapping hats. In this context, the tiny number of admittedly very well chosen “personal” posts comes as sweet relief – but somehow, these also jar against the prevalent mood. Yes, that’s it: they feel like light relief, a snack between the main courses. This doesn’t serve them well.
Consequently, there’s an overall dryness to the selection. This is detailed, insider-ish stuff, for people who spend more time on the op-ed pages than the lifestyle sections. Okay, so I’m shallower than most – but is this really the book that’s going to explain blogging to the general public? I can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been missed here, which could potentially have shifted many more copies. A lighter, more personal, more anecdotal and more writerly selection would have made a great stocking filler for those friends and relatives who still arch an amused eyebrow whenever blogging is mentioned in their presence.
There again, Tim Worstall has, perhaps wisely, stuck to the part of the blogosphere that he knows best. If someone from my neck of the woods had attempted a similar compilation, then the howls of “Oy! What about us!” from his lot would have rung out loud and clear.
And anyone who is prepared to stick his neck out in front of his relentlessly opinionated peers, risking snarky demolition jobs like this one, from people whom he has never met, for scant financial recompense, deserves applause and respect.
(So I won’t bitch off about that ghastly caps-locked ZX81 typeface. OK?)
I nearly finished there. However, before I collapse into a perspiring, feverish, Paracetamol-crazed heap, there are still a couple more issues that I’d like to raise.
1. Since the political blogosphere is overwhelmingly male, it therefore follows that there are almost no female bloggers represented. I can’t really accept any good excuses for this, as it’s not as if female bloggers are any minority in terms of sheer numbers. A large proportion of my blogroll is female. A couple of weeks ago, 75% of the nominees for my Post Of The Week were female; this week, the percentage is again over 50%. So let me tell you, my inner Equal Opportunities rep is going mental right now.
(Why, I’ve had to physically restrain myself from typing “What a disgracefully white heterosexual able-bodied male selection… totally sickening… typical of the patriarchal power imbalance at the heart of yadda yadda yadda…”)
2. Most blog posts are bashed out in haste at odd moments, squeezed out through the cracks of the daily routine. As such, they bear all the characteristics of unedited first drafts. On the screen, as part of the daily cut and thrust of the blogging world, where people whizz through as many posts as they can on their coffee breaks, this doesn’t matter a jot. In fact, it’s part of the essential character and charm of the medium.
However, when you copy and paste these essentially transitory pieces onto cold, hard paper, any stylistic weaknesses become cruelly exposed. Suddenly, we’re reading these words through different eyes, and holding them to altogether more rigorous levels of scrutiny.
(For instance, if I thought that the words I was writing now would end up on paper, I’d be spending a good deal more care and attention on them. Oh, you already worked that one out for yourselves.)
3. Hence, all the matey pseudo-conversational informality of the blog post runs the risk of coming across as an amateurish saloon bar rant on paper. And in certain cases, I’m afraid that this is precisely what has happened here.
4. Which means that a good deal more attention should have been paid to the proof-reading. I’ve spotted many spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes, which could and should have been picked up at the editing stage.
Yeah, like Tim didn’t already have enough to do, in the frantic rush to get the blasted thing out in time for Christmas. But come on, we’re playing by different rules here. I don’t mind. I’m a blogger too. I make allowances. But if I’ve spotted it, then they will spot it – and they will be a darn sight less forgiving. This is our shop window, remember?
I’m going to end this ramble on a positive note: thank God that this book hasn’t lumbered itself with a preface which makes embarrassingly grandiose claims for the medium. You know the sort of thing: Blah blah blah new generation of writers blah blah blah challenging the established order blah blah blah paradigm shift, etc etc etc. Don’t you just hate it when people do that? So Hurrah for editorial humility.
F**k, is that the time? OK, I’m done. Hand me my Lemsip, and let me lie back and watch the shit start flying.
Look, I’m sorry if I’ve been a total bitch. It’s just that I love this medium, and I feel these things strongly, and I needed to say this. Really, really needed to say this.
Update (1): Here’s Tim Worstall’s response.
Update (2): Tim’s weekly BritBlog Roundup – which served as source material for much of the book – can be found here.