March 11, 2006

"So why write a book when you can blog?"

Glenn Reynolds asks. His answer:
For the same reason you might make a movie instead of shooting still pictures. A blog is a collection of isolated points. Readers can connect the dots, but the medium doesn't lend itself to comprehensiveness or to narrative threads. People read a book all the way through in a day or a few days. People read blogs in dribs and drabs as they have time. They miss things, they're distracted, they go on vacation. If you want to paint a big and coherent picture, a book is still better.
Well, I tend to read books in dribs and drabs, and then often set them aside and never go back. A blog is a continuing relationship with a writer, so it actually could end up feeling more complete and coherent than an author's book. But in any case, books are different from blogs, and the form the writing takes is part of what affects the reader's mind. Both are good in their own way.

I was struck by the effect of Richard's book "Only What Is," which arrived in the mail the other day. Richard -- my ex-husband, Richard Lawrence Cohen -- simply had a book manufactured out of 89 blog posts. I still can't get over how differently I saw the writing that I had already read on his blog. Why was that? Was it specific to Richard's writing? He does blog posts that aren't so much about exactly what's happening now, and perhaps he always saw his blogging as the composition of short short stories that he meant to have in a book and was just storing temporarily in his blogspace. A blog can be a notebook for someone who is always really writing a book. The solidity of the very same words when bound into a book amazed me. It gives new meaning to the word impressed.

I'd have a hard time doing what Richard did, collecting favorite posts into something that would work as a book, because the posts are set in a time frame and caught in their links. What, would you turn the links into footnotes? Or would you have to select not your favorite posts but the posts that were the least timely and dependent on links, that is, your least bloggy posts? It might be an interesting exercise to discover what those were.

What Glenn did is different. He derived ideas from his experience with blogging (and other things that are like blogging) and wrote the book as a separate project. Obviously, his blog also works as a way to promote the book now, and it has over time won a large set of readers who will tend to feel motivated to buy the book.

Will the Althouse blog ever produce a book? Who knows? I started a project a while back, but I outgrew it. Things are always tumbling along into the future on a blog. Everything that's a day old seems so over. Writing on a blog is like living in the present. It feels so right.

13 comments:

elliot said...

It looks like I did things backwards (a usual).

I started writing a blog to try to find a publisher for my book.

Mark Daniels said...

Elliott:
You may not have done things backwards at all. A number of bloggers have gotten book deals as a result of the writing they present on their blogs.

You might have the right idea.

Mark

Jacques Cuze said...

Hey, I think you are asking an interesting question. I think a very good answer would be "to pay for the blogging."

I always always always enjoyed each Mike Royko column, and I always always always enjoyed each book of collected Mike Royko columns.

I fear for our best bloggers, Digby, Roger Ailes, David Neiwert, Jane Hamsher, TBogg, you know the list. The folks that are doing real work on their blogs, shedding light in dark crevices by revealing facts, or through using their experience and backgrounds to interpret events. Giving to the public and spending a great deal of time to do so.

I would like to see these bloggers evolve their blog posts to the point that it makes sense to publish a dead trees version of them as well as make their daily bread.

Simon said...

"Will the Althouse blog ever produce a book? Who knows? I started a project a while back, but I outgrew it. Things are always tumbling along into the future on a blog. Everything that's a day old seems so over. Writing on a blog is like living in the present. It feels so right."

To be honest, I would be more interested in a compendium of your scholarly writing; while I'm sure an interesting blook could be compiled from Althouse, I enjoy reading the more detailed stuff - Vanguard States, Laggard States, for example, and I think it remains relevant today in a manner in which pop-culture zeitgeist doesn't, the latter of which just doesn't work in books anyway. Glenn has written something that - agree with him or not - presents an idea, whole and cohesive; it seems to me that while you can have a compendium of short essays (Irving Kristol's, for example), which is essentially what a blook must be, but an actual book that spells out an idea seems far more interesting.

Christopher Althouse said...

Haven't you written thousands of pages of material on here? I think if you cut it down to 200 pages, it would be a pretty solid book.

Ann Althouse said...

The book I would be interested in writing would need to be artistic, individualistic, and innovative. The process of writing would be full of intrinsic rewards for me. That is what I pursue with this blog. I wouldn't put my time into a project that lost that spirit, which is everything to me. I'm not interested in writing a book for the sake of writing a book, making something permanent, improving my status in academia, or making money. I am only interested in a project that takes what I've found in blogging and moves it forward in some new way.

Chris: "I think if you cut it down to 200 pages, it would be a pretty solid book."

I wonder what it would be about. I have some interest in the project of discovering that. Is there some core of meaning? Is there something I've been trying to say? There is something liberated in speaking post by post. With this spontaneous form, you lose the inhibition of planning out what you should say, of going with what you already think you're supposed to say. And you almost forget what you do say, even before it drops off the front page. There's something true in that, and perhaps something interesting in the process of mining your own truth (the way I did in the "How Kerry lost me" post.

It would be like making a documentary, where you've got a ton of footage, and you have to find the story in it. Finding the story is a creative process, and if it's your blog, it's your story and therefore a process of self-discovery.

Sissy Willis said...

The still photo -- like the blog post -- is not a video nor a podcast. It speaks a thousand words with its silence.

XWL said...

I wonder what it would be about. I have some interest in the project of discovering that. Is there some core of meaning? Is there something I've been trying to say?

Maybe it will end up being very Seinfeldian and be about nothing.

Could still be worthwhile to do, Seinfeld was pretty damn enjoyable, afterall.

Another question to ask yourself, should a project like that include a few comments from each post featured?

(are there legal issues to including other's words would be another question)

Moses Wine said...

Movies reviews for movies you haven't seen, blog reviews for bloggers you won't read, legal opinions for cases you will not examine. Reality show reviews for reality shows you do watch.

Is this your oeuvre?

Jen Bradford said...

I haven't been reading this blog for very long, so my reactions may sound half-baked to faithful readers.

I'll use Project Runway to explain what pops into my head when you mention writing a book. I'm not at all clear about your "point of view". Again, I may not have been here long enough, but my experience isn't of a certain sensibility casting her eye over any number of subjects, which is the feeling I get from several bloggers. Instead, you seem to have several modes - some of which I like better than others.

Personally, I can find it sort of refreshing. It's unlikely that I could predict what you'd be writing about when I turn up to look. Certain others, you can safely assume will be chewing on the topic du jour. But what works in real time, I'm not sure I would care about in a book. (I can't be the only one who skips over a lot of what's here - American Idol overload, etc.) This isn't meant as a slam, more as a vote for the apples and oranges theory of blogs/books versus the orange/juice idea.

HaloJonesFan said...

I'd put a big chunk of it down to the order in which you read things. The "last-in-first-out" arrangement of almost every weblog puts the reader in the odd position of reading the conclusion before the argument, the effect before the cause, the climax before the buildup. There's no suspense--only idle curiosity about why the most recent post is titled "I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE".

Turning it around and reading by date is now a completely different setup. Things now have narrative structure (of a sort). The reader sees an idea appear, swirl through the writer's head, and eventually become part of the canon.

Maxine Weiss said...

Sometimes we do things, not because they make sense, but simply for the prestige....of being a published author.

Being published is still the gold standard.

Ann, start cutting and pasting...and shopping that manuscript around!

Prestige.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

When Fran Lebowitz wrote "Metropolitan Life" it was just notes on a napkin, literally. She took a bunch of napkins and fashioned it into a (very rough) manuscript.

Certainly a bunch of blogs cut and pasted is much more formal and original than that.

Ann, call your agent immediately!

Peace, Maxine