Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Here's blooking at you, kid

Yesterday's Paper Cuts post on Nobel-laureate Portuguese writer José Saramago's blog-turned-book poses an interesting question: can blogs become literature? Saramago's collection of blog posts, entitled "The Notebook", renders his online journal entries as essays. Yet in his review Gregory Cowles deems the vignettes "too topical and too fleeting to count as literature", albeit smartly and compellingly composed. For Cowles there is a marked difference between writing done in an Internet framework, and more traditional composition. Apparently Saramago agrees, because as Cowles notes, the author's last post reads,

“Until another day? I sincerely think not. I have begun another book and wish to dedicate all my time to it. You will see why, if it all goes well.”
I have to say I disagree with both men.

Saramagos' litblogging effort has antecedents; according to Wikipedia, "blooks" have existed for a number of years, a trend with enough traction to institute the Lulu Blooker Prize in 2005. Tucker Max, famed chronicler of drunken encounters, published New York Times bestseller I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell in 2006, writing in a genre he calls "fratire". The book based on Julie Powell's cooking blog "The Julie/Julia Project" was made into the film Julie & Julia in 2009. Colby Buzzell, a U.S. Army machine-gunner who spent a year in Iraq, turned his 2004 blog into a captivating and acclaimed memoir, My War: Killing Time in Iraq.

The breadth of these examples suggests the wide range of possibilities for transforming blogs into respectable- or, at least, commercially successful- prose. A Business Week article titled "'Blooks' are in Bloom" quotes Eileen Gittins, CEO of online publisher Blurb.com,
"We believe there's a market [for book-publishing services] for every single blogger out there. Charles Dickens originally serialized his novels in magazines. We are seeing much the same thing happening today, with blogs."

The blogosphere is rife with well-written material, and writers that prioritize literary craft. The tempest of new media is all about breaking down walls, between interface and user, writer and reader, professional and layman, traditional publishing and cutting-edge; why can't we discard the boundary, too, between blogging and "real" writing? I'll concede that the extension of electronic writing into the formalized publishing realm has its limits: 19-year-old U Chicago undergrads Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin's recent book Twitterature, a compilation of reimagined classic works in 20-character-tweet form, makes me gag (the Huffington Post writes that it "kicked all that is sacred about the written word in its proverbial scrotum"). But Twitter, like the blogosphere, does house the literary-minded among the rabble. An informal GalleyCat poll at the end of last year found "1,790 novelists, 9,139 poets, 19,490 journalists, 28,529 authors, and a staggering 99,082 writers on Twitter."

Basically I respect the fact that Saramago and Cowles are pigeonholing blogging and publishable writing, because I share readers' and authors' fear that cultivated writing will perish without its own limelight. But I also think there's room for blogs- earnest, finely written, ones especially- to evolve off the screen in their own right, not as a replacement for traditional books. So, I'd answer Saramago's ultimate question, "Until another day?" with a frank "Yes."

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