Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Can bloggers actually write?

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Blogs are now a significant part of our reading lives (I'm including you since you are now engaged in reading a blog). They're where we get our fresh information, guidance on the debates around key issues and, for many of us, a place to build communities of interest. But what of the actual writing on blogs – is it any good? Does it stand up to comparison with the kind of writing you find in 'old' (what bloggers like to call 'dead tree') media?

Historian Stephen Howe, for one, is sceptical. In a review for New Humanist of two recent books written by political bloggers - Liberal Fascism by National Review Online blogger Jonah Goldberg, and The Liberal Defence of Murder by Lenin's Tomb author Richard Seymour - he finds that in the transition to the printed page all the faults of those with 'blogorrhea' are starkly revealed: sloppy research, cheap name-calling, historical immaturity, overstatement, distortion, factual errors and near-endless repetition. Compared to the short-attention-span ever-scrolling world of the blog, where repetition isn't so easily spotted, and consistency matters little, Howe reminds us that "Books are supposed to be a bit different. People pay real money and give up precious shelf-space for them. They are supposed to have some enduring value, however slight."

So can bloggers translate to the printed page? Should they even bother? Are there any books out there written by bloggers which suggest that Howe is wrong? If so please let us know in the forums.

14 comments:

AT said...

Take a look at the compiled edition of David Plotz's 'Blogging the Bible' at slate magazine. Damned awful stuff, but it seemed brilliant when it was only a few paragraphs long and the questionable insights were relieved by a steady succession of gags.

Christopher said...

I think the premise is a bit sloppy, to be honest. Why shouldn't someone who writes blogs not be able to write a 'real' book? There are certainly a tonne of books out there that also have sloppy research, and every other defect mentioned of blogs, so identifying those qualities in (only two) books by bloggers hardly makes a convincing case.

Are we suggesting that writing a blog might somehow be diminishing our literary powers? That's going to take more evidence to establish than a couple of poor books can offer, surely.

Plenty of published writers maintain blogs as well - are they any good?

Jennie said...

So maybe bloggers maybe can't write, can't research, and resort to ad homs: does that automatically mean the standards in the newspapers are any better? Experience says no.

Caspar Melville said...

I invited Norm of the excellent NormBlog for his comments - this is what he had to say:
"My own answer to Caspar's question is that, yes, bloggers can write decent books. (1) Some writers are bloggers. (2) Two bad books by bloggers does not a law establish. (3) Some bloggers write well even on their blogs. (4) There are people capable of operating in more than one mode."
http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2009/03/blogs-and-books.html

Christopher Sisk said...

I would mention anything written by Wil Wheaton. His natural, storytelling style translates exceptionally well into printed books.

PaulJ said...

Writing is writing, wherever you do it, and for those writers without publishing contracts (for whatever reason), a blog is a good place to practise.

Tristan said...

I suspect thow two books would have been similar in style whether or not bloggin existed.
You can see plenty of similar books from non-bloggers out there. I don't think its a function of blogging but more that people who write in that sort of style will transition to blogging easily.

There are plenty of people who blog and write carefully researched, balanced books which don't fall into those traps, althoug they may do in their blogs - they are aware of the differences between the two mediums (and often in academic papers, magazine and newspaper articles and so on).

louisproyect said...

Well, it makes perfect sense that you would recommend JS Mill, who wrote:

When proper allowance has been made for geographical exigencies, another more purely moral and social consideration offers itself. Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed in another: and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race the absorption is greatly to its advantage. Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilised and cultivated people—to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection, and the dignity and prestige of French power—than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world. The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander as members of the British nation.

--Considerations on Representative Government

Neuroskeptic said...

Blogging and writing "proper" articles are two seperate skills; personally I think blogging is harder, since it requires more discipline - if you're writing a book review or a feature article for a newspaper or magazine you can, often, get away with a little self-indulgent name-dropping or whatever. In blogging, that just looks crap. Blogging well is extremely difficult. Of course, blogging badly is easy, as is writing a bad book. But if you can blog well I think you could write an excellent book - the problem is you might well not want to.

Anonymous said...

The so-called 'review' is a complete mischaracterisation of the Goldbger book, which is a completely reasonable, well-researched, fact-checked, conservative polemic with a comprehensive list of sources for each citation.

I found it of considerable interest and impact - yes, it is marketed in a populist way, but I'd argue that it has worked, given that it has sold so well in the US. It is by no means 'ultra-right' and to put it up against the Seymour is a false analogy.

So there.

Clare said...

I think some writers are good and some writers are not so good. Some writers are bloggers and some writers write books. Some of these will be good and some of them will be not so good. Just like there are some decent journalists and some not so decent ones. A good publisher or editor should be able to spot bad repetitive writing and should notice bad unsubstantiated research.

Morgs said...

Quite so, Claire. Where is the editor in all this? It's as much his or her job to ensure the manuscript is as free contradictions etc as it is the author's.

JohnM said...

I've read Liberal Fascism but not Seymour.

LF is a book in two halves. The first half is actually very good. It contains a excellent summary of the political currents of the time. Showing how the idea of a power central state dominated political thinking on the left and right. It may be unpleasant to recall the mutual admiration of Roosevelt and Mussolini but inconvenient facts should be in the public sphere.

The idea that the fascist leaders only "called themselves socialists" is wrong. Need I remind people of the quote socialism of fools to describe anti-semitism. Mussolini was the editor of a Marxist paper and claimed government directed business was equivalent to workers control achieved through nationalisation.

There is a commonality between the New Deal and the solutions adopted by Mussolini et al.

The second half of the book is disappointing. Goldberg rightly makes the point that may mainstream people toss the Fascist label around with abandon eg. this nonsense. However it is no solution to then take this term and apply it randomly to liberal targets.

Chris Geiser said...

I do agree that some people (including myself) can make the mistake to not really do much research but still say they are right about a topic.

People are not perfect but I believe anyone can be a writer of a book with patience; some research, and good tools, such as a thesaurus. I think that there will always be unreasonable people out there, who will say that there wasn't enough extensive research done, no matter how much work was done by the writer.

Usually I try to write short concise comments on peoples' blogs; short concise posts on my own blog; and I have been reducing any redundancy.

I have been complimented on my writing skill and use of vocabulary. I have used a thesaurus a coupe times to achieve some variety.

So I believe I could be a good writer of a book even though I blog. I am not prideful; but confident and I have a good self image.