Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 106 (5/20) -- Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi

New things are rarely as new as we pretend they are -- we delight in their newness because that shows that we are exciting, au courant, and forward-thinking, and so we do our best to ignore that Grandpa did something very similar. Blogs, for example, often have a lot in common with small-town or 19th century newspapers -- right down to the lack of return to the proprietor.

And the book of collected blog essays? Well, except for the specifics of those essays' original publication -- which will be of vastly less interest to our own grandkids, as they try desperately to differentiate themselves from us -- they're very much like a long string of similar books, from Art Buchwald and Mike Royko, Herb Caen and Jimmy Breslin, Russell Baker and Maureen Dowd.

For some, this may be disconcerting -- No! they shriek, the Internet is completely unlike anything else ever ever ever! -- but, as a reader who cut his teeth on Royko and Baker (and Dave Barry, and so on), it makes a book like Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded to be surprisingly familiar and homey. It is, as probably anyone reading this blog already knows, a collection of blog posts on various and sundry topics by John Scalzi, published to mark the tenth anniversary of his blog Whatever. Whatever is vastly popular, and a lot of fun to read, even if Scalzi chooses not to engage in the core blog-fun activity of tagging those posts.

And so, like a collection of newspaper columns, Your Hate Mail is full of things that fans of the writer have read already -- in this case, "Being Poor" and the visit to the Creation Museum and a dozen more. (None of the more picture-oriented posts, though, since this is a pure-text book -- so there's no bacon on cats here.) That never bothered me with Dave Barry, and it didn't bother hundreds of thousands of people for four decades with Art Buchwald, so I don't see why it should suddenly be a huge problem now. The essays in Your Hate Mail are just as readable and entertaining now as when they were first posted.

This book, though, is not quite as carefully constructed as those old newspaper collections -- it has no table of contents or index, so it's difficult to find any specific essay. (One might think a publisher wouldn't go out of its way to make a book notably less useful than the already existing free Internet version, but one might think a lot of things that aren't true, as well.) There's no obvious scheme of organization, either, and Your Hate Mail could have strongly benefited from one. It didn't need to be slotted into several thematic categories -- though that's certainly one plausible option -- but it should have had some kind of continuity, and remembered the cardinal rule of collections: always begin with a bang and end with a bigger bang. Your Hate Mail starts off with the usual introductory bumf (from Scalzi and his forewordist, Wil Wheaton) and a snarky "Disclaimer," which is just fine, but it peters out at the end with a series of minor posts culminating in "The Best End of the World," in which Scalzi exercises his non-fiction-explainer muscles to run through some historical nutjobs who thought the world was about to end.

So everything in Your Hate Mail is fine -- it could have just been better organized and presented. Oh, and the cover, being mostly white, picks up ink and fingerprints like nobody's business. Try to read it with disposable gloves if you care desperately about condition. But, otherwise, it's a fine selection from an entertaining blog, suitable for reading away from electricity and connectivity (or even close to them, if you prefer).
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Those Darlins - Who's That Knocking At My Window?
via FoxyTunes

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