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Read a good blook lately?

SPEAKING VOLUMES

Nilanjana S Roy  |  New Delhi 

For over a year, one of the funniest books I've read unfolded one post at a time. The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs was required reading among techies, as the blogger who identified himself only as Fake Steve Jobs did a hilarious parody of Mr Jobs. It was the perfect antidote to the growing trend of earnest "CEO diaries" posted online in an effort to make CEOs seem, well, more human.
soon had a cult following. We loved it when he dubbed Bill Gates 'Beastmaster', and we loved the post on the iPhone that ended with 'Namaste. Much love. Peace out. Dear Leader'. Perhaps the only person who wasn't an fan was the real SJ. This week, was outed""he's Dan Lyons, a technology editor at Forbes. Lyons will continue blogging, and the book version of the blog should do as well as the blog has done.
The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs is a classic example of what makes some blogs work very well in book form: it has a strong structure, an identifiable voice, and the diary format means that posts work even at book length. Readers like me are getting used to doing our twice: first we get hooked to the online version, then we buy the print copy.
Last year, the first Lulu Blooker prize was set up, to honour the best books-from-blogs (the official term for this is the unlovely but useful "blooks"). The winning blook was Julia and Julie, an amateur cook's account of the year she spent cooking every single recipe from Julia Child's redoubtable cookbook. Like many fans, I'd been reading Julie Powell's funny, informative posts for months before the book came out. But I bought the book because it was useful to have all those posts together in book form, and because it felt as though I already knew the author. I'd been reading Julie for months""not to buy her book would be like not buying a friend's book.
This year, the Lulu Blooker had over 95 entries. Some of them, inevitably, were terrible""the stuff that sinks to the bottom of the slush pile in any publisher's office. The overall winner, Colby Buzzell's Killing Time in Iraq (www.cbftw.blogspot.com) is a brilliant read. I spent the last month browsing other entries, and marveling at the quality of some of the work.
Many of the early attempts at writing books online failed because they either weren't experimental enough, or because they were too experimental. The early hypertext novels that allowed the reader to move through different plot lines by clicking on embedded links in the document often sacrificed plot and character because the author was so intent on exploring this relatively new technology. Even the successful hypertext novels sometimes felt too much like work for the reader.
Some authors paid too little attention to the medium. As NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which challenged authors to write a novel in one month) proved, nothing can improve genuinely bad writing. And as I discovered when looking for blog novels, there is nothing more boring than wading through a mediocre novel post-by-post""for some reason, the kind of writing that looks merely dreary on the page is thrown into dreadful relief in a blog post.
This year's Blooker winners are an innovative bunch, changing our definitions of what we expect from books. I hadn't come across the fiction winner, Andrew Losowsky's The Doorbells of Florence (www.flickr.com/photos/andrewlos) before, but I was enchanted, as other readers/ viewers have been. Losowsky has a deceptively simple concept: he's taken pictures of doorbells in Florence, and written a short story for each 'doorbell'. His characters include a man who feigns deafness in his quest to invent the perfect sign language, a woman who leaves her husband on their wedding anniversary, an eight-year-old boy who dreams of being a detective. The photos are haunting, the stories charming""and it works both as a blog and as a bound book. Rebecca Agiewitch's Break Up Babe (breakupbabe.blogspot.com) made me reflect that perhaps all chick lit should be blogged instead of converted into a book""this genre is much less annoying when read post by post.
As authors get more sophisticated, the blook will continue to evolve, and like Losowsky's book, may move in surprising directions. But they co-exist along with the paper book, instead of killing it off as many pundits had predicted. Today's adolescents read Harry Potter via sms, the book broken up into a series of smses that arrive on your phone every day, and I know people who love the novel-a-day concept, where a few pages from the book you want to read will be emailed to you every day. We read, and will continue to read, books on blogs. But we still retain our fondness for the old-fashioned, portable paper book""and it seems there's room for both, blooks and books.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

The author is editor, EastWest and Westland Books; the views expressed in this column are personal

First Published: Thu, August 09 2007. 00:00 IST
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