Friday, February 12, 2010

Bloggers and Books.

The other day I just finished a book by this rather famous blogger-who-become-an-author.

I don’t really know what I was expecting – since I am not a big follower of this particular person’s blog. I had a nebulous idea perhaps – of a plot which spoke the same language, or situations, places and events which I had experienced, maybe some controversy, maybe some humour – something topical which I could relate to.

What I didn’t expect, was to be bored out of my skull.

Harsh? Well yes, rather.

But the truth was what would have been tolerable-interesting as someone's private blog just did not translate into a readable or engrossing or even passable novel. I found the plot loose, the writing mediocre, the humour contrived, the characters one-dimensional, and the predominant reaction at the end of the book, was relief that it was over.

Strangely enough, these are criticisms which one could level at dozens of blogs, mine included – but that has never stopped me from reading those blogs (or writing mine for that matter), and I don’t think I have consciously passed harsh judgement on the content, the writing or anything of the sort. I enjoy reading those blogs – even when the sentence construction is faulty, even if the odd post is not very interesting, but the sum total of the parts ends up being an enriching experience.

But when the same thing happens in a novel, it is different altogether.

So that brings me to a very interesting point, – are we as readers more willing to forgive mediocrity in blogging but not so in books (even if it is from the same author?). Do we have vastly different expectations and levels of what constitutes an acceptable blog versus an acceptable book? I would say, yes.

The question is, why?

The most obvious and no-brainer answer to that of course, is that authors get paid money and bloggers don’t. So perhaps, if someone is writing for a fee, is a professional writer, one expects a much higher degree of competence.

The authors I read, MUST be at an intellectual, linguistic, entertainment plane which is much higher than what I am capable of doing. Then, and only then, can I enjoy, appreciate and can revel in the books. It doesn’t mean it has to be an intellectual opus – a lot of light reading isn’t, but then there is this indefinable and intangible ‘quality’ in it which sets it apart from amateurs, which one respects. It could be the turn of phrase, the etching of the characters, the quirky humour which subtly tells the reader, that there is much more to this writing gig, then well, just writing.

Maybe it’s a sense of fellowship – a blogger is a fellow, someone you can interact with, mail, comment, and chat with. An author is supposed to be a celebrity – inaccessible, aloof, and with a halo which is larger than life. So I might not be willing to extend the same benefit of doubt as I would to a blogger-mate.

The other reason could be the fact that in blogging, one is exposed to minute quantities of the persons thought processes at any given point of time – thousand to two thousand words, one incident. In a novel, one is exposed to maybe forty times that quantity. Much vaster canvas to be critical off isn’t it?

And I think very personally, bloggers who turn bad authors, bring out the biggest conflict in me -a person who has always harboured hopes of getting a book published some day.

On the one hand it gives this perverse sense of hope – that if someone who is not-very-good can get published; I might have a fighting chance too. On the other, it gives rise to a lot of self-loathing and criticism for NOT having done anything about it yet – especially when I knows in my heart-of-hearts that I might not have the perseverance, or the talent to actually write a decent book.

And there is always the other conflict – that even assuming average authors get published, does one actually want to go down in the annals of history as being one of those average authors or is it better not to attempt the task at all? Is it better to be mediocre and famous, or know one’s limitations and rein in one’s ambition to what one is passably good at?

I just shared this post with Mo, and she had a very interesting point. Viz. that bloggers are commentators and they comment on the current state of being – they are not story tellers. Which is a hugely valid point in retrospect – because one of the problems I DID have with the book, was that it was like a collage of events – not woven together, but just jostling each other for space.

So in other words this static, still photograph technique of writing can be acceptable in blogs, or to use an analogy – in a home video, might seem very amateurish when you go to a multiplex to watch a movie where you want action, dynamism and movement.

What do you think?

(No, not Sidin, I have not read Dork (Though I plan to). I do not want the post to be misconstrued just because he happens to be the latest from the bloggers-turned-authors genre).


Anonymous said...

Only one other person released a book recently. :-D


Mo said...

@Hyde - lots of them have. Even I couldn't guess which one she's talking about.

@Cyn - bloggers are tolerable only in small doses.

S. M. Rana said...

Very interesting post because it's very honest. One has to be courageous before one can be anything else. Rather than having a be-or-not-to-be approach I feel it's better to make a go for it and get it out of the system--ultimately what one regret's is not one's lack or surfeit of ability, but not having tried.

async. said...

I think what you're trying to say is that the amount of time you commit for reading a book in a stretch makes you unforgivable towards them when you realize they are authored poorly.

popsie said...

I can't agree more. I am not much of a reader myself, but I happened to chance upon a book of a famous blogger. Not sure if you are referring to the same one but it sounds like it. If that is the case, I agree with every point you have listed out in this blog post.

Never Mind!! said...

One reason I can think of is the obvious money we pay to buy the book whereas, a blog is free. So, ou when a blog gets mind numbing, you just go away to another blog. When you pay money for something, you want to read to the last word to make sure you haven't missed some brilliant piece of writing, especially if the book has been "critically acclaimed".

I am not sure if we are talking about the same book, but I too felt this way about a book by a blogger turned author. I loved the blog and columns because I agreed with the blogger's view on most issues and I could not have articulated half as nicely. On the other hand, the book turned out to be a rather banal love story when I was expecting much more from it based on his blog writings. So I think, in this case, it was my own expectations that let me down.

Rishi said...

It's that 'My Friend Sancho' book, isn't it?

D said...

My thoughts exactly. But I must add, I enjoy reading blogs which at least have grammatically correct English if not excellent expression. In that sense, I'm harsh on blogs as well.

ravptor said...

It's the exact issue of being familiar with something. If you know the person behind the words in a different context that that of a book you are holding in your hand, one tends to loose the specialness that surrounds it.

Nandita said...

Can relate to what you've said but blog or book, I don't think twice about putting aside something which isn't working for me so 'the predominant reaction at the end of the book'/blog, has never been 'relief that it was over'.

g said...

It's fairly easy to get a book published now than it used to be a few decades ago. You need to be reasonably not-horrible, know the right people and seize the right moment. In my mind, the word "author" doesn't call for any particular respect until after I have read the book.

One of the reasons I know I'll never write a book (and never wanted to write a blog) is that I hold my reading to a standard much higher than what my writing at its best will ever even dream of reaching.

Anonymous said...

Also the author is so self conceited! Thinks no end to himself,you are a gem cynic!:)
Please write a book someday , n given , ill market it coz I know it would be an honest one!

shub said...

Ditto. It's probably just that when it's a book, you tend to already go in with expectations - it's been published after all. With blogs, not so much.

Also, to sustain the quality of writing over the length of a book as opposed to a post - that aint easy.

At the end of the day, when I read a mediocre book, I think, well, atleast X had the ability to sit down and think of a story and write, and see it through to its conclusion. Perseverance, like you said. Which I have tons of admiration for.

shub said...

of course that doesn't mean I will suffer through the book. I couldn't finish the book I think you're talking about.

narendra shenoy said...

Suberbly written! You have voiced my thoughts exactly.

I've come to the conclusion that the main reason bloggers tend not to be good writers is that they're so conditioned to play to the gallery, thanks to the comment system.

Good writing is all about honesty to oneself whereas bloggers will write in a way that will get them the most favorable comments. I try not to fall into this trap but I suspect I do.

Another thing is that good story tellers are few and far in between. Most of us post- atleast I do - about something that happened to us and try to infuse humor into that with wordplay or clever puns. This makes them - or my blog posts at any rate - long jokes rather than stories. Definitely not great literature.

I too dream of writing a book - as g said, it is really easy these days if you can promise the publisher to buy about 2000 copies yourself - but I won't do it till I am convinced I can cut out the crap.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Hyde - never said it was a recent book or an old book now did i?

mo- yes and no. havent you ever read archives of someone you like? i guess the frame of mind is different though.

s.m. rana - better to be damned for doing rather than not doing? probabaly yes. in most other aspects i would agree with you. but when you write something which is left behind, then..?

async - not even sure whether its a time issue. i mean there are enough bad authors around who arent bloggers right? i think i feel cheated somehow.

Popsie - you know i have to say i am a bit relieved im not the only one. After posting this, i was wondering whether i was far too judgemental considering the fact that i havent managed to write a book yet. so much easier to be a critic no?

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Never mind - well mine was from the library so am not sure it was the money really :D. But perhaps one goes with a known book with a certain frame of reference which doesn't happen to other authors. maybe that's the reason for the disconnect.

Rishi - I am thinking I should write a whodunit when i do. everyone seems to be curious as to WHO the author is!!

D - oh of course its much easier to read well written posts. But i have to admit, I have a grouse against people who are so enamored with polishing the sentence, that the content gets lost in the process.

Ravptor - but tell me, authors one has been reading forever - the same reaction SHOULD set in isn't it?

Nandita - I seem to have this congenital inability to put down a book once I pick it up. However, lousy it is. That's the reason I have read so many utterly crappy books hehe.

G - yes, I know what you mean. It will be such a big disappointment to write something which is NOT something the writer would want to read. (Never stopped me from daydreaming though. Hell, if i can daydream about nobel prize, what is writing the odd book eh?)

Anon - Ghee shakkar and all that!

Shub - Its the same quandary no. Does one admire the writer for the perseverance or curse him/her for it???

Naren - Very valid point ( about playing to the gallery that is). And maybe even that insta-replay-of-feedback. Maybe that's what causes that self consciousness in the books written by bloggers - you know as if the author has one eye cocked for the audience applause or something. (P.S. I want autographed copy of yours pls thank you. i saw the start you made in TOI already!)

Perakath said...

It's so obvious who you're talking about :)

I think people have been unduly harsh on that person since he/she came to fame. But then I'm a kind-hearted soul who doesn't really like to criticise (except for the government, and slow drivers).

Your analogy at the end made some sense. Standards get higher as the stage gets bigger. (Except in Bollywood, of course.)

IdeaSmith said...

I can hazard a guess about the identity of said blogger/author. Cyn, what yaar, such criticism? You terrify us!!!

Arunima said...

will not hazard a guess. :-) But I agree that we are more kind as a blog reader than as a book reader.

But, I still appreciate the fact that they got the book deal and the rest of us didn't.

mentalie said...

i think mo's bang on and so are you. our expectations from books and writers are completely different. which doesn't explain chetan bhagat at all, of course, who reads like spam sms.

ProlificDyslexic said...

Precisely the reason why I was skeptical about getting the book. Or maybe I was plain snobbish

Satish Bhat said...

I've enjoyed a PGW novel simply because Jeeves and Wooster come alive as I turn the pages.

Blogger or no blogger, the act of writing a good book seems to be an innate skill honed over time. Blogging does not replicate it.It would be a bit like a T-20 player floundering in a Test match. Different game, different skills.

AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn-that was beautifully put-I've always been amazed at the vast talent that bloggers display-be it in writing on daily life,travel,work,school,college,et al..people can express them really well(you included,but naturally)..but, to see a book on blog posts?Well,maybe not-the fun in blogs is to read a post or two or three at a time..that's great.But the RTC(Ref To Context) if I read a whole book of posts, will surely not be there.:)
Incidentally, I saw a book on 'Letters To The Editor', compiled by someone, for someone, two days back...and, the same thoughts came to my mind while flicking through it at the newsstand-why doesn't this compilation make as much sense as seeing individual Letters To The Editor? It did inspire me to dig out my Letters from the past 15 years and see whether they're worth compiling? Ah well, time will tell.:)Cheerio..and tks for a nice post.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I'm back! :)

Glad to know you're ok, Cyn.

I loved this post of yours. Loved the candidness. I read a blogger's book recently. With great expectations and I felt cheated at the end.

Also, now that I'm friends with several blog friends, some of them are jerks. And I cannot stand them. Unfortunately, that has kept me reading their rather wonderful blogs as well. I know, this wasn't necessary, but well.

stefy said...

It's a naked truth bloggers are worthless writers

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Perakath - I lurve the way everyone is second guessing me :D about this author.

ideasmith - ah you have gone to the other side!!

arunima - true i suppose. but it would be nicer if one felt they deserved the book deal no?

mentalie - dont even get me started on friend cb. i did the mistake of reading that three mistakes thingummy * shudders*.

Prolific - snobbish? Hmmm. Maybe you are right about that.

Satish - what would you call a blogger turned short story writer???

Amit - yes, a compilation does not have that seamlessness i guess. maybe the disconnect.

nandini - oi where have yu been?

Stefy - well apparently im not in a minority about this :D

Satish Bhat said...

A Trishanku !

Pinku said...

I am smiling and then smiling some more...

and I completely agree with you assessment.

A good blog doesn't translate into a good book.Not unless substantial work has been done to elevate it to a level.

chandni said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mumbai Diva said...

i loved this post. and i so know what you mean. i read a couple of books by bloggers turned authors and the first thought that came was - I could have written something like this too. That takes away from the magic I expect from a book. That is so not a thought that comes too me when i read a Wodehouse. I guess that's the difference.

We are ok with blogs because they're like conversations. A book on the other hand needs to be far more.

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog.. found it on desipundit.

Interesting post!

I think the difference we expect between a good blogger and a professional writer is similar to difference expected between a good gully cricketer and an international cricketer, or the difference we expect between an amateur actor and a movie star. Just my two cents.