I am an undercover blogger. It doesn’t sound very nice, does it?
But something is happening to writing, isn’t it? We see it in books; we see it online. And I want to get to the bottom of it (says she who has been reading hard-boiled detective fiction).
Online writing is quick and dirty. You don’t want to read too much of it. Content trumps style, just as Twitter trumps Trump. Bloggers are earnest and often intelligent, but they lack polish. Perhaps we can do better, perhaps not. The problem is…reading bad writing online affects your style, logic, and critical judgment.
Two online book-ish (and I do mean “-ish”) tabloids, Book Riot and Flavorwire, have pinched the worst features of blogs. These corporate vandals (or are they corporate?) have co-opted, rioted, wired and mimicked the hit-and-run triteness of the least-researched and most vacuous social media. Even one of their teeny-tiny articles will make you feel stupid for a day, because you were stupid even to go there.
I am forever looking for new blogs, because better blogs will inspire us to do better, surely? Many of the best old-time bloggers have become stale, opted out, or begun to write about new subjects. The blog is, after all, a very old medium now. You never know: I might close this blog and start over again. There was no real reason to shut down my old blog, but I did on a whim. I gained new readers, and I have more “subscribers” here, though I barely know what that means. Does it matter?
But my internet problems are nothing. What bothers me is the influence of social media on newspapers, magazines, and books. I don’t mean it’s all bad. Sometimes it’s for better, sometimes for worse.
FOR THE (VERY) GOOD: Natasha Stagg’s brilliant debut novel, Surveys, is, or should be, a cult classic. The underemployed heroine works for a marketing company that conducts surveys at the mall after being rejected from Victoria’s Secret, Hot Topic, Charlotte Russe, Sweet Factory, The Gap, Banana Republic, Guess, Express, The Limited, J. Crew, and The United Colors of Benneton. At night she entertains herself with drinking, drugs, and the internet. And when social media become more real than her life and she meets a “semi-famous” person online, they meet and become a couple, and then travel the world hosting parties sponsored by corporations. It is an empty life, but Stagg makes it real.
FOR THE GOOD (MOSTLY): I had low expectations of Maria Semple’s comic novel, Today Will Be Different. Semple’s first novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, was mostly a collection of e-mails, and who wants to read e-mail offline? But Today Will Be Different is brilliant and witty. The heroine, a Seattle housewife, is alternately grumpy and effervescent. She neglects her husband and son and can’t concentrate on writing her graphic memoir. So from e-mail to a graphic novel? Part of the novel is a graphic novel–and it’s great!
FOR THE BAD: Samantha Ellis’s bibliomemoir, Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life, reflects the influence of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Margaret Drabble in the TLS called it “a selfie memoir,” but kindly overlooked the naiveté of Ellis’s criticism. I was very disappointed: it reads like the musings of a blogger. But why should I care if this book is good or bad? It will be a popular book. The Brontes are popular. It harms no one. But beware, Bronte scholars. You won’t be pleased. And, that said, if you want my copy, send me an e-mail at email@example.com
FOR WORSE: Feature stories instead of news on the first page of failing newspapers in the Midwest, shorter articles in intellectual magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, et al) and shorter reviews in prestigious book review pages and journals.
Bad times are ahead: it will be harder to get a good education, and online sources won’t help. Someone is trying to pass a bill requiring universities to hire equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Oh God…as if this ever came up in any classes except political science.
Meanwhile, I keep blogging. I could do better. But…