Blogger book deals, and an unrelated ‘possum story

A college friend’s roommate hailed from Crestview, Florida, a Pensacola-area town I have visited only once, accidentally. Mr. Maud and I were on our way from Tallahassee to my grandparents’ place on the Mississippi Gulf Coast when a trailer tipped over, releasing a herd of cows onto I-10. All the cars on the highway were rerouted down Crestview’s main drag, and the townsfolk carried chairs out onto their porches so they could sit and watch the long line of cars snake by.

Anyway, the Crestview roommate, N, was always interrupting my friend’s and my arguments over the merits (or lack thereof) of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis to regale us with Bible verses and stories about the girls he’d wanted to fuck at a frat party the night before. Evidently he saw no disconnect between these two topics. He moved between them effortlessly, often without pausing to breathe:

Remember, Maud, it’s not too late. ‘Whosoever believeth in Him might be saved.’ And that girl I was telling y’all about, she had this skirt that come right up under her ass, and every time she bent over at the keg to get more beer we could see her panties.

Perhaps N’s most memorable contribution to my college years was the story of the “‘possum that wouldn’t die.”

It was a delightful tale about the time his father discovered an oppossum in the garbage and tried to kill it by kicking it repeatedly in the head. When the hardy little creature was undeterred by the beating and started to run off, the father cornered it and bludgeoned it with various tools and gardening implements, including the end of a shovel. N described each new attack and resulting injury to the ‘possum in graphic detail, returning always to the refrain, “and it still wouldn’t die. That damned ‘possum just would not die!”

All ended well (?) when N’s father retrieved his “sawn-off shotgun from the woodshed” and “blew that ‘possum’s head off.”

I was going to try to tie the ‘possum story to last week’s Bloggers Get Book Deals! article, say that the meme is soon to become the publishing world’s ‘possum that won’t die, but the analogy doesn’t work because in N’s case I was rooting for the animal, whereas I really do want these blogger book articles to die, immediately.

In other words, you’ve just read all that crap about the roommate for no reason at all.

As for this “blogger book” phenomenon, it’s a fake trend conjured up to fill space in magazines and newspapers. Most of the bloggers who’ve landed book deals — Ana Marie Cox, for instance — were writing long before they were blogging.

As my friend Stephany Aulenback observed last spring:

This week a couple of clueless articles having to do with a startling new phenomenon called blogging* appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times. I have a suggestion for the doddering editors of these venerable old media institutions. Perhaps next week they could publish articles announcing that there are these things called PAPER and PENS and that some people use the PENS to write things down on the PAPER. And even though a few of the people who use the PENS to write things down on the PAPER may eventually write down things that will be published — however ill-advisedly — in NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, or BOOKS, the people who use the PAPER and PENS are very dim, narcissistic people who mistakenly believe they have the right to write things down and to show them to others. It is unhealthy when many ordinary people start to write things down and then show them to others! Writing things down and showing them to others could give these dim, narcissistic people pleasure and a sense of community. There is even a dangerous — but admittedly slight — possibility that a large number of ordinary people writing things down and showing them to one another could eventually lead to the development of something actually resembling a democracy! It is important for the public to remember that writing things down and showing others what you have written is only for people who work for venerable old media institutions! Anyone else who does so is pretty much the same as a drug addict!

The terms blogger, blogging, and blog are so overused they have become pretty much meaningless. They seem to indicate any individual (as opposed to a corporation) who posts anything — anything at all — on any sort of webpage, with any regularity. There are no distinctions made between sites that offer only original content, those that act as a filter for content found elsewhere, and those that are combinations of the two. However, according to a CBC radio piece I heard on the subject a few weeks ago, the term “blogger” refers mostly to an individual who likes to post online about her breakfast. And so, for the record: I had a a piece of peanut butter toast and a very strong cup of coffee.

The tone has evolved a bit over time, but most media outlets continue to portray bloggers in much the way Stephany describes. So bloggers’ efforts aren’t taken very seriously. Consider this New Yorker paragraph:

Two years from now — give or take — Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of the gossip Web sites Gawker and The Kicker, will publish her first novel. Around the same time, Glenn Reynolds, who writes the political Web log Instapundit, will also have a book in stores. So, too, may writers from the blogs Hit & Run, The Black Table, Dong Resin, Zulkey, Low Culture, Lindsayism, Megnut, Maud Newton, MemeFirst, Old Hag, PressThink, I Keep a Diary, Buzz Machine, Engadget, and Eurotrash. Suddenly, books by bloggers will be a trend, a cultural phenomenon. You will probably read about it in the Sunday Times. And when that happens the person to thank — or blame — will be Kate Lee, who is currently a twenty-seven-year-old assistant at International Creative Management.

It’s unfortunate for publishers and bloggers alike that all books penned by first-time novelists, memoirists and critics with blogs are being lumped into a single category, regardless of style or subject matter.

Looking into my (deeply pessimistic, paranoiac) crystal ball, I predict:

  • This approach will carry over through publication, into the reviews.
  • Instead of being considered separately, all bloggers’ books will be discussed together in withering catch-all columns.
  • It won’t matter that the individual books have little, if anything, in common — when one tanks, publishers will decide, oh, bloggers’ books are so late 2004/early 2005. Their response to all submissions from bloggers, regardless of the merit of the manuscript itself, will be: “sorry, we’re not doing any more blogger books.” Never mind that published writers like Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, and Jennifer Weiner are long-timers in blogland.
  • “Blogger books,” whatever that means, will become the sibling of other pariah “genres,” like lad lit.

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