Intermission for diversionary announcement:
I didn’t say a lot about it before, basically because it hadn’t been printed so there wasn’t a hell of a lot to tell you. But also I guess I was unsure as to who to recommend it to. Now I’ve read it through a couple of times I’m clearer on that front, and a couple of people have asked my opinion, so here’s some sort of more detailed appraisal much of which has already been covered by Mike and the subsequent commenters, including Tim’s replies.
There’s some great stuff in there. Structurally it’s exactly as you’d expect a blog anthology to be. It’s all well-written. There are pieces that are funny; there are pieces that are serious. There are pieces written as satire or parody; there are pieces where you’re not sure whether they’re written as satire or parody or not. There are pieces that you find yourself nodding vigorously in agreement to; there are pieces that make you want to crawl into a hole and rock gently from side to side. There are pieces that are short and pithy; there are pieces that would have benefited from being included in their own pull-out, perhaps featuring advertising by the Samaritans. In short, style-wise there’s the full gamut.
Topics-wise, anthologies are always going to reflect the interests of their editor – I guess you could describe Tim’s sphere as ‘political argument’. Rather than ‘this is what happened to me today’, ‘political’ bloggers tend to write self-contained posts about current affairs that require no background knowledge of the writer. This is always going to be handy if ones brief is to compile a book of self-contained posts about current events aimed at readers with no background knowledge of the writer. Despite Tim’s genuine and perhaps heroic forays into the areas of blogland less familiar to him, politics is the lens through which he sees the medium (everybody has one) and it forms the soul of the book – the strand to which we return again and again. Occasionally and amusingly, political-blogger-parochialism does creep in to the annotations. “Robert Fisk of The Independent,” we’re told authoritatively, “is a favourite target for bloggers all over the Anglosphere”. Here in the Norfolk webring we talk of little else.
So the man or woman on the Clapham bendy-omnibus will find the year as described in ‘2005: Blogged’ familiar but also oddly disconnected from them. It’s a world in which a piece by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian just can’t pass without analysis and dissection, but in which we didn’t actually get to win the Ashes. Football gets nine lines, winning the Olympics gets five (despite being one of the ‘major events’ on the back cover blurb); there was nothing on the telly that could be enjoyed without a political deconstruction (indeed no films were released either and there were no cultural events); Ronnie Barker’s still with us; Michael Jackson’s still prancing round Neverland without a care in the world… you get the drift. Meanwhile, the nineteen pages on the ‘ID card debate’ are detailed, informative and well-argued.
As one who regularly weeps into his ex-broadsheet newspaper at the dumbing down of Western culture, society and media, pointing out an imbalance towards serious political analysis might be a little contrary. Actually, in an odd way, relying on this political core probably makes for a more coherent and focused book – ‘reviews of the year’, being a bit of an artificial conceit, aren’t often that interesting in their own right. Therefore if there’s a problem it’s not with the product itself but with the ambition to produce a catch-all ‘this is what blogging is about’, which I’m not sure is actually possible to do. So two stars for fulfilling the mission statement, four stars for an enjoyable browse. I suspect it’s likely to put off more people than it converts; those it converts will be very converted.
A recommendation? It’s the ideal Christmas gift for your annoying brother-in-law who monopolises dinner parties with his loud and entrenched opinions. Buy him the book, log him into Blogger, point him towards that particular area of blogdom and let him get it all off his chest. As such it might be construed as a public service.