Sarah Boxer’s best of the blogosphere
Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web outs itself on the back cover: “A book of blogs? WTF!!!” Yet, aside from its oxymoronic concept, the book is also oddly elegiac. It’s no longer common in the meta-saturated blogosphere — amid the Facebook updates, the Twitters, the Tumblring, the Gawker douchebag exposés — to continue to write in a candid, uninhibited way and survive. How fitting that Ultimate Blogs, edited by former New York Times Web critic Sarah Boxer, should arrive now, in time to showcase the bloggers who once typed without worrying about jumping the shark. You might not be able to delete what’s on the Internet. But just as a writer can phase out a certain quality of voice, a blogger can do the same, regulating it to the basement of his or her archives. It’s that frank, diary-like milieu, in its best moments, that Ultimate Blogs attempts to rescue from extinction.
BLOGGY: Boxer’s selections work best when they function independently as personal essays or brilliant commentary.
Boxer writes in her introduction that finding book-appropriate “bloggy writing” — a style that doesn’t wholly rely on links or timely news — posed a unique challenge: “It is conversational and reckless, composed on the fly for anonymous intimates. It is public and private, grand and niggling, smart-assed and dumb-assed.” Via phone from her home in Washington DC, she explains that the selection process was akin to bridging two worlds: “It’s almost like a work of translation. There’s so many readers of blogs and so many people who have no idea what a blog is, and they’re sort of afraid of it. I thought, there must be a way to bring these people in.”
Legions of bibliophiles have indeed dismissed blogs on the basis of medium alone. The initiated surfers Boxer wishes to lure with this anthology may just be won over with the excerpts that function independently as personal essays or brilliant commentary. In Eurotrash, Geraldine Hayward, a former employee of Reuters and Star, writes about her not-so-good-old glory days slaving for an editor: “And she had a cracking case of halitosis which meant when she stalked up to you in the newsroom to flay your tormented soul with some well-screeched foulness, you had to choose between crying with the humiliation, and vomiting as the hell’s maw that was her breath enveloped you in its vile caress.” In his homonymous Matthew Yglesias blog, the Atlantic Monthly editor and pop-culture philosopher muses about Spider-Man 2 and the rewards of virtue. The Rest Is Noise, penned by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross before he published his book of that title, is another high point: a discussion of applause at classical concerts generates a fine momentum when the posts are helpfully stacked together.
Not all of Boxer’s selections live up to their “ultimate” distinction. The cartoon Micrographica and the photoblog Radio.Uruguay lose their way amid all the prose, and several other entries, like the physics blog Cosmic Variance and the cold, political Beckner-Posner, feel out of place as well. It’s no accident that the most accomplished work in Ultimate Blogs is composed by bloggers who are writers by trade. Turning a book nerd into a blog fiend can prove to be as difficult a transition as turning a blogger into an author. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible — quite the opposite, particularly given the overall curatorial tone Boxer displays here. Celebrated on paper and ink, protected from the snark, the fawning, the bitchiness, the link whoring, and the exhausting self-referential attacks, the Internet in UltimateBlogs is cherished in a wide-eyed, doting manner that even the most popular bloggers don’t seem to enjoy very much anymore.
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