rexblog library of accidental blog books: My post lamenting the coming on-slaught of books about blogging drew a suggestion from one of the authors that I bark up another dead tree. (By the way, that author, Jeremy Wright [who actually didn't tell me to bark up another dead tree], has a list of blog-books in the works [via: NevOn]). Jeremy’s point (that the audience for his book about blogging is people who don’t blog) is logical, I guess. I mean, there are probably a lot of cookbooks purchaaed by people who don’t cook but love to eat. Maybe.
My original reaction to the notion of blogging books can be summed up by the analogy I have used when asked how one can “learn about blogging.” I say that if one wants to understand (insert another culture here), one can look at post cards, read books, learn the language and eat the food, even take a vacation there, and never succeed. If you want to understand (culture’s name here), you’ve got to go live there. You don’t get blogging until you first set up a newsreader for a few months, start commenting on weblogs and then set one up yourself. During that journey, you’ll figure it out.
That said, I’ve decided to pledge not to say anything bad about anyone who is writing a book about blogging. I’ll buy a copy, even. Heck, I’ll go ahead and provide anyone working on such a book, a blurb for the back cover: “This is one swell book about blogging.”
However, this whole topic got me thinking again about books I’ve read that are, to differing degrees, accidently about blogging. I decided to suggest a library for bloggers and would-be bloggers of books that are about blogging, yet don’t metion the terms “blog” or “weblog.” (By the way, that was a decision that led to the longest time — by hours — spent working on one post.) Most of these books were written before blogs existed.
Accidental Blog Book Category I: How to write:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott: Okay, I will tell you what I’ve told countless others for well over a decade. This is the single, best book ever written on the topic of writing and one of the best ever written on the topic of living. Sure, Elements of Style is the bible (see below), but this book is about the soul. It is about giving oneself the freedom to write. It is about having a purpose to write other than to pen the great American novel. It is about the writing one should do on a weblog.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White: It would be sacreligious to suggest books about writing and not include the small volume many believe rules the genre. Better yet, it’s short and to the point and packs all the rules you need into a few sentences (like a good blog post). It’s also pithy and entertaining (like a good blog post). Unfortunately, my writing on the rexblog is an insult to Strunk and White. (But as I’ve read Anne Lamott, I forgive myself.)
Other suggestions: There are so many great books on the craft of writing, but one of the most surprisingly inspiring and insightful of recent years is On Writing, by Stephen King, written while recupperating from life-threatening injuries he sustained after being run over by a drunk driver.
Accidental Blog Book Category II: Understanding conversational media:
I doubt seriously (due the ancient dates they were published — okay, I cheated and used Amazon’s “search inside the book” to test this theory) that any of these three books have the words “weblog” or “blogging” in them. However, together, they cover the waterfront on the theoretical (fundamental? philosophical? theological?) underpinnings of what is taking place with this whole blogosphere thing.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, David Weinberger: While these authors are quite known in the blogosphere, not once did they utter the word weblog in this book published in January, 2001. They could have mentioned it as everything that is blogging they were doing on one of those fake home computers back in the 1950s. “Markets are conversations” is how it’s all boiled down sometimes. Since it was published, every book or article written about the Internet’s impact on what we used to call “marketing” has relied heavily on Cluetrain. Indeed, most books written on that topic in the past four years merely rehash Cluetrain with some updated examples.
The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown: is for learning and instruction what Cluetrain is for marketing. It’s especially helpful in understanding the potential of the behind-the-firewall corporate weblog and Wiki. Read it and everywhere you see the phrase “knowledge management” think “business weblogs and wikis.” Then do the math on what the value of the knowledge that is tied up in the minds of the people who work at a company. Even a U.S. math student has the skills to do the math necessary to compute the return on investment of internal work-focused, blog and wiki based “conversations.”
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell: This book (and this is not a knock on the other books in this section) shows you what is possible when a gifted writer tackles a fascinating topic. Malcolm Gladwell writes so well it humiliates those of us who merely line up words and separate them once in a while with punctuation. The Tipping Point is a great work of non-fiction that happens to be on a topic central to understanding how blogs facilitate something that takes place all the time in other networks and communities and within other contexts. (In other words, I recommend it to anyone wanting a good book to read — and have recommended it hundreds of times — while the other two books are must-reads only for those who want to understand what the heck is going on here.)
Other suggestions: Another great book that happens to be helpful in understanding the power of the connections created through blogging is The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki
Accidental Blog Book Category III: Biographries of pre-bloghistoric era bloggers:
Perhaps the most engaing and enjoyable books I’ve ever read about blogging are biographies of two famous Americans and a former prime minister from the U.K. Why are these about blogging? Well, each of these great men left behind a body of written work that was produced day-by-day over a lifetime. They each wrote daily, throughout each day. They wrote some very historic and significant words, but they also wrote about water color painting and the weather. Some of their most important words were written anonymously. Their words constantly got them in trouble, but their words changed the world. And it seems at times that every word they ever thought, they wrote down. These men didn’t just blog their beliefs, however, they lived for their beliefs and risked their lives for them.
Benjamin Franklin, by Walter Issacson: Someone, and I can promise it won’t be me, should adapt the works of Franklin into a blog format. If ever there was a blogger ahead of his time, it was Benjamin Franklin. He even wrote under multiple psuedonyms so that he could debate himself (and, as some of the personas were female, herself).
Theodore Rex, by Edmund Morris: Actually, it was reading this book that first caused me to think about what someone like Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill (see next) would have done if weblogs had existed in their era. As I blogged back in 2002, “If Teddy were alive today, he would blog; the guy wrote everyday: articles, letters, books, speeches (on) topics (ranging) from bird watching (and listening) to naval warfare.”
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940, by William Manchester: Unfortuantely, Manchester did no complete the third volume of his Churchill biography triology. But, for bloggers, this middle volume is the one that will underscore not only’s his brilliance as a writer, but his astonishing prolificacy. And, no doubt like boggers, he did much of his best work while wearing pajamas.
Another suggestion: If you find the Franklin biography as engaging as I did, read Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. In anononymity (somewhat), Hamilton wrote much of Washington’s war time journals and a majority of the Federalist Papers. This is a great book about a great man.
Accidental Blog Book Category IV: Novels:
There could be several more titles included here, but I’ve narrowed my suggestions to just two books. Also, I could have gone back in history for this category, as well, but I decided to stay contemporary and show a bias in favor of two authors who blog (Gibson’s blog and Cory’s site and, of course, BoingBoing) and whose online experiences have influenced their works.
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson: I’ve mentioned this book many times on this blog. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it profoundly explores the nature — the psyche — of consumerism and the desperation at which some go to try to figure out what makes something hip. I read this book when it first came out and everyday I see something that makes me marvel at how prescient Gibson is in sensing where we’re headed in a post-advertising age.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow: This is the only book I’ve ever read entirely on a PDA. The reason I suggest it as a blogging book is not because of Cory’s involvement with BoingBoing, but because of his creation in this book of a future post-cash. reputation-based currency called whuffie (and here is another article on whuffie from Utne). I have used the term “whuffie” so many times since reading this, I have decided everyone needs know what it means, which may be why I want everyone to read this book. And hey, you can’t beat the price of downloading the digital version in any format you want.
Another suggestion: Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic and creepy cautionary tale, Fahrenheit 451.
Note: I’ll make this post the permanent location of this feature and will welcome suggestions for links to similar lists, including those with books actually about blogging.