Blooks: the next big thing?

As I was finishing yester-hour’s post, I got to thinking. If blogs are such a great way to read texts, why not model an e-book after a blog? Why not make a blog book — a “blook”?

A couple reasons, actually. The first is that a book is a fundamentally different thing from a blog. As Scott Esposito has pointed out, you can’t just take a blog and make it into a book. Blogs are meant to be followed along day to day, not read from cover to cover like a book. And, typically, if you go back and read old entries, you’ll read them newest-to-oldest, instead of the other way around.

I had this problem with the vidsanity diary. If people found out about it after it was all over, they had to either read backwards or have a backwards experience of the event. I tried making a chronological post of the event afterwards, but this was unsatisfying because the original comments were lost, and there wasn’t space to interject comments along the way.

But what if the blog concept was applied to a book as a whole? How difficult would it be to take a public-domain work like, say, Huckleberry Finn, and post it like a blog? Instead of organizing the entries by date and posting them in reverse-chronological order, they could be numbered like chapters and posted chronologically. Then readers could comment individually on each chapter (or on smaller divisions if the chapters were longer than 5 or 6 pages), and experience the book in the order it was written.

Searching through the text would be a breeze, and the comments section would invite not only individual notes, but discussion about each chapter. There would be no problem comparing different chapters or parts of the book: just open up a new browser window or tab.

Another problem would be portability. The book could only be experienced where there was Web access. These days, that’s becoming less and less of a problem. Sure, I couldn’t take it with me on a hiking trip, but I could read it in bed on my laptop, probably more comfortably than a standard book, because the laptop stays open on its own. I’ve been through issues of screen legibility before, but given that I’m already comfortable reading online text for hours at a time, perhaps this isn’t as big of a problem as it seems.

I’d like to try such a project, as a sort of experiment to see if the experience of reading a book this way is as satisfying as (or perhaps more satisfying than) reading it on paper. I can get a text from project Gutenberg, then design a WordPress interface for it, and launch it as its own blog — I mean blook. It’d have to be a book I’ve never read before, so I that could consider the blook as its own experience, rather a second reading of a traditional book.

So, whaddya think? Could it work? Any suggestions for books to convert into a blook? Anything published before 1923 that I haven’t read should be fair game.

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8 Responses to Blooks: the next big thing?

  1. Heather says:

    Has Scalzi done this? I seem to remember reading Old Man’s War
    that way a few years ago in one of his “Christmas Present to
    My Beloved Readers” deals. Two things stick in my memory about
    the experience. One, it was a good book. Two, scrolling from page
    to page was not nearly as satisfying as turning actual paper.

  2. dave says:

    I know he released OMW online at some point. What I don’t know is if he did it with all the navigational features of modern blogging software. To me, that’s the key: to be able to navigate through the “blook” the same way you can navigate a blog. I’ll e-mail him and ask.

  3. dave says:

    Okay, heard back from John already–he’s quick with the e-mail! He says he formatted it the same way he’s done with Agent to the Stars.

    This seems to me kind of like a blog, but kind of not. The chapters are longer than typical blog entries, which makes it easy to get “lost” on screen. I think I would break a book into smaller pieces than that.

    John also saves the comments for the end, in one giant guest book (which crashed Firefox for me). Though I can see why John would want to do that with his own book, I think the “blog” structure would be better served with comments after each chunk.

    I also wanted to point out that part of the reason for the experiment was to try a challenging text (I don’t think John would be offended by the suggestion that his books aren’t challenging compared to, say, Jude the Obscure). The point was to see if the blog form facilitated the type of “grappling” with a text that Anne was wondering about on Monday.

    So, yes, I’m aware that there are online books — plenty of them — but I’m wondering what would happen if I put a book designer’s eye to putting one online, in blog form.

  4. Anne says:

    I like this idea. As you probably know, I’m contributing over at 400 Windmills, the Quixote blog. We’re writing without the text online, but we are slowly working through it (at our own paces, mine slower than many). That said, I think Bud Parr is your man for suggestions, etc. since he did the Gaddis Drinking Club, too. What would I recommend? Something exciting and great and interesting. I’m in the mood for a little Russian lit, myself…

  5. Rigo says:

    Reminds me of the Pepys site, which is perfectly suited for the blog format, being a diary. It’s interesting to peruse the contributed annotations. In this sense I think the blog format would be a nice fit for any “difficult” text, ancient or contemporary. To read it with the support of an enthusastic community could turn what would otherwise be a tedious long haul into a literary joyride :)

  6. I’ve thought about this a bit.

    Writers in China have been doing similar things via their cellphones. The problem is generating enough interest in people at the same time to get them onboard at approximately the same time.

    “Timed releases” is one idea, where you register, and then from that point on you are notified of each addition to the project until it concludes. That is one way of incorporating “real time” into the reading process.

    Video games offer some examples too of people entering a narrative midstream and managing to have fun anyway.

    One subgenre in blogging I really enjoy is celebrity pseudodiaries. People posing as Andy Kaufman, Batman, Bill Clinton, Paris Hilton and Terri Schiavo (!) have written sometimes hilarious pseudo-diaries based loosely on what is happening in the celebrity’s real life.

    In the field of literary erotica (my current specialty), blogs are quickly overtaking fiction as the preferred format. First, it involves some interaction between writer and readers via comments. Second, the diary format is looser and easier to add to than a traditional story (with beginning, middle, end). An episodic structure requires less commitment and assumes that people will be starting and stopping at different places. It also conveys the illusion of events occuring in real time. (On the downside, it means that the storyteller needs to churn out a lot of content–and often for free!).

    The main advantage of turning blogging into a narrative is that people can read it from work and check it everyday.

    BTW, quite apart from whether the idea is workable, I think “blooks” is a delightful portmanteau. Here’s one I invented; BRAP: “a nap taken before, during, or after breakfast.”

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