I begin my new Oxford University Press book BLOGWARS by claiming, only half facetiously, that there are good reasons not to write a book on political blogs and the rise of interactive social media’s role in campaigns, elections, and public affairs and policy-making. My analogy is that d escribing political blogging in a book that took three years to research and write and another year to publish is like reporting a NASCAR race with stone tablets. I think I captured the origins of politicking via social media like blogs (and now YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) through October 2007, and so far my predictions of the 2008 race have been pretty good. New stuff is happening so fast, though, that it’s hard to keep up.
But that is the point: A blogger’s work is never done, nor, I hope, is that of a student of blogs. Bloggers cannot coast or rest on their laurels; their readers will abandon them or, worse, ask why they are failing them. Blogs are always unfinished, their work always to be continued, revised, and extended later. Books are supposed to be different. In a sense all books are orphans. Only in some screwball comedy movie is it possible for an author to change his mind and run into bookstores and add new material.
With BLOGWARS, however, Oxford Press’ author’s blog and the Internet allow me to “follow up” in a way that previous generations of authors could only do in second editions. In a way, it has to be so. The age of the author writing the non-fiction book and walking away from her re aders is dead: long live the afterpost! I say this knowing it is against the instincts of most authors, including me: When I finish a book (BLOGWARS is my seventh) I want to walk away and be done with it…but that model of authorship can’t sustain itself anymore. If you want to write non-fiction nowadays you have to keep writing it long after the bookstores have your tome on the shelf.
I say “non-fiction” because I think fiction authors have higher ground to stand on when it comes to terminating a book’s paper and virtual life. Have you ever read a great novel, been very satisfied by its conclusion, and then felt betrayed when an author comes out with a sequel, which you wonder was a product more of paying a mortgage than respecting the creative muse? There is a sense of finality about literature, and there should be. I have no interest in reading “Moby-Dick: The Adventure Continues” and I certainly don’t want to see “new chapters” of an old novel added by authors or hired hacks.
But non-fiction is about uncovering truths as we know them, and every subject, whether the sex lives of the Hittites or political blogs, has new facts emerging that readers should know about. And, of course, readers have information that often can help the authors clarify their knowledge.
So, non-fiction authors have a duty to keep at it, and the blog is the most efficient vehicle for such interaction.
Originally posted January 26, 2008 at PolicyByBlog