Care for Cold Toast? How About an Old Blog?

ULTIMATE BLOGS: MASTERWORKS FROM THE WILD WEB
Edited by Sarah Boxer
Vintage, 343 pages, $14.95

Just the idea that there’s a book called Ultimate Blogs invites contempt. Has the intended audience spent the past few years trapped under something heavy, without even dial-up Internet access? In the introduction to this collection of “masterworks from the wild web,” we learn what a “blogroll” is, what “WTF” means, and that “bloggy writing” is “conversational and reckless, composed on the fly for anonymous intimates.” Can anyone with an active RSS reader—or someone who, unlike anthologist and former New York Times Web critic Sarah Boxer, has managed to maintain an active blog of her own—find something to like about this book?

Possibly! Because, as a document of one woman’s voyage of online discovery, Ultimate Blogs functions also as—well, as a fairly entertaining blog. Replace “Ultimate” with “some of my favorite,” and the prospect of reading a collection of blog posts becomes much more appealing. It’s cute when Ms. Boxer marvels at the impulse that drives the writers she’s selected—“It would be hard to fake what they do, and it’s kind of unbelievable that they live out in the open, fair game for all snipers.” And she’s upfront about the fact that the 27 blogs she’s selected for inclusion might not be representative of the millions out there, but according to her, they’re “funnier, more ambitious, better written, smarter, and (I think) more universally appealing.” Well: She thinks.

O.K., some of the writing included here is exceptional: Delly Hayward’s Eurotrash posts about her troubled childhood, and Mark Katakowski’s Under Odysseus diary entries, written in the voice of a soldier fighting the Trojan War, all bear rereading, even if you saw them when they were originally posted.

Lizzie “The Old Hag” Skurnick’s poems are the high point. She constructs a villanelle of quotes from a Vanity Fair profile of Jennifer Aniston, and instead of straightforwardly recording her opinion of chick-weepie flick Love, Actually, she confesses in verse, “Though an ad for Jergens lotion / Quite conveys this film’s emotion / We’d have absolutely lied / If we did not admit we cried.”

Off-the-cuff, diary-style musings have a harder time withstanding the journey from screen to printed page. In an excerpt from 19-year-old Singaporean student Angelique Chan’s blog, It’s Raining Noodles!, Ms. Chan writes about her dreams and her adventures in a role-playing game called “Maple Story” and her fights with her brother about watching table tennis on TV. Oh, and there’s a bit of boy drama—“Why must I be forced to relocate to his town? WHY???” Sometimes a peek into the quotidian details of someone else’s life can be the most fascinating reading experience possible. This isn’t one of those times.

Ms. Boxer has also chosen to include entries from celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself and from The Smoking Gun, which posts primary-source documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act to stir up or illuminate newsworthy scandals. In doing so, she seems to be breaking a rule she established for herself in her introduction: “[I]f you strip most blogs of their timeliness and links, you are left with nothing. I did not want to fill this anthology with nothing.” Blu Cantrell’s fashion missteps at the 2005 Grammy Awards and Columbine killer Eric Harris’ report on how easy it is to bring a gun to school were news on the days they were posted: Feb. 14, 2005, and July 7, 2006, respectively. Reading them today is like eating cold toast.

Though Ms. Boxer has not in fact compiled the Internet’s most enduring achievements, there’s still something interesting about her impulse to collect souvenirs from her online destinations, and about the posts she’s deemed worthy of preservation. Thanks to Tumblr, Twitter and constant Facebook updating, the heyday of long-winded, unselfconscious, not-for-profit blogging seems to be drawing to a close. Many of Ms. Boxer’s excerpts are two or three years old, or from blogs that are now defunct or updated infrequently. Some of the bloggers’ productivity has fallen prey to professional opportunities their blogs have opened up for them. After all, besides Sarah Boxer, no one seems to be celebrating blogs’ essential “blogginess.” Some of the best writers represented in this anthology have essentially graduated from the blogosphere.

More evidence that Ms. Boxer intended for this book to be a primer for the uninitiated: She closes with an appendix titled “How to Find Blogs” that contains advice like “Once you’re on a blog you like, you’ll sometimes see (often on the right-hand side of the screen) a blogroll—a list of other blogs that this blogger likes. Click on some of those links.” But the real utility of Ultimate Blogs might be as a relic of an odd, fleeting cultural moment when unfettered online self-expression was still new enough to seem worth documenting, but was actually old enough to be decadent.

Emily Gould, a writer and YA author, used to edit Gawker.com. Her personal blog is EmilyMagazine.com. She can be reached at books@observer.com.

Care for Cold Toast? How About an Old Blog?