Liveblogging a book

December 9, 2008

Now this is interesting. Or maybe not.

Liveblogging is a fad I have yet to submit to. The idea is that you post minute-by-minute reflections on an event taking place. Super Bowls, the World Series, and perhaps even something useful, like a presidential debate. Liveblogging requires special software with a result that looks something like a chat transcript, and when it comes to books, the result can be … uh … remarkable.

For instance, Dear Author recently turned its sights on Victoria Janssen’s The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom, and Their Lover.

The first fourteen minutes—forty or so “posts”, as such, including liveblog reader comments—form a bizarre prologue that complains about digital rights management and Microsoft Lit, a brief critique of healthcare applications, a poll proposing to turn the liveblog into a drinking game, something about iPhones, what someone’s husband is doing, and some scattered reflections on the Amazon Kindle. And then there is the discussion of the book jacket (“Jayne: is he tickling her armpit?”).

And then a commenting reader asks if the author knew the liveblog was happening. The answer is no, because, according to DA_Jane, “I don’t know how well this is going to go. I mean, Eunich [sic] Lovers?”

From there ….

Right. Anyway, this is a bit of what it looks like:

8:19 DA_Jane: The book opens. Duchess Camille is angry. There is a splotch of blood on her maid’s gown. Sylvie is the maid for those playing clue at home.

8:19 jenamberautumn: Mmm. Is she doing something with a candlestick? (Pun intended)

8:19 DA_Jane: There is another character named Duke Michel. these names all sound French to me so if we are in London England, I am deducting points.

8:20 SB Sarah: oui

8:20 Jayne: Sylvie’s blood? Camille’s blood? Someone else’s blood. This really is Clue.

8:20 jenamberautumn: Yey! I always loved clue!

8:20 DA_Jane: I guess Duke Michel is NOT A NICE MAN.

8:20 SB Sarah: It seems that the duke became angry, and perhaps raped his wife?

8:21 avidbookreader: oh, really? why is THAT

8:21 SB Sarah: he beat the shit out of her that’s for sure.

8:21 DA_Jane: Ah, hmm. Michel was a younger son and when he married Camille and became her consort, he also became a DUKE.

8:21 DA_Jane: Perhaps this is fantasy Regency land.

8:22 SB Sarah: Let us drop the plot like a giant stone (it is a novella after all)

8:22 Shayla Kersten: It’s a novella?

And, of course, the criticism rolled in. The post-liveblog comments suggest … well, yeah. Carol wrote,

You (the hosts) started out by admitting you didn’t notify the author because you thought it would be bad. So, you’re kicking off a new “review” style with something you bought with a negative prejudice? That right there should have told me this wasn’t a “review” but an attempt at entertainment and if you actually liked the book, it would have failed. There was nothing related to a critical or literary review. This was to entertain people and the easiest way the hosts had of entertaining and getting that ego boost of a few vultures vocally cheering was by apealing to the lowest common denominator. People like me just stayed silent or logged off in disgust. Now I am ashamed.

Frankly, this format is clearly not suitable for you. You were too caught up in trying to entertain the masses to actually read the book and thus missed or misrepresented some pretty obvious stuff. Like, duh, of course all the names were puns (which should be all right with a crowd that thought punning Duchy with dookie and douche was funny, oh wait, it’s only funny when you’re making fun of someone …) ….

And Robin offered her two cents:

I happened to meet the author of this book at RWA and she seemed like a very nice person. I looked forward to this book because of the cover and some of the buzz. I purchased it and was disappointed in it, finding a lot of it just waayy over the top and not cogent in its logic. Some people love that campy quality, others don’t. Like the cover snark at the Smart Bitches, that over the top quality can lend itself to harsh snarking, as uncomfortable as that makes some folks.

And speaking of the Smart Bitches cover snark, this blogging thing reminded me very much of the SB cover snarking, which I have seen authors participate in pretty readily. So what’s the difference? Is it that cover artists don’t have feelings, too, or that it’s not personally directed at the cover artist? I mean, why is it okay to snark covers but not the books themselves?

And so on, and so on. I must force myself to wrench my eyes away from this spectacle. It seems a blogosphere equivalent to rubbernecking a fatal accident, as if the fact of destruction isn’t enough, and I’m slowing, slowing, slowing down in order to catch a glimpse of blood and carnage.

While I’ve been a bit petulant lately, I do wonder if maybe liveblogging a book wouldn’t work a little better if the story in question wasn’t a Harlequin Spice romance. Of course, I’ve long had something against the pulp romance genre. Although I think back to a girl named Debbie, when I was in ninth grade, sitting in the back of the classroom, enraptured by one of these books, and wonder if the bit she shared with a few of us in a huddled, whispered conversation toward the end of class—all about flicking nipples and the gentle touch of rough hands—is representative of the style. All these years later, as that memory pops into my head for the first time in a while, I suddenly wonder if … er, right. Never mind.

But what of War & Peace? How would that liveblog go? (“So long … so boring … God help me.” Or, “Damn it! Why won’t this thing just end!”) Maybe Brave New World? (“Orgy porgy! Orgy porgy!” “Ooh, can I get an invite?”)

In truth, it seems difficult enough for many to set aside, or carve out, enough time to read much of anything. Sure, the headlines here, the CNN crawl there, and maybe their favorite sports blog, like the profanity-laced, satirical (and fictional) response of an NFL center to being the lowest-rated player in a video game. So I’m puzzled by the prospect that there is much of an audience that wants to sit around reading about someone else reading a book. Perhaps that, then, explains the title selection. After all, it could be that without such enlightening observations observations as, “blood…rape… he’s gonna kill you… oh yeah. it’s a total uplifting first 3 pages”, nobody would bother reading a liveblog of a book at all.



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