Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review - Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 - 2008
by John Scalzi
2009 Hugo Winner for Best Related Non-Fiction

In a sign of how much things have changed three of this year's Hugo winners were published on the web for free before being packaged up in a more permanent format. If we look into the nominees that didn't win you'll find new media lurking. Between the webcomic and the viral video phenomenon there is Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a collection of entries from John Scalzi's blog Whatever.

I don't like being the greenhouse owner chucking rocks even if my greenhouse is an nearly microscopic hobbyist set up growing two or three orchids and the rocks are getting chucked at the giant agricultural conglomerate farm growing a dozen cash crops. Blogs are just too personal; it feels like I'm judging Scalzi rather than the book itself. I'm going to be even briefer than usual as a result. Unless you're a big fan of John Scalzi and his blog then you shouldn't bother with this book. And even if you are a fan it's going to be a tough sell.

The fundamental problem with Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded is inherent to its nature: it's a collection of blog entries. It is a set of short essays, hastily written, with no oversight beyond popping out whatever is on the author's mind. Some of them are witty, some of them are interesting, but on the whole they're nothing special and bundling them together in one large volume just highlights the problem.

For every interesting essay like "Being Poor" where Scalzi places the realities of American poverty down in simple facts there's three where he takes lazy swings and the low hanging fruit of people he objects to. Yes, creationists fail at basic reasoning skills but you can't swing a dead cat on the Internet without finding that. And for ever clever bit of political writing like a list of why you wouldn't want Ayn Rand as your mother there's a pile of demagoguery that's tiring to read.

It doesn't help that most of these essays aren't well written. For the most part they're off the top of the head fluff. On a blog that's less of a concern; as an online journal the quality of the writing takes a back seat to the day to day connection the readers get. Placing them all down on paper as essays on the other hand removes that context.

I don't dislike John Scalzi or his writing. I don't read his blog because I'm just not that interested in it; the few blogs I read are more focused and I don't read any author's blogs. Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded has not changed my mind about reading his blog though that's because I know that any time Scalzi writes a great essay I'll be able to follow the links back to it. The book has made me firmly believe that blog entries are not worth collecting unless there are major revisions.