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Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web Paperback – February 12, 2008
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
From Publishers Weekly
With this collection of 27 blogs culled from disparate corners of the Internet, Boxer, who writes for the New York Times, attempts to impose some kind of fixed order on a form that generally relies on the satisfaction of timely updates. For many blog-savvy readers, this collection would appear to have all the appeal of a new MP3 converted into 8-track format, but much of the writing contained in the book is well worth browsing for even the most hardened Web aficionado. The highlights in book format, predictably, are the blogs that maintain relatively tight spelling and grammar standards and focus on subjects beyond the writer's petty complaints. Benjamin Zimmer's Language Log reads like a wonderfully expansive and more self-aware William Safire column, while Sean Carroll's Cosmic Variance manages to be wryly humorous even while discussing theoretical physics at the Ph.D. level. Ringers like Alex Ross of the New Yorker and Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic Monthly hardly seem like fair choices to demonstrate the democratization of the Web, but their blogs, on music and classical politics, respectively, are must-reads. Other, less conventional highlights include the neocon-spoofing comic Get Your War On, the ruminative expat diary How to Learn Swedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons and the cheerfully hyperactive idea stockpile Ironic Sans. (Feb.)
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“Winning. . . Bold. . . . Provides a rousing awareness that many people, in many places, are thinking, feeling, and eager to connect.”
—The New Republic
“Aptly eclectic. . . . Ultimate Blogs does exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Eclectic anthology of superb writing.”
“Turning a book nerd into a blog fiend can prove to be as difficult a transition as turning a blogger into an author. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible — quite the opposite, particularly given the overall curatorial tone Boxer displays here. Celebrated on paper and ink, protected from the snark, the fawning, the bitchiness, the link whoring, and the exhausting self-referential attacks, the Internet in Ultimate Blogs is cherished in a wide-eyed, doting manner that even the most popular bloggers don’t seem to enjoy very much anymore.”
—The Boston Phoenix
“Most of Boxer’s selections don’t read like a new species of writing, but like very close cousins of once-venerable print genres that have been forced out of public discourse by the shrinkage of major American media: passionate arts criticism, critical theory, colorful polemics, and, above all, the personal essay.”
—New York Magazine
“A provocative introduction to the art form.”
“One way to find blogs worth reading . . . . [A] Norton Anthology of Blogging.”
—The New York Times
“Here you'll find excerpts from 27 online journals-comprising punditry, poetry, ranting, raving and drawing of both pictures and conclusions. You'll also find some wonderful writing; you'll laugh, cry and scratch your head. . . .Boxer has gone out of her way to seek out content that can make the leap from one medium to another.”
“[Ultimate Blogs] serves as a gateway to some true Web gems.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“. . . 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.”
—New York Observer
“Boxer brings a generalist's curiosity to her task, finding engaging writing on classical music, miscarriage, Iraq and more. . .The common thread is the excellent (and personal and sometimes edgy) writing.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Boxer displays tastes so broad as to accommodate ingratiating cranks and cunning charmers alike, and she hurdles what would seem to be the chief problem of assembling such a book—the likelihood of its emerging as fresh as Best American Weather Reports 2007—by seizing upon posts with a literary bent and respectable half-life.”
“Sarah Boxer, ex of The New York Times, culls mightily from the Amazons, Niles and Mississippis of blog flow. Her journey begins as a blog neophyte, and ends in her Top 25 blog choices. Many of the destinations are funny and fascinating, not to mention attractive in their intentions.
“. . [Sarah Boxer’s} journey into the unruly realm of blogging is a journey of self-discovery. “
“Sarah Boxer, who has assembled a little print anthology of blog "writing." Which means that her task is two-fold, actually: explaining blogs to old people and justifying collecting them into a book to herself. How does she fare? Hilariously!”
“Much of the writing contained in the book is well worth browsing for even the most hardened Web aficionado . . . Benjamin Zimmer's “Language Log” reads like a wonderfully expansive and more self-aware William Safire column, while Sean Carroll's “Cosmic Variance” manages to be wryly humorous even while discussing theoretical physics at the Ph.D. level. Ringers like Alex Ross of The New Yorker and Matthew Yglesias of The Atlantic Monthly hardly seem like fair choices to demonstrate the democratization of the Web, but their blogs, on music and classical politics, respectively, are must-reads…”
“Interesting authors, different viewpoints, good writing, and you can curl up with it next to the fire.”
Top customer reviews
While this book may appeal to those who don't have time to sift through cyberspace looking for intelligent or even cohesive commentary in blogs, it doesn't quite deliver on its promise to point out the ultimate in blogs. As a writer for the New York Times, Boxer gives a valiant effort in taming the Wild West mentality the permeates many blog writers, but such effort is better suited to the lifespan of a periodical than the lifespan of a book. My point is underscored by the fact that one of her ultimate blogs, "El Guapo in DC," posted its last entry on August 7, 2007, a full six months before this book's publish date.
Another problem with this book is it doesn't seem to know who its audience is. Boxer may have had a tough time figuring this out by virtue of blogging being so new that it still doesn't know who it appeals to. Boxer offers something for the uninitiated with her general statements, but she risks turning off blogging fans, many of whom already have their own ideas about which blogs qualify as ultimate.
Since this book comes in the print medium, hyperlinks don't work, nor do time-sensitive entries. That precludes Boxer from including blogs on politics and those that rely on links to video or other content. There are pages and pages of graphics, most of which are not very satisfying to see reproduced in black and white on photocopy paper weight stock. Given the unappealing cover design, it follows that the interior should be unappealing as well.
That leaves the writing to serve as the stand-out feature for this book, but Boxer cannot be blamed for the writing, as she is the editor, not the author. Few bloggers are known for their writing style. It's their ability to be publicly snarky, even reckless, while keeping their identity private, that provides them the opportunity to be either brilliant or sophomoric.
If you're looking for a one-stop place to get familiar with blogs, this book serves that purpose, but it doesn't offer much for those who've already discovered blogs.
Armchair Interviews agrees.