A few months ago, I was asked by Tim Worstall if I would allow one of my blog essays to be included in a kind of 'best of British blogging' anthology. Of course I agreed -- especially in view of the amazingly generous remuneration on offer (1 free copy of the book). And now here it is: I have the best-of-British blogging 2005 here in my hot little hand.
Fortunately, the book turns out to be a great deal more interesting and impressive than it looks on the outside. My first reaction was: Oh dear. The book designer seems to have thought to himself: Hmm. Blog = newfangled thingy. Cutting-edge sort of doodah. So we'd better have a cutting-edge sort of design. Except that the 'cutting-edge design' features a title which looks as if it was printed on one of those dot-matrix printers which disappeared about fifteen years ago; and the editor's comments, introducing each blog extract, are printed in the kind of capitals-only font which was used by teleprinters until about twenty years ago. And the text of the book, when you get to it, is printed in a sans-serif font which works well on screen, but actually we're not on screen, are we? We're on paper.
So the initial impression was not good. But happily the contents overcome the initial impression.
Tim Worstall seems to have read an unholy number of blogs in search of material, and to my (not wholly unbiased) mind he seems to have done an excellent job. The contents are arranged in the order in which they appeared on the originating blog, from November 2004 up to the end of October 2005, so the production team have done a good job in getting this into the shops for an 18 November publication date. The publisher, by the way, is The Friday Project Ltd., a new outfit set up to 'turn the Internet's best-known brands into the world's finest books.'
Every reader will have his or her own favourites from this varied collection, but I particularly liked the pieces supplied by those who are actually doing a job. For instance, we have some really good stuff from The Policeman's Blog (self-explanatory); a magistrate who is not too thrilled with the system (The Law West of Ealing Broadway); a teacher in an inner-city school (The Blackboard Jungle); and a paramedic who works in London (Random Acts of Reality). The latter's letter of apology to the dead woman whose life he was not able to save is, for me, the most moving piece in the whole book.
What is really encouraging, impressive, and unexpected, about these blogs from the coal-face is that every one of the bloggers can write really well. OK, if they couldn't I don't suppose Tim Worstall would have bothered to include them, but I bet you he wasn't short of material. And this unexpected literacy and fluency is a definite surprise to me, given that British schools abandoned all pretence of teaching kids how to use the English language about forty years ago.
2005: Blogged features a considerable amount of political comment, as you would expect. And, also as you would expect, most of it is brutally critical of the Government. Not a living British blogger, it seems, has a good word to say about the proposed system of identity cards; and while this is again not remotely surprising, it does warm the old cockles to find the whole fatuous case for the ID system being demolished brick by loose brick.
Another notable and very welcome feature of this book is the evidence it provides that a number of people are now monitoring what their daily newspapers say, and, when necessary, are blogging about the more ridiculous and unreliable reports that they read. (We've done a bit of that here, of course.) Scott Burgess at The Daily Ablution, for instance, noticed something interesting about the background of the writer of a Guardian comment piece. And Scott's blogging about this matter led, in due course, to the sacking of that reporter and to the resignation of the newspaper's executive editor.
In another instance, the book's editor himself, Tim Worstall, considers whether Polly Toynbee actually knows what she's talking about, and discovers (who would have guessed) that she doesn't.
Another really vital function of the modern blog is highlighted in Twenty Major's piece about the IRA's agreement to 'end the armed struggle'. I cannot imagine that any newspaper would ever have printed it, but by God it needed saying, and I feel better for having read it.
In short, this book is a great relief to me. I thought, when I first opened the package, that I was going to have to write a carefully worded piece saying only that, if you're looking for a Christmas present for a bookish friend, this might do. As it is, I can unreservedly and warmly recommend 2005: Blogged -- at least to any British reader. Overseas readers would probably not find it so interesting or relevant -- unless, of course, you happen to want to know what the average Brit thinks about things in this year of our Lord.
All links, by the way, are to the blog as of now, and not to the piece included in the book.