Monday, April 10, 2017

Stories of the internet age

There are many, many novels in which email has taken over the role of phone calls, though of course increasingly people use Skype (and fiction reflects that as well).  In the end, it may end up being a fairly short period where we have email used as a proxy for epistolary novels (never that common to begin with), and characters in more conventional novels use Skype.  (Here's a list of recent novels with email used in an epistolary way, though I must admit most are not up my alley.  The wikipedia list includes more books that interest me, though only a handful are conducted entirely through email.  Matt Beaumont's e might be one that I add to my reading list, though I am less sure about David Llewellyn's Eleven.)

I'm not sure how many books there are featuring blogging (or that excerpt the best bits of a fictional blog, as opposed to books that have been stitched together from actual blog posts*).  I'm sure there are quite a few, though the only two that I can think of at the moment are Sarra Manning's teen-lit Adorkable and Kerry Clare's Mitzi Bytes.  The second one is marginally more literary, with the first part being devoted to whether "the public" will uncover who is writing the Mitzi Bytes blog, and then the second half dealing with the aftermath of the reveal.  There are not a lot of reviews, but mostly the reviewers don't like the second act where the blog author won't own up to any responsibility for what she wrote in the blog.  It is an interesting premise, and it could be taken in interesting directions.  As it happens Kerry Clare will be reading from and talking about her novel at the Toronto Reference Library on the 13th (this Thurs.) and I will try to make it to the event (it helps there is something else I want to do at the Reference Library).  I still haven't decided if I will read the novel, but I will at least consider it.

Speaking of reviewers, there is one novel I am aware of that is built up from fictional reviews of hotels (and a few motels) -- Rick Moody's Hotels of North America.  The somewhat absurd premise is that one of the top reviewers of Rate Your Lodging started adding in more and more personal information into his reviews (quite the over-sharer) and then the reviews accumulated together become a cri du coeur about his condition as a failed husband and father, at least in part because of his poor prospects as a breadwinner.  The novel (or rather series of faux reviews) is amusing and tragic, and I'll probably write more about it later.  Curiously, it was an actual reviewer who said read Rick Moody, it is better than X.  Oddly I cannot recall (or reconstruct) if X was Mitzi Bytes or some other cautionary tale of revealing too much online.

I do have to run now, but if there are novels about blogging or other forms of electronic communication that would like to feature, please add them in the comments.  Thanks!

Edit (4/11): I could easily write an entire post about comments in the internet age, but I'll try to refrain from doing so.  I don't know about Mitzi Bytes, but in Hotels of North America, the ostensible author of the reviews refers to the people who leave comments on his reviews.  These unseen missives from various commentators do sort of typify behavior that is pervasive on the internet.  There are some fawning responses, but more often you get people who seem mortally offended that anyone can hold an opposing view.  In addition, as the reviewer was at one point a "top reviewer" on the site (though quickly faded into obscurity), he seems to attract some particularly disturbed commentators, including someone who starts cyber-stalking him and trying to ruin his credit rating(!).  This last strand is particularly sad, and, while fictional, certainly has its roots in documented internet stalking, reminding us once again of how the internet could have been a democratizing and positive thing, but has so rarely lived up to its promise and in many ways has just magnified human failings.

I think in particular about comments on media websites, where the comments about almost any news story quickly break down into tribalism (internet commenting wasn't really "a thing" in the Clinton era, but from W. through Obama and now Trump, it is completely tribal).  In particular, there are some very dogmatic law and order types, who see no problem with doctors being pulled off planes due to "overbooking" for example.  I'm just sad that there are so many authoritarian types out there, and it is a shame I have to share a country with you...  Reading these comments is definitely a bad habit that I need to break myself of (i.e. reading any comments on any news story whatsoever), though I have to say it will probably only be another couple of years before all "respectable" media websites throw in the towel and decide that they are more trouble than they are worth, particularly in the U.K., with its particularly stringent libel laws.  Of course, it is probably only another few years beyond that that we will even have mid-level newspapers (and most of them already are not much more than outlets for pushing out press releases side by side with click-bait articles).  I don't really think the next phase beyond this looks at all appealing unfortunately.  But don't let that stop you from leaving a comment on the blog if you feel so inclined...

* There certainly are an increasing number of books that have their origins in blogs (and I still think at some point I will gather up the best reviews and essays from this blog and put it out as an e-book -- at this point I might as well wait until I have reviewed all of Alice Munro's short story collections).  One collection I have just come across looks somewhat interesting -- Userlands : new fiction from the blogging underground edited by Dennis Cooper.  The story of how this book came to be is itself sort of interesting, as they were aspiring writers that found themselves drawn to Cooper's blog and exchanged information in the comments and became a quasi-community (but definitely a very male one).

No comments:

Post a Comment