I write for most of the day, every day. That's my chosen occupation, to write content for web pages. I was therefore quite interested in Far from the Madding Gerund, which is a collection of blog entries from the Language Log. I normally don't have much free time to read blogs, and the book form seemed to be a nice way to read snippets during breakfast or other non-computer times.

I found a lot of really interesting information pieces in here. There's discussion about Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code, and the many flaws in Dan's writing style. There is commentary about various political leaders. There are nit-picky (to most of us, at least) arguments about how often X word is used instead of Y word. It's interesting that as "proof" they turn to Google to see which is used most often. Since a large number of web pages are created by illiterate young teenagers, I don't think I'd ever use a random Google search as a sign of anything :) Heck, if we went by Google, then the most important issues facing the world today involve Paris Hilton and a baby born in Africa.

But the real problem I had with the book, while it's a really cool concept, is that it is pretty much a verbatim dump of the blog. I'm talking straight to the book, with sentences such as:

"Follow-ups in our pages and elsewhere (here, here, here, here, here) discussed many cases of developments of a different kind ..."

The five "heres" are all in light grey text, meaning a little sidebar gives a one-line summary of that thread's topic and then gives you a (I kid you not) 63 character long URL that you have to type in to see what the reference is. On a blog, this works fine - you hit the link and go read the reference. In a book?? You completely miss half the story. This doesn't just happen once a chapter. It happens over 10 times on some pages, and is happening pretty much on EVERY page. I found it a little amusing at first - but as I worked my way through the book, it got more and more frustrating. If you are interested by the topic, the whole point is that you want to understand what they're saying - and you are unable to because they don't provide the content. They just say "Go read it elsewhere, manually, later on".

I'm not saying the book is uninteresting - I read it through in an afternoon (when I suppose I should have been writing web content). But that's part of the problem. The topics of the book ARE interesting - but you are constantly being bombarded with messages about "and the rest of the story can be found online here ..."

I suppose you could pose the argument that, had they included the related posts, the book would have been much larger. On the other hand, the chapters are completely unrelated to each other. The Dan Brown content has nothing at all to do with the Monkeys Typing Shakespeare content. Or maybe they are related (grin). In any case, they could easily have made a book on ONE of the topics presented, and presented it fully, so you got all of the meaning. They could have had an editing team summarize the related posts, if they didn't feel like including them fully, so that you received all the meaning while you went. However, as it stands, it feels like giant chunks of the book are missing. It really does make you wonder, just why am I reading this in book form? If I was going to do this, maybe I should have just gone online and read it there, where it is in fact a linked blog, instead of putting up with this disjointedness.

When I finished the last page, I wondered what I had really learned here. Maybe it was that blogs are meant by their nature to be read online, with links intact. Maybe it was that the book was really just a way to make quick money without having to write any new content at all - they hit "print screen", sent it to a publisher, and were done. Maybe they didn't have time to actually edit and work on "a book". I also had to wonder if the book was Funded By Google, given the huge amount of credence given to what is, in essence, just a search engine. As much as I love Google and use it daily, I would never consider it to be a serious research tool without applying some rather serious filters to the sites being used.

In any case, maybe I'll actually go visit the Language Log website someday, where I can read the content for free, with links intact. But since that would seem to be a multi hour time sink, maybe it's better that I keep my addiction level low while I still have free will.

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