I think this book is the reason why personal blogs shouldn’t become books. Catherine Sanderson is a good writer, her story of falling in and out (and in and out) of love is interesting enough, as is her love affair with Paris and her adorable-sounding daughter. But to me, and I found the same with Julie and Julia, as a memoir/autobiography/blook – whatever category this kind of writing falls into – it doesn’t have the same seat-of-the-pants edge as the blog from which it originates.
Sanderson is engaging and frank about the nature of blogging and how that has had an impact on her life. She says Petite Anglaise (her blogging alias) was more confident and assertive than her offline self, and that she enjoyed having the ability to take an ordinary incident from her day and craft an amusing post from it that would generate interest and reaction from her readers. She also readily admits to taking incidents from the past and pretending they were more current, working out issues in her failing relationship online rather than with the person who mattered and ignoring her real-life friends for her online ones. As someone who has blogged for two years, has occasionally preferred blogging to talking and who has watched blog friends leave relationships for people they have met online, I can understand and see what Sanderson went through. Lonely and alienated, she found the online world an oasis of friendship and support.
However does it make a book? Clearly Penguin thinks so. Petite Anglaise is marketable – almost anyone who occasionally reads a British newspaper will have heard of her, how she left her boyfriend of seven years for someone she met online and then was fired from her job for “gross misconduct” (blogging at work occasionally, identifying herself and thus her company online – not surprisingly, she sued). She’s famous and fame sells. The trend for bloggers to get book deals is growing: Dooce is publishing a book, one I will read because she is hilarious – she makes David Sedaris look like a wet blanket – and her blog is growing boring with all those pictures of her dogs and retro design objets. I keep going back though because one in ten posts is coffee-snortingly funny. Dooce is an exceptional writer, and deserves the success she gets.
Petite Anglaise the book, however, is not exceptional. It’s a quick and easy read. Catherine is likeable and frank. She is honest about her failings, though I was disappointed that, presumably for legal reasons, there is no mention of the firing. The book, in effect, is less than the blog.
I remember being disappointed with Julia Powell’s Julie and Julia that the book wasn’t a series of her best blog posts. I didn’t ever follow her experiment (to cook her way through Julia Child’s massive tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking) online, and I expected the book to be a series of vignettes charting her progress. Instead, it was fluffed out with less fascinating personal detail. The same is true with Petite Anglaise: the blog itself was gripping in a reality TV, slice-of-life, car crash kind of way, and the book itself isn’t. It’s fluffy, and like candy floss, doesn’t satisfy.
I suppose the function of books like Julie and Julia and Petite Anglaise is to bring the best blogs to people who don’t read or know about blogs (if such people exist). If that’s the case, then I feel sorry for those people, because what they will find is an anodyne, watered-down version of an exciting new literary form.