Commonplace blogging book

Michael Gove, Conservative MP and journalist for the Times, is not exactly my sort of guy. But his column on blogging in today’s newspaper is an interesting one, and worth reading.

Gove writes that when they began, blogs were equivalent to the old (but new to me) idea of The Author’s Commonplace Book.  "The idea behind the commonplace book was that the man of letters would file away in one place all the interesting pieces of prose that he came across in his reading, whether they were particularly revealing insights or just astonishingly well written." Samuel Pepys is a famous historical example, and Gove writes admiringly of John Julius Norwich as a modern exponent.

"What makes the best commonplace books, or blogs, special is the editors’ personality and skill in selecting just the right mix to inform and entertain." Of course nowadays, writes Gove, many blogs have become boring, self-regarding diary entries of the minutiae of the author’s day. "The internet may be more immediate than traditional publishing, and more democratic in the ease with which anyone can carve space out for their work, but ultimately the same imperatives imply on the web as in Waterstone’s — sooner or later quality will out." Intelligence, writing ability, wit will win through. In support of this point, Gove cites a blog I’ve never heard of (but here’s his Wikipedia entry) as an example of his point: Iain Dale’s Diary, apparently with more readers than the Economist. Inevitably, Dale is a Conservative and his diary is anti-Labour political gossip. But I must take a look — sometime — to sample the style if not the sentiment.

Link to full text of Michael Gove’s article.

5 thoughts on “Commonplace blogging book

  1. I take issue with people who try to systematise the endeavour of others according to their own assumptions.
    Gove seems to think that blogs have ‘fallen’ into a state of disrepair. (And upbraids people for not calling them weblogs anymore.) Maybe I’m being oversensitive here, but I think he’s writing a lot of nonsense because he takes the postion of knowing what blogs were ‘supposed’ to be in the first place, and then measuring what they currently are against that.
    Blogs are just a medium – you can do what you like with the medium. That’s more than half the point.

  2. I keep a (well a few actually) commonplace book and yes, the blog is a similar place to store all your interesting finds, quotes, poems etc. It cannot, however, replace that joy of hand writing your favourite words though!

  3. I agree with you, James — I liken some of these columnists to the ethos of today’s large Times main headline: “Labour paralysed as the poison spreads” — when the Times has been industriously spreading the poison as hard as it can go.
    (Again, not saying I am on one side or the other, just that I hate this manufactured “crisis” and hypocritical response to it.)
    What I responded to in Gove’s article was perhaps not particularly intended by him, but this sense that there is a “blogger personality” that has been in existence for far longer than the technology of blogging.
    Minx, maybe you should convert your commonplace books into blogs, then we could all read them!

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