Thursday, May 5

"WHAT MAKES A BLOG INTERESTING TO YOU?"

Ilona at "True Grit" posed this question to her readers (of which I'm a stalwart) in a post published yesterday, May 4th, and for which she has yet to receive a single reply in the form of a "Comment" (shame on us!).

She's asking us this question, because she's looking for the perspectives of other bloggers on why certain blogs capture their attention, imagination, fervor, and curiosity; and, if I know Ilona, she's asking us what it is about the best among them that stir readers souls, fire their passions, and lead them down a path of personal discovery.

Ilona, you see, is determined to expand her horizons and not confine her reading in the blogosphere to "a narrow scope." She wants to "branch out" and discover the rich, fertile landscapes of other points of view and no doubt discern some whose worth in this regard may not be apparent at first glance. She's on a search, a pesonal mission, and she's curious about what map guides others may use.

She flatters us with her question. Should we not flatter her with our thoughts?

My own, Ilona, would begin with William Wordsworth's observation that "all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." While we're predominantly talking about prose in the blogosphere, rather than poetry, Wordsworth's observation resonates with me nonetheless in replying to you. What I find in blogs that captures my imagination is always, first and foremost, good writing and writing brimming with passion -- with powerful feelings well-expressed. And I should add that powerful feelings can emerge through nuance, understated language, and even wry comments. Indeed, humor can be a vehicle for strong points of view and a vigorous release of passions!

The focus of a blog may be foreign to me, its subject matter even arcane, but good writing and the passions that drive it are for me sign posts that even if I'm on a road (to borrow from Frost) "less traveled," it will prove to be, almost always, a journey of discovery, fulfillment, and even serendipity. And the allure of the blogosphere is that so many rich veins of ore can be mined if one will only drill down into its core and plumb its depths. In doing so, we can find writers who will enlarge our minds, awaken our souls, and add new facets to the precious stones of wisdom we hold dear. The blogosphere is eclecticism at its quintessentail best -- a swirl of ideas, information, and insights, like so many stars and galaxies in an ever-expanding universe! Yes, there are far more dull stars than brilliant ones, but your mouse becomes your own Hubble telescope and the discoveries you'll make if you'll turn the lense in different directions will be remarkable.

To be sure, I'm seldom intrigued by the format of a blog, the creativity one finds in a well-designed template. Good writing holds up even if it is written on a discarded brown paper bag. I'd as soon devour "Look Homeward Angel" on multiple rolls of paper towel, than to be without it. So why be preoccupied with the allure of a site, rather than the allure of the writing? Always the writing; always the writing; always come back to the writing!

The best way to find it -- the exceptional writing? The proverbial journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step (and you're already well down the path, Ilona). Find one blogger whose writing grips you or caresses you (or makes you "sigh") and look to that site's blogroll for other gems. Good writers appreciate good writing and they acknowledge it. And good writing is usually found in the blogosphere amid the non-linkers -- the people who like to write far more than they prefer to link and whose sitemeters oftentimes never see a hundred hits in a day's time or betray any suggestion of popularity. As any student of literature knows, great writers do not always emerge; they must be found. Good writing, sadly, oftentimes sits on bookshelves unappreciated. So, too, in the blogosphere.

Glenn Reynolds for me is a convenience, as he is for most. His is a shopping list already prepared. He is the non pareil "linker" among bloggers. But give me a James Lileks' "Bleat" for my steady source of nutrition (oh, if only James would share with us who he likes to read). It's good writing that intrigues me, not a sea of hypertext. And among good writers who know their craft (if I may use this illustration), there are those who have splendid minds and the mechanics down, but lack that gift for turn of phrase that separates the brilliant from the best. I'm into politics and current events, and I have a conservative bent, so I read George Will and Charles Krauthammer religiously; but I delight in Mark Steyn. There is the difference!

I have a book on the bookshelves of my personal library that I turn to often, Ilona, and always with enjoyment. It's entitled "For The Love of Books -- 115 Celebrated Writers On The Books They Love Most" by Ronald B. Shwartz, published by Grosset/Putnam. Mr. Shwartz's mission: to have "a select group of one hundred or so of the finest living writers -- all of national, if not international, stature identify those 3-6 books that have in some way influenced or affected (them) most deeply, spoken to (them) the loudest and in personal terms."

Wouldn't it be nice if you or I had the size of readership that would make such an enterprise worthwhile in the blogosphere? It'd be wonderful to put together a list of 100 or so of the best writers (and not based necessarily on popularity and their blog's number of "hits" or "links") among the millions of bloggers out there (a challenge in itself to compile) and have them not only identify their half-dozen choices for "best writers," but, more importantly, provide us with the reasons for their choices -- have them expound on why they made the selections they made.

Good luck on your journey, Ilona!