I’ll confess that I’d never heard of the wonderful blog Steamboats Are Ruining Everything until it made an appearance in book form. Yesterday I saw Levi Stahl’s post on Conversational Reading about the book that its author, Caleb Crain, made from the most essayistic of his blog posts, The Wreck of the Henry Clay:
Crain is a freelance writer whose byline will be familiar to readers of the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Nation, and elsewhere … this attractively chunky, almost pocket-sized collection works surprisingly well as a book — and it has helped me make an important distinction between book reading and blog reading. Even when we discover a great blog, we almost never go back through all of its archives — it just feels like too much trouble. Put those archives between pages, however, and we read differently: the brief posts lose the ephemerality conferred by the structure of the blog, and, at least in the case of Crain’s posts, become surprisingly addictive.
Stahl gives a taste of the contents:
Just flipping through The Wreck of the Henry Clay (and the index, a labor-intensive addition for which I’m grateful) the past few days, I’ve encountered a host of fascinating facts and anecdotes: that the speed limit in Long Branch, New Jersey was six miles per hour in 1903; that the renowned exotic dancer Lola Montez was a “dead failure” in her New York debut in the 1850s, because she had too little of “the nasty” in her gyrations; that the New York Atlas in 1848 posited that two-thirds of the inmates of the state’s asylums were the wives of clergymen; that “there’s a limit to the number of sailor’s narratives that even the most hardened Melvillean needs to read.”
That list of factoids and that final judgment — who knew that hardened Melvilleans even existed? — was my cue to spend several hours reading Crain’s blog. They were hours well-spent; you’ll be getting links soon.