Why buy the cow? 27 popular websites that became books
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- “Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money”: 20 inept magicians in pop culture
- It’s not TV—and it’s not available on HBO Go: 27-plus HBO originals unavailable from the streaming service
- The adventures of Tookie De La Crème: 13 surprising celebrity novelists
- The hand that rocks the puppet: 13 pop-culture attempts to make puppets appealing to adult audiences
1. I Can Has Cheezburger? A LOLcat Collekshun (icanhascheezburger.com)
Cat pictures with funny captions: Let us show you them. It's hard to describe what's so captivating about the first LOLcat, a picture of a creepy chubby kitty captioned "I can has cheezburger?" (Fans might say it has invizibl humor.) But messageboards like 4chan and Something Awful gave birth to a meme born in (and rejecting) the chipper motivational animal posters of an earlier age, with cats commenting in a grammatically incorrect yet internally standardized version of English, characterized by improperly conjugated verbs and haphazard spelling errors. With catchphrases cribbing from other memes (like "All your base are belong to us," or the "Do not want" screenshot from a bad Chinese translation of Revenge Of The Sith), the art form that purists still call "cat macros" thwarted elementary-school teachers everywhere by hijacking traditional copy-edited media. (Take the Houston Chronicle's cringeworthy trend piece, "I'm In Ur Newspaper Writin Mah Colum.") Yet with thousands of imitators and variations (like ROFLrazzi, LOLPresidents, and inevitably, LOLporn) available online, fans are likely to say "Do not want" to the book collection that spun off the most popular LOLcat site, icanhascheezburger.com. While it makes a perfect 2008 time capsule, I Can Has Cheezburger?'s hastily added definitions of common captions like "Nom nom nom" and "Halp!" add no value to those in on the joke, and will only confuse those who aren't. Blog-to-book adaptation: You're doing it wrong.
2. Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle: 366 Ways He Really Cares (barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com)
What can't Barack Obama do? Even back in February, his supporters' online presence was both politically impressive and humorlessly reverential. After one too many nights at home while his wife (an avid cyclist) volunteered for the Obama campaign, San Francisco writer Mathew Honan created a site characterized by its spartan design and loop of quirky good deeds, like "Barack Obama followed you on Twitter" and "Barack Obama emailed your dad and told him how great you are." Gently ribbing without pretending to any sort of trenchant political critique, the site left a trail of inferior imitators in its wake (the best of those being JohnMcCainIsYourJalopy.com and HillaryIsMomJeans.com). Still, the thrill of refreshing the page to be surprised by another of Honan's witticism is lost in book form. Now that Obama is, in fact, the nation's new bicycle, this collection should reach across the remainder aisle to its fellow political-blog-turned-book, 72 Things Younger Than John McCain.
3. Garfield Minus Garfield (garfieldminusgarfield.net)
So many webcomics eventually get collected into book form that we decided to leave webcomics as a whole off this list, but "Garfield Minus Garfield" isn't actually a webcomic so much as an anti-newspaper-comic. Creator Dan Walsh finds the weirdness and angst in Jim Davis' committee-created, achingly banal comic strip Garfield by erasing the title character, plus selected word balloons from other characters, in order to leave Garfield's owner Jon Arbuckle alone in the strip. The results are surreal and depressing: Jon talks to himself, attempts to amuse himself, and bursts into tears, or just winds up staring blankly at walls. But Walsh isn't just creating Dada nonsense, he's pointing out that this Garfield is a cat, cats can't talk, and Jon really is just talking creepily to himself whenever he "converses" with his grouchy pet. The recent book collection Garfield Minus Garfield—approved by Davis, who'll seemingly approve anything for a buck—goes the website one better by showing the original strips alongside the altered ones. Oddly, this makes Walsh's recreations less funny, since it's much clearer how dumb the strips were to start with.
4. Hot Chicks With Douchebags (hotchickswithdouchebags.com)
Though he defines a douchebag as "An unattractive or offensive heterosexual male characterized by some or all of the following characteristics: overly gelled hair, popped collar, bling, orange tan, overwhelming aura of arrogance," Jay Louis readily applies the term to the spectrum of skeevy, shiny men who populate his blog Hot Chicks With Douchebags. Though the questionable classification of "hot chick" seems mainly based on cup size and lack of clothing, the men to whom these supposed objects of desire cling are unquestionably worthy of mockery—even if the term "douchebag" is as overused and nebulous as "hipster." And the word gets a workout in Louis' book adaptation, which flogs the joke to death with a lengthy classification of douche-types (such as The Fratbag, The Gangstabag, and The Eurobag, which is somehow different from The Greasy Euro-Douche), a glossary of mostly made-up terms (douchepocalypse, scrotifact, woo hotties), and anecdotes of Louis' own close encounters with douchedom. It's a sort-of funny gag that wears extremely thin over 200-plus pages, especially once you realize that, like hipsters, those most likely to call out and mock so-called douchebags most likely have a whiff of doucheness themselves.
5. Suck: Worst-Case Scenarios In Media, Culture, Advertising & The Internet (suck.com)
In the very earliest days of the Internet, back in the mid-1990s—when surfing the web was still considered a somewhat arcane skill, and every company in existence didn't have its own website—one of the funniest destinations was suck.com. Transparently patterned after Spy magazine, Suck covered business, culture, entertainment, politics, and this crazy new phenomenon called the World Wide Web with a cutting sense of humor and a distinctive editorial voice. A number of Suck's contributors went on to have prolific careers in Web 2.0, including Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox, Salon critic Heather Havrilesky, and cartoonist Terry Colon. The site folded in 2001, but it left behind a book—the engaging Suck: Worst-Case Scenarios In Media, Culture, Advertising, and the Internet—chockfull of their best essays, for anyone who wonders what all the fuss was about.
6. Go Fug Yourself Presents: The Fug Awards (gofugyourself.celebuzz.com)
Anyone can point out a badly dressed celebrity, but Go Fug Yourself elevates celebrity snark to an art form. Those who prefer the Fashion Police section of Us Weekly found kindred spirits in site cofounders Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, former reality-TV writers who create hilariously prolix posts on the sartorial choices of the Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson, or imagined dialogues between Victoria Beckham and Karl Lagerfeld. They may have coined the term "polterwang" (for the phenomenon of women's pants appearing inappropriately bunched up) but Cocks and Morgan criticize from a place of pity, freely admitting their love of dirty sweatpants and soap operas, and recently writing of Halloween, "When you are not skanky of soul, occasionally it is amusing to be skanky of dress." And their "Well Played" category honors the odd outfit that isn't a misstep, even if it happens to be Paris Hilton's. The Fug Awards spills plenty of ink on the website's most common targets, like Bai Ling, Chloë Sevigny, and Lindsay Lohan, whose love of leggings became a Fug Girls' full-fledged crusade for pants, but its concept of an alternate awards show with prizes like the Bronzed Ugg and the Sag Award dressed up old wire photos with new jokes, poising the writers to inhabit the judges' robes of the late Mr. Blackwell.
7. Indexed (thisisindexed.com)
At first glance, the 3x5 index cards comprising Indexed appear to be leftovers from a corporate presentation. But instead of charting sales figures or business projections, the hand-drawn diagrams graph the correlation between "lunches eaten at desk" and "melancholy" on X and Y axes, or represent in a Venn diagram the elements—uncertainty, insecurity, and dread—that led to Beverly Hills Chihuahua coming in at number one at the box office. Often the titles, composed by Indexed creator Jessica Hagy, deliver an additional punch: A September doodle describing Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush as "globally despised" and "in hiding" is slugged simply, "You can't stay in there forever." None of these descriptions do justice to Hagy's leaps in logic, which operate like visual Zen koans. Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics is a fan and has run several of her drawings on his New York Times blog, where—as in the book Indexed, published in February 2008—they appear without explanation or comment. The collection is pretty slim, and it includes none of Hagy's topical weekday updates since then, but technophobes can now get in on the joke, though fans of the blog will probably keep saving their favorites in digital form.
8. Sleeveface: Be The Vinyl (sleeveface.com)
Sleeveface.com perfectly embodies the blog-to-book phenomenon: a clever concept (using an LP to create the illusion that the cover art is part of a real tableau) is made into a simple website, then a book that gathers 200 of the best. Like so many others, Sleeveface's website is a perfect, bite-sized time-waster: spend five minutes scrolling through the images, chuckle, maybe forward one to a friend, move on. As a book, it's designed to be similarly lightweight: 200 pages, 12 ounces. It'd be good to leave on a coffee table to start conversations at parties, but it's also thoroughly inessential. All the images are available online, and it's destined to move from coffee table to bookshelf to giveaway pile, once the novelty wears off and the urge to have fewer books to move next time kicks in.
9. Options: The Secret Life Of Steve Jobs (fakesteve.blogspot.com)
The Secret Diary Of Steve Jobs was the 21st-century Primary Colors for nerds. Silicon Valley ate up the blustery voice in the blog, even though it made no pretensions towards being the actual voice of the Apple cofounder. But if Jobs did keep a blog, does anyone doubt it would begin posts with statements like "My life is awesome. Let's face it. It's not like I'm bragging. I'm just true… I invented the friggin iPod, OK?" The reach of Fake Steve Jobs eventually extended to poetic tributes to Jerry Falwell, tongue-lashings of Facebook ("Their slogan isn't 'Don't be evil'—it's 'Don't get caught'") and predictions of a Web 2.0 downturn by an index of slutty Flickr pictures. But the blog will truly be remembered for continuing for nearly a year after its creator, Forbes tech editor (now Newsweek tech columnist) Dan Lyons—not an Apple insider, as had been suspected—was officially unmasked by The New York Times. For a blog important enough to be investigated by the Gray Lady, the book, no matter how original, was almost an afterthought. Sadly, Lyons, a novelist in his own right, ended the blog in August with the words, "Fake Steve is not really going away, he's just taking on a new form."
10. Save Karyn: One Shopaholic's Journey To Debt And Back (savekaryn.com)
When New Yorker Karyn Bosnak lost her TV production job after 9/11, she put together her own personal bailout package: After making lifestyle adjustments like swearing off cabs, moving to Brooklyn, and selling her furnishings on eBay, Bosnak still couldn't see a way out of $20,000 in credit-card debt, so she posted an ad on Craigslist asking for donations. Once it was yanked, it became the first draft for SaveKaryn.com. The ensuing book and movie deals were just a bonus for the site that launched a million tip jars: Thanks to readers' donations, Bosnak paid off her entire debt in less than a year. Her autobiographical book Save Karyn is primarily a cautionary tale which opens with Bosnak putting her move to New York City on her credit cards, and the dizzy spending spiral that followed—something her chipper website only refers to in the past tense. Its optimism seems almost quaint in the age of snark; in the book, Bosnak credits her success with responding positively to every single e-mail she got, and her original pitch pled "If you help me, then someday someone might help you when you need it." Still, she seems to have learned her lesson: These days, all she wants from her readers are pictures of their pets.
Knitting blogs are the estrogen-fueled, crafty-fingered appendix of the blogosphere: surprisingly large once you take a look at them, yet hardly noticeable to anyone but the busy bacteria that hang out there. Although the bulk of knitblogging consists of pictures of wip's (works in progress), celebrations of fo's (finished objects), and laments about frogging (unraveling to fix mistakes), some of the most confessional and prolific bloggers have made the leap into books. The Yarn Harlot (Stephanie McPhee) of Toronto has no fewer than six books since 2005 based on her immensely popular blog, and her personal appearance all over North America take on a carnival air, with hundreds of knitters showing up to be photographed holding the Harlot's current sock-in-progress. Crazy Aunt Purl (Laurie Perry) of Los Angeles parlayed the therapeutic knitting and blogging she began after divorcing her husband of eight years into the 2007 book Drunk, Divorced & Covered In Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures Of A 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split. Both cater to a female audience looking for strong, sassy women to take back knitting from the popular image of grandmas in rocking chairs. And they deliver by talking about beer much more than your grandma ever should.
Another Internet phenomenon that at this point is more cottage industry than simple blog-to-book one-shot: Stuff On My Cat, launched by "full-time student and freelance graphic designer" Mario Garza. What started out as a series of wacky pictures of random objects placed on Garza's surprisingly cooperative cat became a communal Internet effort, with readers competing to pile their pets with increasingly weird items: toys, food, clothing, beer cans and bottles, drug paraphernalia, wigs, random household objects, other animals, tiny saddles with doll riders, and much more. The first print collection, 2006's Stuff On My Cat: The Book—a fairly graceless, contextless selection of photos—was quickly followed by a sequel, a series of calendars, a journal, stationary, and most recently, a series of themed "Stuff On My Cat Presents" mini-photobooks, including Wet Cats and Cats A To Z. Not yet in book form, but likely to be: The spin-off Stuff On My Mutt.
14. The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide To The Greatest Songs From Punk To The Present (pitchfork.com)
As the granddaddy of music webzines and the starter of arguments and trends on an almost daily basis, it's no wonder that Pitchfork decided to publish a definitive (or at least definitive-sounding) book. As the subtitle suggests, The Pitchfork 500 gathers brief opinions on tracks spanning 1977-2006, grouping them into time periods. It provides a nice balance of solid writing on everything from the super-mainstream (Prince's "Kiss") to hip-hop old and new (Jay-Z, OutKast) to the deserved/expected (look at "Radiohead" and "Nirvana" in the index—they stand out) and more. The writing, unsurprisingly, is smart and opinionated—and likely to annoy enemies of the latter.
15. Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide To The Unique Taste Of Millions (stuffwhitepeoplelike.com)
In a recent interview with The A.V. Club, author Christian Lander described himself as "just this asshole with a blog," but there's obviously something more to his web presence, which started as a time-waster and expanded into massive popularity and a New York Times bestselling book. The concept is simple: Lander expounds at length on stereotypically "white" things (which translates to stereotypically young, upper-middle-class, white things), from irony to Arrested Development to scarves to "knowing what's best for poor people." Some of it's silly and some sharply pointed, and most of it is very, very funny—especially if you can laugh at yourself, whitey.
16. Passive Aggressive Notes: Painfully Polite And Hilariously Hostile Writings (passiveaggressivenotes.com)
Passive Aggressive Notes mines a niche of the found-humor vein first tapped by Found magazine (which didn't make this list because it started life as a 'zine, not a website). The site compiles user-submitted photographs of handwritten notes discovered in offices, apartment buildings, dorm rooms, and anywhere else the annoying foibles of humanity knock up against each other. The book version of the website doesn't go much further than including some never-before-seen examples of thinly veiled hostility, though it is loosely arranged by theme, which allows for some interesting insight into people's various confrontational styles: Witness a series of notes devoted to changing the toilet-paper roll, which range from a series of illustrated Post-Its demonstrating proper roll-changing technique to a single square clinging to an empty cardboard tube with the word "douche" scratched on it in big black Sharpie letters. From the banal ("For the love of God, please stop burning the popcorn!") to the absurd ("Opera singer: Close your windows or shut up."), Passive Aggressive Notes is a testament to the (often unintentional) hilarity that we're all capable of when pissed off and armed with anonymity.
17. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell (tuckermax.com)
A smirking god to legions of impressionable frat boys, so-called "humorist" Tucker Max has expanded his empire of amateurish, booze-fueled anecdotes to disturbing reaches: His website/blog attracts more than a million unique visitors per month, his book of "fratire" (ugh) stories I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell has been on The New York Times bestseller list for three years, and a (reportedly awful) film adaptation recently wrapped filming. A proudly self-proclaimed "asshole" and "raging dickhead," Max specializes in the sort of prose usually heard over beers at a college bar and accompanied by numerous high-fives. Still, his unabashedly crass, misogynistic writings have proven extremely popular, especially among college students—which wouldn't be troubling if they weren't so excruciatingly unfunny. (A sample: "On the way to her house, we stopped at Jack-in-the-Box. Don't ask me how she could eat that crap and still have such a good body… she wasn't a plus-size model, so I guess she was bulimic.") And yet a sequel to I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, called Assholes Finish First, is on its way next year. High five, bro!
Every female blogger who writes about her feelings and her weight aspires to be a Wendy McClure. The Bust magazine columnist and former TelevisionWithoutPity.com contributor found an audience with her blog Poundy.com, begun in early 2001. The posts explored diet culture, among other things, but McClure's voice—honest, sharply funny, never self-pitying or chick-litty—was what made her popular. In 2005, the blog was turned into the Three Rivers Press memoir I'm Not The New Me, which received raves from Elle, Time, and USA Today. INTNM explored issues similar to the site's, but also touched upon the weirdness of having a popular blog—thankfully, without any of the "I'm kind of a big deal" blather of some other well-known female autobiographical bloggers. As a lark, the Chicago writer shared on a separate site a personal collection of vintage Weight Watchers recipe cards, featuring frightening photos of recipes like "Chicken Liver Bake" and "Fish Balls," which found their way into their own book, complete with accompanying appalled commentary. To top it all off, in keeping with current publicity trends, a dedicated promotional website was erected for I'm Not The New Me, noting "That's right: her website was turned into a book and then into another website, which, really, is just nuts."
20. Look At My Striped Shirt: Confessions Of The People You Love To Hate (thephatphree.com)
Conceived in those heady days before the Internet killed comedy forever, the Phat Phree was a sort of web-only sketch-comedy ensemble, with its origins and influences easily traceable to the style pioneered by The State. While it could certainly be as grating as the young hipsters who formed its core audience, and it more than occasionally drifted into the "ironic" sexism and racism of the Vice generation, it could also be savagely funny when looking at those young hipsters with a jaundiced eye. The outfit's first book, Look At My Striped Shirt, appeared in 2006, essentially a book of vicious monologues by various modern comic archetypes. The paperback collection is inconsistent, but the title piece, featuring an arrogant, popped-collar jerk-off, is a great example of what the Phat Phree is capable of when they aren't trying to be cooler than their targets.
21. REAL Ultimate Power (realultimatepower.net)
Looking for someone to blame for the proliferation of pirate and ninja references all over the Internet? Look no further than Robert Hamburger, the wise-ass behind "Robert Hamburger," a fictional 13-year-old who's really, really, really into ninjas. Written with the infectious enthusiasm of a pre-adolescent who can't let anyone in hearing distance go another day without learning how awesome his pet obsession is, the "Real Ultimate Power" website detailed the "sweet" abilities of the hooded assassins, from the well-known (chopping dudes' heads off) to the obscure (totally wailing on guitar). As a one-joke concept, it got old pretty fast in spite of Hamburger's relentless enthusiasm, but it was that same enthusiasm that netted him an inexplicable book contract for REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book.
22. The Joys Of Engrish (engrish.com)
The origins of "Engrish" are twofold, and familiar to anyone who's spent time in Japan. Translations between Japanese and English are notoriously thorny; the Japanese are also highly fond of English pop culture, and like the look of English words even when they don't know (or care) what they mean—the same way a lot of Americans feel about Japanese characters. In Japan, the result is a plethora of product names, fashion designs, and signs that, to an English speaker, don't make a lick of sense. Author Steven Caires certainly wasn't the first person to notice the phenomenon, but he made it a web sensation by starting the site Engrish.com and encouraging people to send in their own favorite photos of badly phrased English signs and products, which resulted in the publication of the delightful 2005 book The Joys Of Engrish. Some humorless types have detected an air of racism in the whole thing, but really, the Japanese guy wearing a sweatshirt reading "MARINATE RETARD" is no different from the American guy getting a kanji tattoo he personally can't read—it's cultural tourism worthy of a laugh.
23. Television Without Pity (televisionwithoutpity.com)
The TV recap site Television Without Pity began as a document of an unhealthy obsession with only one show, Dawson's Creek. Then the obsessiveness was permitted to blossom until it became a satellite dish's worth of programming. In 2006, two of its co-founders, Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, released Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love To Hate (And Hate To Love) About TV, a TV encyclopedia written in the site's patented snark. (Sample entry: "Acting, Wooden.") After it was published, Bravo purchased the site and Ariano, Bunting, and fellow co-founder David T. Cole departed, making the book something of a time capsule as well.
The popular city-by-city what-to-do, what-to-wear, and where-to-wear-it e-mail blast service DailyCandy doesn't seems like a natural candidate to become a book. But the service has spawned two: Daily Candy A To Z: An Insider's Guide To The Sweet Life in 2006, and The Daily Candy Lexicon: Words That Don't Exist But Should in 2008. The latter essentially takes Rich Hall's old Sniglets idea and runs with it. Did they remember to send him a check?
25. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (blogs.salon.com)
In August 2002, Julie Powell decided to spend a year cooking her way through the 1961 cookbook that made Julia Child famous, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, blogging about the results as she attempted such dishes as "Navets Glaces a Brun" and "Artichauts Printaniers." It attracted some attention, shut down, then resurfaced in 2005 as the book Julie & Julia, which had a lot less to do with cooking than Powell's digressive, self-reflective ramblings. Coming soon: a third incarnation in the form of a film starring Amy Adams and directed by Nora Ephron.
Frank Warren's PostSecret project is incredibly engrossing: Strangers mail him postcards, sometimes elaborately decorated, confessing a secret. Where Warren's colleague (and frequent tourmate) Davy Rothbart mines humor and drama from the discarded notes, photos, and lists in Found magazine and its books, PostSecret ratchets up the voyeuristic thrill with secrets that are deeply personal, often moving, and frequently salacious. (Sample selected at random: "My first wife left me for another man, and for some strange reason, I secretly wish my second wife would do the same.") The website is a time-sucking black hole, where viewers can easily kill a couple of hours scrolling through the absorbing postcards. The books collect the most artistic or otherwise powerful entries, but Warren has varied his approach a bit the past couple of years. 2006's My Secret: A PostSecret Book focused on young people, and last year's A Lifetime Of Secrets and The Secret Lives Of Men & Women collected previously unseen postcards.
27. Waiter Rant: Thanks For The Tip — Confessions Of A Cynical Waiter (waiterrant.net)
When Waiter Rant became a book, it essentially spoiled the blog it spun off from. Written by a longtime waiter who wrote anonymously about his adventures in an unnamed popular, upscale New York City bistro, the blog was dishy, revealing, and often astonishing, particularly about the terrible behavior of people who believed that paying a hundred bucks for dinner gave them the right to scream profanity at the waitstaff, throw things at them, and stiff them on the tip—not to mention walk in off the street without reservations at dinnertime on a Saturday night and huffily demand the best table in the house, tout de suite. It was inside-baseball reporting at its most entertaining, the front-of-the-house equivalent of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Unfortunately, the writer—eventually revealed as a man named Steve Dublanica—tended to alternate his jaw-dropping work stories with not-very-funny attempts at comedy about waitering, or bland observational and philosophical essays that suggested he thought he was far more insightful than he actually was. Once Dublanica got a book deal, Waiter Rant increasingly focused less on his job and more on his not-so-deep thoughts about living, writing, and publishing; he eventually quit the bistro, though he wound up in another waiter gig pretty quickly. Still, his site's main draw was gone long before the book hit stores. These days, Dublanica rarely updates his blog except to promote his book, but he seems happy and busy with interviews and appearances supporting it, and it's been optioned for a TV show, which suggests he'll spend even less time blogging for the fans who are now whining at him to "remember how you got where you are…" and get back to entertaining them for free. Really, given how many labor-of-love websites become books these days—and how many entertaining people suddenly realize they can get paid for their work—it's a wonder more Internet spin-off books don't kill their parent sites entirely.