Deep Content and Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins

I just finished reading Jess Walter‘s Beautiful Ruins. Not only was I completely enraptured by this book, but I will name it as one of the top 5 books I’ve read in the past year (2012 included). Why? Well, besides the beautiful turns of phrase (which abounded and still stick in my mind,) and besides the very human characters, and besides the beautiful setting and the literary allusions, and besides the fact that the book reminds me of some of my other favorite books: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, the book is also a really good example of what I call “deep content” and this is something I’ve been wanting to blog about for quite some time.

beautiful ruins

What do I mean by “deep content”? Well. There already exists something called “deep content” as it relates to search engines – basically it means, how rich is the content of the text you write on the internet. Quality of content. (Which usually for SEO purposes just means how often and in what variety you use certain keywords on a page.) But I want to take this one step further – as it applies to bloggers in general, and book bloggers in particular.

When I first started this blog I said that it wouldn’t be “just another book blog” that I would blog about books that moved me and that I wanted to talk about – the impressions they had on me rather than critiques. I also said that I always wanted to blog about books that led me to other books. And I also never want to blog about a book if it meant I was just repeating things that others already said. I feel like I need to actually have something NEW to say, something to add, something that makes the post my own, because otherwise, why the heck am I doing this?

And it came to me from lots of surfing around other book blogs (and seeing what I don’t want to do – and frankly, refuse to do, which is just copy and paste and post and repost stuff that’s already been said and said more eloquently and said again – no offense to any book bloggers out there, you’re doing a great job) but that I can only blog about a book if I REALLY REALLY care about it, or if I at least have something original to say.

I think that if blogs are going to survive in today’s day and age of information overload, they need to rise above themselves and provide what I call “deep content.” In Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, deep content is a multi-layered narrative that includes memoir and novel excerpts, play fragments, and intersecting lives. In a blog post, it might be – books that lead you to other books, music and/or movie clips, relevant clickable links, a Q&A with an author, a musing that the book led you to which made you possibly think different about humanity, and something which you, the blogger, can impart to the world. Something that you have to say, above and beyond the book you just read.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since The Jerusalem International Bookfair, when I heard Naomi Alderman, Maud Newton, Mark Sarvas and Boaz Cohen all speak about their blogging experiences. One thing which both Maud and Mark spoke about was the fact that they won’t blog about a book anymore unless they are really in love with it. And I sort of feel the same way, I’m not going to blog about a book unless I can give it “deep content” – unless it has given me something to say to the world that perhaps nobody else has thought of yet, unless it leads me (and others) to more books. Unless I really have something to say that matters.

Beautiful Ruins didn’t lead me to other books, but it reminded me, deeply, of ones I have already read and loved. Beautiful Ruins led me to:

a. feel completely inadequate as a writer because it was so incredibly written

b. to think about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Donner Party in completely different ways (just to even be able to put them in a sentence together is an accomplishment!)

c. to want to watch a bunch of old movies with starlets who are certainly “Beautiful Ruins” now

But the layering of memoir excerpts and novel excerpts and play fragments – that’s deep content. The layering of time periods and intersecting lives and countries and generations – of pop culture and reality tv with old movies and glamorous movie stars – that’s deep content. The juxtapositions of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Lacuna and A Visit From the Goon Squad – that’s deep content.

goon squadlacuna corelli

And so too, I hope, this blog post is too.

What have I accomplished?

1. introduced the concept of “deep content” and what it could mean for you and your blog and the types of blogs you like to read (I think all the best blogs do this, naturally, btw)

2. Led you to other books: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Lacuna and A Visit From the Goon Squad

3. Led you to other bloggers and authors: Maud Newton, Mark Sarvas, Naomi Alderman, Boaz Cohen

4. Explained to you the kind of books and blog posts I love and why I think that blogs are not dead, but the ones that provide deep content are the ones that will endure.

5. Hopefully caused you to think about how you might add deeper content to your own blogging.

6. Made you think about how much you really really NEED to read Beautiful Ruins NOW, with all its content – both beautiful and deep.

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1 Comment

Filed under Books

One response to “Deep Content and Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins

  1. Okay you convinced me about the book (which sounds wonderful) and made me feel guilty about my own blog….. which has tailed off into nothing, not even dribble.

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