REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun, interesting collection of advice and musings from John Scalzi

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of notable posts from John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog, covering just about everything under the sun.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Scalzi has an honest, to-the-point manner through which he dispenses all sorts of thoughts on a number of things. He makes a lot of sense, and as such, this book makes for a very good read when it comes to writers or just about everyone else.

CONS: A little repetitive at times.

BOTTOM LINE: His advice, reflections and interests make a lot of sense. Scalzi’s a smart guy, you should listen to him.


Last year, I came across John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, shortly after reading his novel Old Man’s War, and was hooked. I enjoyed his science fiction, and ended up buying his other three novels that followed Old Man’s War, and bookmarked his web page for casual reading. I appreciate his tone and style, and over the past year or so, he’s written a lot of interesting posts/essays on any number of topics, from writing to politics to his personal life, from serious to darkly comical.

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded is a sort of “Best Of” collection from this site, covering much of the same cross section of topics: writing, family, work, politics, science fiction, and so on, ranging from deadly serious to side-splittingly comical. Where some authors (such as Robert Heinlein, with his book Grumbles from Beyond the Grave), released collections of letters or short essays, Scalzi’s version is the updated 20th century version. Light to read, and very interesting, it’s certainly something that a number of fans of the speculative fiction genre, and beyond, would enjoy.

What I appreciate about Hate Mail, and of Whatever, is Scalzi’s unfettered honesty about himself and his opinions about how he sees things around him. While opinionated, there’s a good amount of sense in his arguments – his opinions don’t seem to spring from someone taking any number of issues at face value – and because of that, there’s a lot there that I agree with, and when I don’t, I can see where he’s coming from.

Scalzi seems to be a very open person. With his blog, AIM, e-mail, Twitter, and his Facebook and Myspace pages, it’s pretty easy to follow him around. Whatever is pretty open about his life: there’s several interesting sections on how he sees and values his family, his job and his words, and there are times when the book is extremely serious — the day after September 11th, retrospectives after a miscarriage and losing a job — while others jump to a humorous moment that would leave me laughing for a while afterwards. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to topics, but it works well, and the book as a whole, is an entertaining, interesting read.

There are a couple of points about the book that I don’t get, mainly in what the book is for. There’s no chronology with the entries (although they are loosely linked together by topic), and as such, the book doesn’t really highlight any sort of evolution in Scalzi’s thinking or writing – the book is mainly just a series of a number of essays, devoid of any overarching topic. As these are all posts from Scalzi’s blog, it stands to reason that anyone who’s intent on saving a few pennies will just read the blog.

Still, the collection of posts here really does stand out, and I can see why they were placed in the book. While there isn’t necessarily a strong order to them, there are a lot of very good points throughout the book. When it comes to writing, this is a book that I would press into anyone’s hands if they expressed an interest in becoming an author. Scalzi, through his own experiences, doesn’t seem to have any qualms about sharing, and provides a lot of perspective on his profession. There are times when the book is repetitive (the topics of “authors needing to make sure that they treat writing as a job” and “President George Bush is an idiot” are two topics that are gone over several times), but on the whole, there’s a feeling of someone who genuinely likes to share his opinion. Scalzi is a smart man, and for that reason, I found myself continuing through the book nodding along, or at least thinking a bit harder about a couple of things throughout. His advice, reflections and interests make a lot of sense.

Still, if there’s any one drawback that this book has, it’s lacking a picture of his cat with bacon taped to it. Oh well, there are still some things you have to go online for.

Filed under: Book Review

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