Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded
by John Scalzi
Tor Books, 2010
I have to admit: I have never read any of John Scalzi's fiction. I keep meaning to get to Old Man's War, but you know how that goes. And yet, I am a huge fan of his blog, Whatever, and so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to pick up this book, a collection of archival Whatever entries, when I noticed it in the local bookstore. See, the thing is, there's a lot of great material in the Whatever archives, but I only started reading in 2009 and I'm not about to go back all the way to 1998 to see what I missed. So I thoroughly enjoyed having someone pull out the best of Whatever and plunk it in a book for me to read.
I think the ideal place for this book, and this is not an insult, would be the bathroom. (Ironic, as I know Scalzi does some work for the Uncle John series of readers, too, heh). The entries are generally no more than two or three pages long, and range in topic from political, to parenting, to writing, to financial, to clones, to cheese. Perfect lengths for bathroom reading, and rarely the same thing twice. Also, they can be read in any and all orders -- there is absolutely no order to the entries, as they're not arranged chronologically nor topically. So you can read the last one without feeling like you've missed anything.
There can be trouble in assuming that what one writes on a blog will translate well into a book. I think part of the success here is that Scalzi is interesting. He's got big opinions, he thinks about things thoroughly, and he doesn't just discuss the minutiae. But what makes Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded work is that not only is Scalzi interesting, he can write. He can write really, really well. Well enough that a book full of his blog entries don't start to feel repetitive or samey.
The entries are often informative, and always entertaining, even when I don't agree with everything Scalzi says. That said, I seem to agree with the vast portion of it, which perhaps makes me an ideal reader for this book. I could see his style grating a bit on people who don't agree with what he says, especially, but that's quite deliberate. The current tagline for Whatever is "Taunting the Tauntable since 1998." His style can be hyperbolic, his metaphors can be vulgar (not in a bad way, to my mind), his sense of humour is always pointed and very sarcastic, his arguments somewhat steam-roller-like. But the metaphors, if unexpected, are always apt, and the arguments he makes are exceedingly well-reasoned. And I laughed out loud and often while reading this.
I wouldn't recommend this for a straight read-through, if just because it starts to be a lot. It would be like spending a full day just reading blog entries; your brain goes numb after a while. As above, it's less likely to go numb with Scalzi at the helm than it would be with many other bloggers out there (I include myself in this; most of us aren't award-winning authors). For someone who is having trouble committing to an entire narrative, this is the perfect pick-it-up-put-it-down read. It had me giggling, it had me thinking, and it had me thoroughly engaged. The best part about it? Reading Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, like reading Whatever, makes me have some hope for humanity, if there are people like Scalzi out there thinking and writing and being alive in this world.