Blog vs. book

As the date (4/5/2016!) approaches for the release of my book, A None’s Story, I thought it might be a good time to explain how the book differs from the blog that came first, One None Gets Some.

The most obvious difference is the title change. The new title was given to the manuscript by the publisher, who explained to me that the book needed an identity distinct from the blog. What she didn’t say is that the name of the blog–with its tongue-in-cheek use of the vernacular “gets some”–might be seen as lacking a certain gravitas befitting Columbia University Press. Who was I to argue with either of these points? Here was yet another opportunity to practice letting go of things over which I lack control.

The new title alludes to the blog, but also references a 1956 novel called A Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme. A New York Times best-seller in its day, Hulme’s book was later turned into a film starring Audrey Hepburn as the title character. Even though I wasn’t familiar with either the book or the movie when I started this project, I find the synchronicity between the two titles interesting—the play on words and themes. In that book—which is fiction, though based on a true story—a nun struggles with her faith-bound life given that her passion, nursing, is considered a secular endeavor. Should she leave the convent to pursue a career? Did it have to be one or the other? In my version, I struggle with that same topic in mirror image: feeling that I must maintain the strictly secular life I inherited despite the tug on my heart to step foot in the world of faith. If A Nun’s Story was a reflection of its time, I suppose A None’s Story is equally a reflection of ours.

Other than this, the differences are what one might expect when a serialized version of a story is turned into a single piece of writing. I had all these little patches and now I needed to make a quilt. I needed to pick the ones that would add to the cohesion of the larger version, and leave out the ones that didn’t. Sometimes this meant getting rid of patches on which I had worked really hard, but maybe their complicated embroidery detracted rather than added to the overall picture. Most of the patches, even if they seemed to belong, still needed some work. I had to fix frayed edges and pay more attention to the sorts of enhancements that would make them function better both individually and together. Luckily, I was given a small but dedicated team of professional tailors who spent a week or two with me in my sweatshop taking a close look at my patches under their magnifying glasses. They caught all sorts of goofs—typos, verb disagreements, spelling catastrophes, grammar disasters, and just plain awkward turns of phrase.

One of the main differences between the blog entries and the content of the book is in the structure of the story connecting the religious experiences I describe. In the book, I put more flesh on the bones, particularly at the beginning and at the end. I provide additional context for what motivated this journey, a fuller picture of my personal struggles and the ways in which, when I was living in Washington, D.C., the events of 9/11 shook me and influenced what would later become this book.

Also, parts of the ending are entirely new. I describe the experience of creating and maintaining the blog after my Op-Ed about my religious curiosity and project appeared in the Los Angeles Times and, subsequently, was picked up and reprinted in newspapers across the country. I fancied myself a courageous religious adventurer, but some people saw a potential convert. In the book, I explore people’s reactions to my project, the messages and items I was sent both online and via the mail, how unsettled and distraught I became for a time before I learned to embrace my truth.

Other than that, many of the experiences in the book are as they appear in the blog. Because of this, I debated whether to hide all or portions of the blog. It seemed strange to be charging money for a printed version of what is, in essence, available online. Even though I believe it is a more pleasurable experience to hold a book (I, for one, like to have the entire story in my hands, with pages to turn), it seemed a little counterintuitive to keep all my old posts available for anyone to read.

For a while I considered deleting the entire blog. Then I thought it would be best to keep some of the posts but hide a percentage of them—like every third one—so that the online story would be the Swiss cheese version—thereby both intriguing readers and forcing all interested parties into buying the book. I was congratulating myself on my diabolical marketing skills, when it occurred to me that the single most important argument for keeping the blog had nothing to do with what I had written. What made it essential and beautiful and important was the comments section: it’s what the readers wrote.

The stories, the reactions, the encouragement—the instances in which some readers tore into me or others for the opinions we expressed. How readers worked through differences, and more often than not, came to respect one another despite early tension. All of this created a story as significant, and in some instances more so, than my story.

So, I’m leaving everything as is because to hide any blog posts would be to hide their comment sections. The comments offer a small but poignant slice of cultural debate that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Far from being disposable, they are an essential companion piece to my book. In my eyes, every single comment is important. They were all part of this journey for me, expressed by a virtual group of congregants struggling for understanding and acceptance.