Yesterday, book blog The Millions (which turns ten—an eon in internet years—in 2013) announced a series of short nonfiction ebooks called “The Millions Originals.” These shorts will be longer than the average long magazine article but shorter than the average book: they are nonfiction novellas, in other words. They can be purchased on Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo’s websites.
Their first title, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever, is a cultural internet history from Millions staff writer Mark O’Connell. A critical exploration of bad art, the book touches on internet memes ranging from the cult movie The Room to the badly retouched fresco of Jesus’s face. (O’Connell compares the updated painting to “a beady-eyed baboon wearing an ushanka.” I think it looks like a Muppet.) He explains that:
our perverse attraction to these people and to the bad art they make is a particular sort of authenticity. Vigilant self-consciousness is both a primary component and a primary product of our online culture; an entire generation of Westerners (i.e., mine) has become preoccupied with the curation of permanent exhibitions of the self. We hate ourselves for the inauthenticity of these exhibitions, even if we wouldn’t have it any other way. And so the Epic Fail is, among other things, a paradoxical ritual whereby a pure strain of un-self-consciousness is globally venerated and ridiculed.
It remains to be seen whether future books in this series will strike the same balance of timeliness and the sort of critical analysis O’Connell is doing here, if they will be written primarily by Millions staff, or if they’ll even be all nonfiction.
Still, The Millions follows in the footsteps of book blogs like The Rumpus, which independently produced the ebook, The Rumpus Original Poetry Anthology, and magazines such as Vanity Fair, whose short ebook from Keith Gessen, The Making of The Art of Fielding, was a much discussed e-original.