Blogger's culinary odyssey awarded literary honour

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The Independent Online

To their champions, they are a form of virtual literature compiled with wit and vigour by the diarists of the 21st century. To their critics, they are electronic waffle, clogging up cyberspace with self-indulgent polemic.

But the status of the blog as a route to literary recognition seems assured after the results of an inaugural prize for "blooks", or books based on blogs, were announced.

There are about 60 million blogs on the internet, growing at a rate of 75,000 a day as more and more users post their daily musings on subjects from onions to quantum physics.

The Blooker Prize, established to reward books born on the web, aims to highlight the potential of the blogging culture to create, if not poetic gems, then at least mainstream fiction and non-fiction.

The award was given to Julie Powell, a former secretary in New York for her book, Julie and Julia, based on her blog which chronicled her campaign to cook all 524 recipes in a classic French cookbook in her small kitchen in a year.

Since publication, the blook has sold 100,000 copies and secured its author a publishing contract. It beat Belle Du Jour, the best-selling chronicle of a London prostitute and the leading British contender on the 14-strong shortlist.

Powell, 32, who spent 30 minutes every morning writing her daily blog before going to work, said she was "delighted and humbled" to win the prize.

But she admitted that the idea that the blog culture was a potential gold mine for publishers had been overstated. "It has certainly provided me with an entrée in to mainstream publishing," Powell said. "But there is some gimmickiness in the idea that blogs are some untapped resource for literary greatness. It is certainly another tool for writers out there to break their way in. But being a blogger does not make you a great writer. There is a large tendency towards self-indulgent tirades."

With plans afoot to turn Julie and Julia into a film - thus making it the world's first "flook" - organisers of the prize claim it is evidence of the growing significance and commercial success of the blog medium.

Egg Bacon Chips & Beans, another British blook shortlisted for the prize, was published after the online version, a guide to 50 greasy spoon cafes, became a cult hit. The Belle Du Jour blog, long suspected to have been an exercise in guerrilla marketing by an unnamed mainstream author, was receiving 15,000 hits a day at the height of its success.

Cory Doctorow, the chairman of the judges and the editor of Boingboing, the world's biggest group blog, said: "Those who dismiss blogging as mere confessional writing and complaining about one's day job fail to appreciate just how engrossing those genres can be."

Despite its punning take on the prestigious Booker Prize, the Blooker has not received any attention from lawyers for the more established award. It is financed by an American-based print-on-demand company, Lulu, which "publishes" authors' books on the internet and turns them into printed books for a fee. Bob Young, the multimillionaire owner of the company, said: "In five years' time, it may be that we will be better known than the Booker."

But anyone expecting instant riches by winning the Blooker should think again - the winner receives $2,000 [£1,100]. Powell said: "I think I'll be spending it on paying the rent."

Internet phenomenon

* A blog (or "web log") is a regularly updated website, often created using ready-made software templates.

* Some are little more than personal diaries, but others offer links to news sites or offer original analysis on a range of subjects from typography and pop music to international politics and global warming.

* The 2004 US election experienced the growing influence of political blogging.

* Blogs have also emerged as an important source of "citizen journalism", with contributions from troubled areas such as Iraq and Iran.

* After the tsunami of 2004, blogs emerged as an information exchange.