Most people probably don’t know exactly what I mean by the phrase “mashup book.” In some ways, I’m doing that exact concept in that name: I am taking two separate contexts and merging them together (“mashup” is one of the buzzwords with the Web 2.0 interconnectedness-ish coding usually implying one service over another, e.g. HousingMaps, which takes Craigslist housing for sale/rent data and maps it onto GoogleMaps). This concept also applies to books, in which authors take two generally unconnected or unrelated topics/people and bridge the two together (e.g. Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology). There is a difficulty inherent to these books, which I want to touch upon now. I’ll continue to use Einstein and Religion, since it’s already mentioned.
The process a mashup book like this normally takes is to (1) identify important concepts in one subject, (2) appropriate these in the second, and (3) formulate areas where the application of appropriated concepts forges new (and “better”) results. Books like such tend to be more successful in achieving this when one subject is a specific person or school of thought. However, there is a tension between being faithful to a subject and appropriating that subject. In other words, a book that is best at stage 1 tends to do poorly in stage 3 because stage 2 requires a reinterpretation, a re-contextualization, of concepts. This second stage is the most important stage, but is also the one most overlooked (e.g., any of the [Pop Culture Icon] and Philosophy books) because it is either impossible to stay faithful to the original concepts or it is assumed to be unnecessary.
The worst mashup books continuously butcher one or both contexts which they are bridging. Generally, it is by ignoring one context in order to subsume one under the other. Take our Einstein and Religion. From its title, we can assume that the two contexts are Einsteinian mechanics/physics and theology/religion. If it is a poor mashup, it will dissolve the discourse of either physics or theology in order to mash the two together. This can be done by arguing that theology should be subsumed under physics (or vice versa!) or by appropriating both the concepts and their contexts of physics into theology. In other words, a poor mashup fails to translate the concepts of one subject into the other by taking an overly literal methodology. We’ve seen this example in poor translations of a text (e.g. Young’s Literal Translation or an online translation engine such as Google Translations).
On the other hand, a good mashup will do a good job at translating concepts. However, this also means that a good mashup will not provide much of an application (i.e. stage 3 above) because it would leave the realm of translating concepts and, yet again, become too literal of a translation. Much like an optical lens, there is a point of clarity in mashup books which hovers between two extremes of misappropriation. I say all of this as I am beginning to review a mashup book (which is yet to be named) and I wanted to set up my expectations of the book before reading it so that I have something to discuss!