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We love charts: The book and its author

Posted by Alex Pearlman  June 1, 2012 12:30 PM

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jasonandcody.jpegBy Katie Lannan

It’s one of the tenets of journalism: when you interview someone, you’re supposed to do so somewhere where they’re comfortable, somewhere their personality can shine through.

So when I set out to talk to Jason Oberholtzer (at left in the photo), one half of the team behind the popular Tumblr ilovecharts, about his new blog-based book, it made sense to do so on his home turf: the Internet.

“The Internet is the only place to which I feel truly nationalistic and is the environment in which I feel most at home,” Oberholtzer writes in I Love Charts: The Book, released last month by Sourcebooks. “You know what is odd about that? Mostly that it is no longer odd.”

It makes sense, then, that when Oberholtzer and I video-chatted via Skype, we talked about the book—about the 200 charts it contains, about how he and co-curator Cody Westphal tried to create a product that would appeal both to their Tumblr followers and to the uninitiated—but we also talked about the Internet and its role in building communities.

“The emotional attachment that I have formed with some of our followers, people who have been sending us charts for years, people I wouldn’t know except that at one point they told me via Venn diagram that they were lonely, is sort of phenomenal and is really specific to whatever the Internet is,” Oberholtzer said.

Given Oberholtzer’s passion for the Internet, it might seem counterintuitive to take something Web-based and turn it into an old-school paper product, but publishing the book actually struck him as a way to strengthen the community forged online.

“I really wanted to be sure that this wasn’t a typical blog-to-book offering, where you take the blog content, snap some bindings on it and sell it to unsuspecting IRL people, like ‘This is all the fun you’re missing on the Internet, Bookstore Kid!’” Oberholtzer said. “We try to pick apart the things people are trying to tell us through charts, because to a certain extent you chart things you want to understand better and more concisely, and it’s no surprise that the themes people are trying to understand in as concise a manner as possible are the big ones.”

tumblr_l8sqhazG5A1qa0uujo1_1280.jpegTo Oberholtzer, charts are more than a meme; they’re a way to tell a story, whether that story comes from data interpretation or a representation of feelings and beliefs. Where I Love Charts: The Book really shines is where it explores that personal side, delving into those big themes that Oberholtzer and Westphal saw emerging as patterns on their site—topics like love, loss, and luck, both depicted via graph and analyzed in personal essays by the authors.

Although there might be some serious topics, the 190-page book leaves room for plenty of fun, as well, addressing everything from Lady Gaga lyrics and the appropriate occasions for wearing sweatpants (hint: all of them). The book, like the blog that inspired it, distills life’s complexities into graphical form, allowing the significant and the lighthearted to coexist.

“It reflects our site in that our audience is in there, we’re in there, we made some of the charts, and our friends are in there, who have helped us along the way and been part of that community,” Oberholtzer said. “We’re trying to share of ourselves what they’ve shared of them, and show them that we’re listening.”

Photos courtesy of I Love Charts/Jason Oberholtzer

About Katie -- Currently a Brookline resident and BU senior, I grew up in New Hampshire, meaning I get confused when charged sales tax and can discuss at length the differences between multiple varieties of apples. At any given moment, I likely have my iPhone in my hand and at least one newspaper in my purse. I'm a political junkie, as well as an iced coffee addict. My interests include journalism, canvas sneakers, and pretending I'm in Ireland.

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