I succumb to the same temptations as everyone else. I lie in bed with a novel next to me and my phone in my hand, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter to see what people have shared, clicking various articles and blog posts, flitting from one idea, one news item to the next. According to the Pew Research Center, I'm not alone. American book reading is in decline, and the decline corresponds to the increase in screen time. I too find myself clicking on links instead of picking up my book, but I know that much of that clicking is a waste of time.
It makes sense to read news-based blogs and websites regularly, but I get plenty of news throughout the day, so my evening news consumption is more a bad habit than a necessary source of information. And then there are the reflective blogs, factories for people like me to offer our opinions and reflections on the world around us. Again, I enjoy reading these short statements on life and faith and events, and I hope I faithfully convey some relevant thoughts on faith, family, disability and culture in this space. But even the most carefully crafted blog post cannot substitute for a book. Here’s why:
1. Books are, generally, created to last. Books may not be timeless, but they are not driven by today’s news. Their pages hold arguments and reflections that should stand the test of time. Blog post are—by design—ephemeral, often written in response to current events. And even those blog posts with timeless content disappear under the constantly scrolling screen of words. No matter how beautiful, no matter how carefully crafter, most blog posts will be read once by most readers, and then for all intents and purposes, thrown away.
Moreover, books are supposed to serve a bigger purpose than blog posts, as Marla Popova wrote about recently for brainpickings.org. Popova identifies four psychological functions of great literature: it saves times, decreases loneliness, makes us nicer and prepares us for failure. The irony, of course, is that Popova offers us these functions of literature in the form of a blog post, and that they play to our contemporary fixation with efficiency and self-satisfaction. Still, books serve a psychological purpose that blog posts never will because their authors intend for them to stick around.
2. Books involve a long editing process. I’ve been working on Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most for the better part of the past 18 months. Almost every chapter contains a story that showed up in a blog post somewhere along the way, but now those stories have been placed inside a larger narrative framework. Now they have been woven together to form a narrative. And now they have been edited for word choice and idea progression and all the nitty gritty details like punctuation.
I worked on the first draft of this book for months. I work on most blog posts for at most a few hours. Even after those months of my own writing and editing, Small Talk went through five more rounds of editing. I changed a word on page 52 because the same unusual word showed up again on page 176. I woke up in the middle of the night in July—a month after the final final draft had been submitted—and I knew the chapters in the first part weren’t in the right order. It was only because I had a few weeks to let it sit there untouched that I could see how the order was wrong and how to fix it. Writing needs time and editing to become something worth including in a book.
So when I discover a blogger I really like—be it a columnist for the New York Times or a mommy blogger or someone else—I prefer the pleasure of sitting down with the book s/he has written rather than the blog post of the moment.
3. Books cost money. Although some bloggers apparently make a living by blogging, for most of us, blogs serve three purposes. One, blogs provide a way to comment on current events. Two, blogs offer us a way to try out ideas. Three, blogs offer a way to build an audience. But it doesn’t cost much to put content on the internet, and it doesn’t cost anything for most of us to read content online. Books, on the other hand, cost money, which means that readers and publishers have invested in this product. Hopefully, this investment translates to a better product—careful writing, better design, and so forth. And hopefully the return on the investment is worth it.
I will keep blogging because it offers me a way to engage with readers, to try out ideas, and to respond to the news as it happens. And I will keep reading blogs (though only a few) because they keep me engaged with the news. But mostly, I will read blogs because they introduce me to new writers who might have also written long-lasting, well-edited books.
Author’s note: I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, but I finally wrote it because of the upcoming release of my book, Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most. If you’re interested in the book, you can find out more here.