Photograph by Bram Naus via Unsplash

The new reading matter

March 14, 2024

I’ve been blogging now since 2001. I ran a quick calculation and estimate that I’ve written over 1 million words of blog content. Conservatively, that’s about 20 books.

When I first published a book back in 2014, I aimed to publish it at a traditional publishing house because traditional publishing had (and still has) street cred. Many readers place importance on whether a book is self-published or published through a reputable “house.”

The same is to a certain extent true of blogging. Many people prioritize reading blogs written for magazines or curated pages. Substack has this kind of credibility, as did Blogger back when I first started blogging.

Today I believe forms of self-publishing and traditional book publishing are coming closer and closer to each other. Books are still doing great, which I’m happy about. But now some books (like novelettes at Tor) are primarily digital and blog-like, and conversely many blogs (and podcasts) now gain such notoriety they function almost like traditional publishers.

You as a reader might ask yourself: when I sit down to read entries at The Christian Citizen or Substack, am I approaching them like I used to approach books?

Here’s why this might matter: cumulatively many of us journal the list of books we read, or post photos of our book stacks. I wonder why we do not also make such lists of the excellent things we read online (an exception is a page like Longreads, which does).

Additionally, those of us who read for “edification” might benefit from tracking how much religious or theological content we read from blogs and journals, in the same way we make lists of books to read for continuing education.

I know why I write blogs: it’s the primary means by which I do pastoral or theological education. I strive to provide a resource for Christian (and human) thinking.

I do not often assemble such writing into a printed book, and I understand that books have credibility at least in part because of their length. But there is another kind of stability to publishing incrementally over a long period of time that perhaps could or should have a kind of credibility similar to books (we have examples of this in the work of Heather Cox Richardson and others).

All kinds of publishing have drawn close because of the equalization of platforms. Increasingly, publishers rely on the author’s platform to sell books. But on the other hand, the tools for publishing have never been easier. Literally anyone with a few clicks can get their content uploaded to print-on-demand publishing sites like Amazon.

Nobody has to spend a thing until someone wants to print your book.

Publishing, like any industry, is always going to have people like Sarah Maas and Brandon Sanderson, and blogging will have similar stars. But what has happened more generally in publishing is a new and fantastic opportunity: everyone has drawn close, and a favorite author you’ve discovered is often only a click and a message away on Facebook Messenger, and eager to hear from readers.

Inasmuch as Christians are a “people of the book,” we need to ask ourselves how being “people of the Internet” can still be an intellectual and spiritual practice that forms us in productive ways.

Partially, I recommend this habitus or posture toward blog reading to invoke some of the habits of mind we operate from when reading books. When we read longer works, we engage an argument or topic over time, over the course of chapters. Reading books is a whole practice or way of life.

One could in fact read blogs in a comparable way, curating for ourselves a set of posts to read on a specific topic. The only thing stopping us is the habitus that new media has oriented us in, of shorter attention spans and scanning of content.

We do even more with books that could be adapted. Some of us keep commonplace books with handwritten quotes pulled from inspiring texts. Or we underline our books. We write book reviews.

There is simply an intentionality with books. We have to check them out or buy them, carry them around and engage them. They are less ephemeral than blogs—but blogs needn’t be approached in this manner.

Remember magazines? Or print journals? These have some of the same tactile impacts of a book, and are curated collections.

What might it be like if, when we sat down to scan the Internet, we thought of ourselves as picking up and engaging a magazine?

Conversely, as blog authors, what if we created content with a mind toward longer forms? Rather than a shot across the bow addressing the hot topic of the moment that will get the most clicks and good SEO, we wrote with longer methods of argumentation in sight, and curated lengthier resources for readers?

I think at least some of these newer and older media comparisons might be fruitful. Inasmuch as Christians are a “people of the book,” we need to ask ourselves how being “people of the Internet” can still be an intellectual and spiritual practice that forms us in productive ways.

Are we satisfied with how we engage the new reading matter?

Rev. Clint Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a progressive church in the South. He is the founder of Canopy NWA (a refugee resettlement agency) and Queer Camp, and is the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era. He blogs at Substack.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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