Reading Blogs vs. Reading Books

While on our honeymoon, my wife and I sat around and watched some Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  While watching “The Zeppo,” I got in the mood to read some H.P. Lovecraft.  I guess tentacled elder demons bringing on the Apocalypse kind of do that to me.

Blog vs Book 2So before I snuggle into bed, I decide to fire up the Stanza iPhone eBook app and read a Lovecraft short story before bed.  I figure I’d hit up “Nyarlathotep” or maybe “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” to meet my Elder God creepiness quota for the evening.

First, though, I loaded Google Reader just to check and see what was going on.  Apparently, a lot was.  Because before I knew it, two hours had passed and I had worked my way through all ~75 RSS blog posts.

By that point, sleep was a necessity and Lovecraft would have to wait.

The next day, I tell my wife how bad I felt about reading blogs for hours when I intended to nuzzle in with some fiction because this happens all the time.  I read troves of blogs daily, but I’m an English teacher, and the last book I actually read (not an audiobook) was in May.  May!

In my mind, my reading habits border on absurd.  But her response shocked me:  she told me—in so many words—that “reading is reading.”

I tend to agree with her.  After all, I think that “writing is writing,” so why should I think any less of the flip side of the equation?

And yet, for some reason, I do—at least subconsciously.  I just can’t seem to justify why.

Blog vs Book What gets me is that it’s not like I’m not reading at all. Were I doing nothing but watching hours upon hours of TV and playing tons of video games without ever seeing a written word, I honestly think I would have something to feel bad about.  I would be squandering my interest and education.  But I’m still reading.  I’m balancing my free time between TV, games, and reading, but I feel bad because all my reading these days comes from an online, digital outlet rather than an established literary source.

Consciously, I know the work and energy put into blogs can equal work and energy put into books.  And I know that just as many ideas—both good and bad—spring forth from blogs as books.

Quality writing is quality writing, no matter the medium.

I know that good bloggers write, edit, and revise like any other author. Why then does saying “I read 46 books last year” make me feel better than saying “I read between 50 and 75 different blog posts a day?”

I really don’t have a good answer for that.

I want to fall back on the stigma that it’s online and that anyone can publish anything they want, but I don’t think that’s it.  I’m very particular with my RSS subscriptions, so I only feed myself what I consider quality blogs.  I don’t read the chaff that “just anybody can write.”  Also, I am an active participant in the blogosphere (obviously), thus making an aversion to the medium itself self-loathing and antithetical.

The only other idea I can come up with is the importance I place on narrative in writing.  Blogs, by nature, lack a narrative arc.  Unless it’s one of those really neat blogs entirely based around telling a story, a blog sits in a pseudo-journalistic, non-fiction quagmire without a structured beginning, middle, and end.  Which is why I think it doesn’t sit as highly in my mind as even fluff novels. To me, skill with words can go only so far if the story being told is uninteresting.  The story is the backbone of writing in my mind, and blogs are generally more angled toward journalism than narration.

Narrative Stories fulfill me; they make me happy.  It’s why I became an English major in the first place—to make a living by looking at stories I love with a critical eye.  So to take the whole of my daily reading out of the realm of narrative and place it fully in a non-fiction format which precludes narrative almost entirely, I must find something missing by default, even when I completely enjoy and consider myself fulfilled by my reading habits.

I do plan, however, to get back to my chapter-before-bed routine starting with Stephen King’s upcoming novel, Under the Dome.  I’ll still get through the blogs in my reader and not feel quite so icky that I’m neglecting my beloved literature.

Am I alone in this?  Is there really a difference in what we read?  Does it matter if a person reads only blogs or spends a summer reading Charles Dickens’ or Stephen King’s whole library? Does the value of words come from deeper factors like medium and content or is it simply the act of reading that is important?

Comments

  1. Longasc

    “The medium is the message” said McLuhan. This changes the quality of what we read already. Also the circumstances – I am much more focused while reading a book then when surfing and reading blogs.

    I also skip parts in journals or read only particular news on a webpage, but I almost never skip pages in books.

    I also think that your decision to read blogs first has nothing to do with reading, but with habit and staying up to date – Lovecraft can wait, he is already dead, after all. 🙂

    • Professor Beej

      I’m the same way. I will skim certain parts of online text, but never in a printed book.

      Also, I never considered the staying up to date part of it. With the influx and rapidity my RSS reader fills, I often have to “mark as read” 40+ if I go a few days without being able to devote a lot of time to it, whereas a novel will stay just where I leave it indefinitely.

  2. If reading is supposed to be cathartic or enjoyable to an individual–and every individual is different–then reading is different for every individual as well.

    I don’t think reading blogs is any better or worse than reading a newspaper, book, comic book, journal or script. I do think, however, that variety can stimulate a person in new ways.

    For me, I read and write more scripts than anything and that is pretty unusual for the average person. My point is, we all feel a little like you, Beej, after all.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..The Office 6×09 ‘Double Date’ =-.

    • Professor Beej

      I do think that reading is cathartic. That’s why it kind of bothers me that my chosen catharsis has shifted from what I’m trained to study and love to something…else.

      I wish I could find the time to write fiction as well as blogs these days. I need to force myself to do it and carve my niche of time out for myself.

  3. I agree with you: writing is writing. It’s all just different forms of the same thing. Remember that Shakespear was originally written for the masses as soap opera entertainment and now it’s considered classic and high brow.

    The big difference between books and blogs is that I can read a book in the bath without fear of electrocution.

    • Professor Beej

      But that’s the argument I use to defend Stephen King! I can’t use it for both! Or is Shakespeare really that versatile? *irony*

    • I don’t think they will. I read somewhere that eBook sales are projected to equal print sales by 2018, and that really makes me think that the idea of digital text of any format will be far more accepted.

      Even in my freshman comp classes today, I ask people on the first day what they read and the majority of what I get is “MySpace blogs” and “Facebook notes.”

  4. There are definitely differences. I, too, have felt the itch for something more structured and mentally rigorous in my reading (as I note from time to time on my blog). Writing is writing, but there is a definite gradient of quality, just like there is a gradient of quality in thinking, art, or nearly anything else. The critical thinking and depth of attention that it takes to read something with more structure is good for the reader’s mental health.

    Blogs aren’t exactly junk food, but subsisting on a diet of them alone wouldn’t be healthy in the long run, just as a diet solely of Frosted Mini Wheats wouldn’t be healthy.

    I read *very* quickly, but there’s no way that I’ll ever read all that is out there. I have to pick and choose, and lately, I’ve been looking for a good book to bury myself in. (Though I’ve also felt the itch to *write* a novel, for what it’s worth.) I’ve had to be ruthless in skipping over articles that might be mildly interesting. It’s a bit unfortunate, but I frame it as “looking for the better and best, rather than just the good”.
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..WoW Tempest =-.

    • You mean to tell me that I can’t survive on mini wheats alone? Why did someone not tell me this sooner?!?!?!

      Seriously, though, I think you’re right. I’m keeping up with my blogs right now, but I have about 4 books I’m definitely looking forward to getting into over Christmas break while I’m not teaching. It’ll be a fantastic change.

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