On E-books, Blog Compilations, and the Importance of Reading Widely

It seems to be the thing nowadays for people to publish short (30-100) page e-books, often as marketing tools to get you interested in the author’s longer books or entice you to sign up for a newsletter.  Another trend, which has been going on for a while now, is for bloggers to compile books from their blog posts, maintaining a post-ish length for chapters even if they add in some new material.  I know there is some discussion about e-books and blog books and whether they even really count as “books” but I think, as in many things, as long as you keep a balance going and are discriminating in your choices, e-books and blog books can be an important component in reading widely.

The shorter approaches have significant value:

  • Some ideas are well-suited for short, direct writing.  Writing an e-book or blog-style book can be good for writers who would otherwise be tempted to drone on and on.  I’ve definitely read 200+ page books that could have (and should have) been distilled into a 35 page document.  And some ideas shine through better in a shorter format that preserves simplicity and clarity.  The ideas can be relevant and worthy without demanding longer exposition.
  • Some ideas resonate well in highly focused formats.  If you’re short on time or only have a passing interest in subjects, an e-book can be a great way to interact with an idea without making a big time commitment.  For example, I know lots of people who didn’t jump on the 168 Hours bandwagon in spite of my repeated cheerleading for the concept.  However, many of those people read the same author’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast e-book.  The e-book has a lot of the same ideas, but focuses narrowly on morning routines, which is a more manageable entry point for lots of people.
  • Some topics lend themselves to development in shorter snippets.  I’ve read a few e-books on taking a month to do something – get organized, be encouraged in parenting, start a new habit, etc – and I think that short format works well in giving small bursts of daily encouragement.
  • Blog compilations can save time.  Sometimes I appreciate the ability to read a chunk of useful stuff from a blog post compilation book rather than taking the time to dig through someone’s archives.
That said, there are also downsides to short e-books and blog compilations that highlight the (many) reasons why reading longer books is important and why balancing longer and shorter books is a worthy challenge:
  • Some ideas NEED more development.  In some cases, I feel like I’ve wasted time reading an e-book or blog-post-like book because I didn’t get enough meat to be helpful.  Some ideas really do benefit from longer and more detailed development, or are easier to implement in a life-changing way if you have more exposure to them.  Taking a big idea and over-simplifying it can result in fluff.
  • There is value to engaging your brain in longer-running arguments.  Brains are like muscles – if you don’t work them hard every now and then they do get a little soft.  I like to balance reading shorter books with longer ones to keep up my ability to follow more detailed arguments and engage with deeper ideas.
  • Really critical ideas with world-changing importance tend to be found in longer books.  There are probably exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, critically-important cultural, historical, philosophical, and ethical ideas are covered in longer books.  If you skip those, you pretty much remove yourself from the sort of deeper understanding that makes a difference in how you live, parent, educate, and interact with others.  I’m not saying that you can’t live a valuable life if you don’t read longer books, but there’s nuance and complexity in them that can be overlooked if you base your opinion exclusively on other sources.
  • Longer books are harder to dismiss.  Since you can read some e-books in an hour or so, it’s easy to nod vigorously in agreement with the premise and then promptly forget about it.  Reading a longer book on the same topic requires more time, and therefore tends to keep the idea percolating in your head.  Longer books are also more likely to approach the same idea from different angles, so chances are better than one or more of those angles will resonate or stick with you longer than a single focus idea might.
As with many things, I think balance is key when thinking about types of books.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to dismiss the e-book/blog book thing out of hand, but an exclusive and steady diet of that idea snippets without deeper reading might not be ideal.  Just as I think reading widely across genres is helpful, so also reading books of different lengths and types can be beneficial.


Do you read e-books and/or blog compilation type books?  Why or why not?

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