The format and the message

One of the magazines that I enjoy reading is called “Paddling Magazine.” Receiving the magazine is one of the benefits of membership in the American Canoe Association. The magazine is a combination of what once were three different magazines: Canoeroots, Advnture Kayak and Rapid. Canoeroots was the official magazine of both Canadian and USA canoeing, Adventure Kayak was devoted to sea kayaks and Rapid was devoted to whitewater paddling. The new magazine has a fourth section, about paddle boarding as well. Along with the combined magazines, the new magazine has a much more compact format in terms of articles. There are lots of pictures and articles generally run from 150 -500 words. That is not very much text. Part of the format is designed around the fact that the magazine is both a print magazine and a digital magazine. In fact, I now find myself reading the magazine’s online format more and more even though I still receive the print magazine. I know it won’t be long before I switch to digital only delivery as I have with a few other publications.

The problem with the format is the short articles. It is hard to tell much of a story in such a format. It works well for equipment reviews, but when I read about expeditions and long trips, I wish for longer articles. There is so much that gets edited out of the magazine to meet the requirements of the format.

I’m familiar with the problem because I write this journal. Although my daily journal entry is well over double the length of the average article in Paddling Magazine, I find that I cannot fully discuss many complex subjects. I present ideas and at times I want to wrestle with complex ideas, but I have to limit the amount of rhetoric I write to meet the expectation of writing a somewhat finished article each day. The next day i switch subjects and go on. I will occasionally write a series, but for the most part, I try to come up with words that fulfill the essay format.

More and more I am noticing books that are written in a similar manner. If I were to take a series of the best of my journal entries and edit them into a book, something I have considered doing, it would be a fairly big job, but not impossible. A kind of “best of the blog” effort would produce something that is engaging and would be easy to read because one could pick it up and put it down without having to stop in the middle of an idea.

I was pondering the phenomenon of this type of writing recently as I was reading book reviews. I’ve been searching for some recreational reading. For the most part this fall I’ve been doing more professional reading of theology and related subjects and a bit less recreational reading. Much of my recreational reading has been done in magazines. We didn’t have our magazines forwarded during our sabbatical, so I had a neat pile of catch up reading, which has now been completed and the magazines have moved to the recycle bin. Since Susan and I enjoyed a circle tour of Lake Superior in 2007 and I sometimes dream of making another visit to the Great Lakes region, I found myself reading online reviews of books about the Great lakes. I found titles like “Late Great Lakes,” “Water Wars,” “Lake Invaders,” “Death and life of the Great Lakes,” “Graveyard of the Lakes,” “Saving the Beautiful Lake,” and “Uncharted Waters.” It seemed in my brief review that books about the great lakes were either about shipwrecks or the deteriorating health of the region’s environment. I don’t mind reading about either subject, but both types of books are heavy on explaining the problem and short on the solution. In the case of shipwreck books, there is lots of information on what caused the wreck and the events of the accident itself, but very little on what has been learned from the wreck and how to avoid wrecks in the future. Environmental books are even worse. They are big on describing the problem and short on solutions. Books about invasive species are among the worst. They tell all about the potential devastating effects of invading species, but rarely present solutions. I did read one review that suggested getting people to eat Asian Carp and developing a fishing industry around the invasive species, but fishermen tend to get engaged in sustaining the fishery and preserving the species, so I don’t know how well that would work.

It can be a bit depressing tor read about problems without solutions. I began to wonder if that kind of book is the result of the style of reading and writing to which we have become accustomed. Short articles don’t allow for full discussion of complex ideas. A series of essays never get all the way around a very complex concept. So we raise problems without solutions. I know that I do it in my journal articles and, at times, in my preaching. I raise an issue and even hint at its complexity then go on to another subject. The discipline of really buckling down and tacking a complex subject is becoming more and more uncommon. I find the same phenomenon in theological writing. There are more and more books that are fairly eloquent at deconstruction - taking apart an existing argument or institution and completely void of reconstruction - offering fresh ideas and solutions to multi-generational problems.

Our world still has big ideas and big problems. There are concepts that are worthy of multiple books and big discussions - some requiring several generations to forge. However, we are losing the discipline of group study. Universities are becoming centers of online learning rather than communities that tackle problems that are too big for an individual. Books are becoming collections of essays. And this, being an essay is just long enough to spell out the problem, but will be posted without a solution.

I know how to play the game, but I long for a different format. Perhaps it is time to write a book.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!