My Latest E-Book Both Continues the Pattern and Doesn’t

My latest longform work is the e-book This Is Not a Book. It makes the case for physical books and argues that e-books and printed books are different media serving different roles for readers, writers, and the very transmission of ideas. It is an odd work out of an odd time. I wrote it entirely during my state’s shelter-at-home period of the 2020 pandemic, and I drew inspiration from this period. 

Specifically, the e-book began when I watched my local library close to providing physical books, but remain open for downloading digital works. The shift seemed to give weight to the implication e-books are a substitute for books. I wanted to explore that implication. The result is a work that is both a departure from, and consistent with, my pattern of writing longform works so far.

It is a departure. So far, my published books have been about theology, about faith. This is not that. This new work is about something different, a different avenue to explore. I do not know what this means. The last book I wrote brought me to the resolution of so many of the questions I have wrestled with for so long that this book, and the larger work it is a part of, still feels done. The exploration still feels done. The task before me now is to remain transformed by the exploration and to bear fruit, as the very next line following that book’s title makes clear. (John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain....”) The latest “fruit” is not another book about theology; whether the next one will be is unknown to me.

Meanwhile, the latest e-book is also consistent with what seems to be a pattern of my major projects. This latest published longform work, my fourth, is an e-book — and the second book I published was really just an e-book as well. I knew this at the time; print was the last version added. My longform works thus have followed the pattern book, e-book, book, e-book. If that pattern holds, then a physical book is coming next. But sitting here now, I am not aware whether any of the ideas drawing my interest right now will prove heavy enough to peacefully burden me into a work like this.

That question points to one more difference between e-books and books, a difference that is either an opportunity or a peril. While books both allow and require works of substantial heft and extent, enough to fill a minimum quantity of pages, e-books give the freedom to publish both quickly and in brief. My new e-book is available only for Amazon Kindle, because this choice leans into these advantages; Amazon makes it cheap and easy for an author to publish an e-book through its platform. Since my new book is in part a work of its time (this pandemic period), it argues for quick posting to readers. And the chance to keep on doing this has an appeal — that is, spend months on ideas instead of years, post e-book after e-book, and raise the quantity and frequency of what I publish so that the e-book serves a hybrid role between books and blogging.

Yet the writing is not just in the publishing. It is also in the peace: that peaceful burden, the work of quietly and intentionally sculpting thoughts. This sculpting sometimes requires the slow process of dissatisfaction and revision over time. Something will be lost in my own potential for what I can say as a writer if I don’t continue with a medium that accepts, and even seems to ask, this slowness.