A few (kind of random) good reads

Woke up Friday to a long read (appropriately) from Longreads about the literary world and online writing: Poets and the Machine. It was part history of online writing and part musing about why the literary world has shunned such as having literary merit, and it made me feel interested in writing here in a way that I haven’t felt in awhile. It reminded me of the possibilities for online writing that I got excited about back in the late 90’s (blogs are about to turn 30 years old!), and it got my brain turning. I felt a little spark, some ember of something within me flare.

On the subject of writing here, and online in general, I’m finding that more and more of my online reading is happening on Substack. (Head here to learn more about Substack.) Substack is a free newsletter service, but it feels (and looks) a lot like writing-focused, old school blogging to me. As my annual renewal for WordPress approaches, I’m thinking of shifting over to it. I’m not much interested in charging for my writing (what Substack is built for), but I like the idea of a free platform without ads.

One of my favorite Substack’s is Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study, which I do pay ($5/month) for. I learn a lot about topics I care about, and there is a robust community there; both make the small payment well worth the price for me. (Much of her content is free, but you do have to pay to be part of the community.) It is, as she regularly asks readers to keep it, “one of the good places on the internet.” Petersen has some regular paid-subscriber only prompts that are goldmines of great info. My favorite is “what are you reading?” which fuels my holds request list at the library, and I’ve found some great shows through “what are you watching?” A recent prompt to share favorite soup recipes yielded so many soups I want to try making.

Through a recent post there, I found another Substack this week that also blew air on an ember I thought might have extinguished: Rebecca’s Your House Machine. I particularly enjoyed “How you spend your time is who you are” and “Shield your eyes from your stuff–yes, really.” My neurodivergent self felt so seen by the latter one, and it helped me understand why questions about home interiors are so compelling to me that I once (with Cane) had a whole blog just about making a home. Basically, she’s writing what I wish I had written. (Maybe I did? Maybe I will again? We’ll see.)

I think it was Rebecca’s newsletter that led me to Laura Fenton’s Living Small (a sample post that I really appreciate: “A book that changed me (and how I wish to ‘influence’ you“). Most of the newsletters I’m reading I found through other newsletters–another thing that reminds me of the early years of blogging.

A few others that I think some of you might like:

Sari Botton’s Oldster, which is about “exploring what it means to travel through time in a human body.” I love this one, as my mind is being blown on a regular basis by the intersections of time and bodies and what it means to be human.

Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Vajenda, an “an evidence-based hub for reproductive health matters.” Most of my reproductive system left the building years ago, but I find so much valuable information here. And I like the writing.

Kelton Wright’s Shangrilogs, which is “a peephole into a different life — one centered around small town living, high-alpine adventure, and deep dives into nature.” Wright is a Millenial living in a small mountain town, and I’m living vicariously through her engaging writing. (For the record, I could never actually live her life, but I like to think I could. That’s why I appreciate being able to read about it.)

So tell me (if you’re so inclined)…

Anything you’re reading online that you think others might like/appreciate?

Any thoughts on blogs vs. Substack?

Would it make any difference to you if I started over on a new platform?

What would you like Rita to write about? (Not promising anything, but this blog is feeling a little too aimless to me…maybe that’s why I’ve been ignoring it.)

(Also, one last read, about Lilla Irvin Leach, without whom there would be no Leach Botanical Gardens, where this photo was taken last week. I wish someone would make a movie about her.)

15 thoughts on “A few (kind of random) good reads

  1. Marian says:

    I love the way Substack works—if I were still blogging, I think that’s where I’d want to be. I only subscribe to one Substack: Yarnstorm, written by Jane Brocket. She writes mostly about domestic things. Funnily enough, what you said above about Your House Machine—”she’s writing what I wish I had written”—were my exact thoughts on reading a piece Jane Brocket had written about sewing machines. It really made me wish I could get past my anxiety and begin writing online again.

    Here in Canada (and maybe it’s the same elsewhere too) we’re having a massive problem with journalism and its funding models what with ad revenue going to Meta and Google, so in order to support good journalism we recently subscribed to a couple of newspapers (the online editions). I’m pretty sure that’s not quite what you meant when you asked what your readers were reading online, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

    What would I like Rita to write about? I’ll keep reading whatever you choose to write, Rita. As much as I want to encourage you to write about the big, important things, I think I really mostly enjoy the small stuff of daily life. It seems like the entire world is going to hell in a hand basket, which is paralyzing at times, so it’s almost like a relief valve to see/read/discuss (for example) stair-measuring tools or collage houses or the upside of ants. Oh, and books! I love hearing about what other people are reading.

    • Rita says:

      I like Substack a lot as a reader, too. I haven’t tried to figure out how to be a producer there. Your comment is motivating me to dig into that. Thanks for pointing me to Yarnstorm. I’m not a knitter, but I enjoyed the few posts I sampled.

      I’m with you on subscribing to good journalism. I began subscribing to NYT soon after Trump’s election in 2016, and I still do. I also recently purchased a subscription to The Atlantic; I seemed to keep running into their paywall when following links shared by others. I’m so thankful for journalists and the work they do. I wish I could pay for all the Substacks I read. I think writers (all creators) should be paid. (Given, you know, capitalism.) I’m grateful for everyone who shares what they do freely.

      I also appreciate your words on what to write. I think the state of the world has been paralyzing me lately. I used to write my way through it, but that’s not working for me now. How many times can one say the same thing? And it feels wrong, somehow, to write about my very good fortune when others are suffering so horribly. And wrong in a different way not to. In some ways, it is maybe more important than ever to just notice what is good and what “good” is made of. (Peace, for one thing.) Paralyzing is a good word.

      I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback, Marian. It’s helpful.

  2. TD says:

    No, it would not make any difference to you if I started over on a new platform, Rita. If something excites you, I certainly encourage you to make a change towards it. I suppose you might start a new platform to test it out while keeping your current website for awhile. And if you don’t like the new platform, then you can continue on your current platform. I suppose that you could link to each other until your happy.

    If your writing goes behind a paywall, I will miss you though because I can’t afford to pay for subscriptions on my limited social security income.

    As far as Substack I am familiar with only my brother’s who uses a paywall on most but not all of his newsletters. I read his newsletters that are free. He is not a blogger. He is a journalist and author. While he uses Substack as his primary platform, he does keep his original website updated.

    My online reading consists mostly of personal blogs who use WordPress. Although I’m not a blogger, I occasionally enjoy the interaction of commenting. I also like being able to set the WP manager to where I receive new posts and replies from my comments which I don’t get with your personal website, Rita. I have to spend a lot of my time checking in on your website to see if you have posted or commented which may discourage readers.

    I agree with Marian that I enjoy when you write personal small stuff of daily life. I use the TV a variety of news and analytical news for the big stuff.

    I read the “How you spend your time” link and found it interesting.

    Good luck!

    • Rita says:

      Hi TD,
      Thank you so much for the thoughts and feedback. If I were to move to Substack, I wouldn’t put it behind a paywall. Not really my style.

      Your comment made me realize that the widget to subscribe to posts here (so you’ll get an email when new posts are up), has disappeared. And this kind of thing is exactly why I’m probably going to leave WordPress. It used to be easy to pop in features (like a subscription box), and now it is not. I’m guessing there are other things not working on this site, too. I’m sorry it’s become such a chore to follow here.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    How do you build any sense of community on Substack? Overall Substack seems like an incredibly lonely place. I’ve tried to like Substack but I just don’t get it. I’m supposed to want to get a newsletter from someone who used to write a personal blog like mine, but now wants to make their writing seem special so they charge money for it?

    That being said I get Culture Studies newsletter and Total Annarchy by Ann Handley, but these are people who are famous in their fields, not personal bloggers who seem to be hiding there instead of engaging with readers.

    What am I missing about it? Until someone can explain to me the value of Substack for a non-famous person like me I’ll stay with WP, flawed as it may be.

    • Rita says:

      Substack is just a platform, like WordPress is a platform. From the US Chamber of Commerce: “Substack is a popular platform for publishing blogs and email newsletters for businesses and writers of various levels and industries.” (https://www.uschamber.com/co/grow/marketing/substack-newsletter-benefits-for-entrepreneurs) You can have a Substack publication and not charge anything for access to your content. Like WordPress (or Blogger) blogs, there are options for readers to engage with the writer and other readers via comments. You can also find other people to read through the platform. Not sure if that answers your question. The benefits I see are: It has the ability to function in the same way that this WordPress blog does, but I don’t have to pay for hosting or subject readers to annoying ads that come with a free account. I also wouldn’t have to manage constantly-changing back end tech issues.

      • Ally Bean says:

        Thanks for the explanation. I have [maybe ‘had’ at this point] an account with Substack and all I ever saw there were posts about how to make money from blogging.

        I joined with high hopes because I followed a few WP bloggers who went there, but then they started charging to allow me, anyone, to read their content. Or worse, instead of being public, they required me to subscribe to their newsletter. It seemed so capitalistic and closed off to me.

        Other people have mentioned how they enjoy Substack, and I’d be happy to follow you there, I have no strong allegiance to WP, but I figure if I’m confused by it, a blogger for almost 20 years, then many of my bloggy friends might be confused too and never follow me there.

        • Rita says:

          I get what you are saying. I got an account early on, and it didn’t seem like much to me. Feels like it has exploded. I’m discovering a lot of interesting writing there. I like that the focus is on writing. I think writers can make their posts public, so that you don’t have to subscribe. You might have to have your own Substack account to be able to check them easily, though. I need to learn more about settings and what you can/can’t do there before I make a final decision. Given your robust blogging community, I can see why you’d be reluctant to change what you’re doing, and if it’s working why would you? I’m a big proponent of not fixing things that ain’t broke. 🙂

  4. Kate says:

    I’ve appreciated all the iterations of your writing and if you make the jump to substack, I absolutely will follow you there to read. I just appreciate all the ways you share. I’ve been a horrible commenter in all the places I read and my guess is that pattern will continue.

    I enjoy substack immensely and appreciate your mention of a few other people for me to check out!

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate. I disagree with your assessment of yourself as a commenter. I know you’ve got other priorities right now. So glad to “see” you here.

  5. Kari says:

    I’ll follow you wherever you go. I’ll definitely check out Substack. 
    I have an issue with bloggers who refuse to pay to read other bloggers. I am occasionally included in this, and I want to look into the why. That’s actually a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. I’m going without social media in November, so now seems like a good time to look into it. (I love it when a plan comes together.) What I’m trying to say is, if you ever decide to charge for your content, don’t be afraid to do so. People will pay for Starbucks without a second thought. You and your words are valuable as well. 😘

    • Ally Bean says:

      Kari, I’m one of those people who won’t pay for what other bloggers write. I make my blog open and free to all because that’s what think blogging is. I’ve never ever considered charging money for what I write on a blog. I’ll be fascinated to see what you learn about this topic. Interesting.

    • Rita says:

      I absolutely think that some blogs/sites/whatever we call them are worth paying the creators for. It takes time to create the content that fills them, and in our society as it’s currently structured, time is money. If I could make enough from writing, I might not have to be substitute teaching (which I’m doing in a limited way, and it’s not bad, but I’m not doing it because I think it’s fun; I’m doing it for the money). Mine, as it currently exists, is not something I’d feel OK about charging for. If I were going to do that, I’d need to provide more content, with more value, and on a regular schedule. Part of the reason I don’t do those things, though, honestly, is because of the work I’m doing for money.

      Anyway, something I’ve been thinking about. I only pay for one, and I’m happy to just get the free content from others. I do feel a little conflicted about that, though. Just because of how our world works and what I know about the labor that goes into what I’m consuming.

      I read something (on Substack) just yesterday about social media that made me think it would be a good time to log off (https://aplaceforwriters.substack.com/p/a-permanent-goodbye-to-social-media). Maybe I’ll join you, and we can compare notes at the end of the month?

      • TD says:

        I just read this link in your reply comment to Kari. I have a question. This writer which I have never heard of states “But I can also peruse recipes online and read blogs and newsletters.” Isn’t that also social media?

        I don’t stream and don’t do all those multiple medias this writer mentions, but I do what local news and national news on my local TV stations. I suspect that this writer and you all might as well. Isn’t that social media?

        Just my 2¢.

        • Rita says:

          From Webster: “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)”

          I think media is considered “social” if it is interactive, with readers/users sharing/creating content as well as consuming it. So, Facebook and Instagram and TikTok are for-sure social media. Blogs, I think, are too–though to varying degrees. I wouldn’t consider news broadcasts to be social media, although online the comment sections made the line a little fuzzy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.