Reading an eBook on a handheld device just cannot be compared to the real thing. All those charming individualities and quirks that signify the transition from one book to another: size and weight, print and texture, and even their smell, are stripped away to ensure a consistently smooth, clean-cut presentation. Plus, you’ll never have to concern yourself with loose leafs, be distracted by yours or someone else’s scribbled notes, or have to skilfully manoeuvre past the squashed insect [complete with expiration date] on page 230.
Despite these misgivings, I’m prepared to openly profess my enjoyment of, and brace yourselves … preference for, reading from a screen, particularly for long periods. Though I’ve the distinct feeling this opinion will run counter to many of your own, I make no apologies for expressing it. In fact, it’s largely due to their adaptability that I’ve come to rely on these handheld devices; allowing me to adjust the display brightness under diminishing light, ramp up the text size when my eyes are failing me, and summon up a dictionary when I stumble across an archaic word or phrase. It’s all very Fisher-Price, I grant you, but though they will never look, feel, or indeed smell like a good book ought to, they can provide almost everyone with comfortable reading conditions.
Over the course of the last six months, I’ve slowly grown to love eBooks. I’d now go as far as to say that, faced with a straight choice, I’m prepared to plump for an eBook over its undeniably more handsome and impressive physical counterpart. And so it was during this period of discovery when the death of Project Gutenberg’s founder Michael Hart was announced. The availability of thousands of out of copyright books in digital form from many of the world’s greatest authors still amazes me just as much as when I first learned about the project’s existence ten or so years ago. It’s an incredible legacy to leave behind, and one I couldn’t help but feel should be celebrated in some way.
If there’s one thing I’m very good at, it’s devoting a tremendous amount of time to pointless exercises: getting hopelessly lost down endless Wikipedia rabbit holes [I’ve only just this minute taken a mere six steps to get from Jack Lemmon to Samuel Pepys], staring blankly at walls as though they’re a magic eye puzzle, and generally waiting around for something more exciting to happen. So I thought I’d try and curtail these and other wasteful causes by taking on a challenge that cannot be completed until this time next year: to spend the next 52 weeks reading 52 eBooks.
To the reading pod
It was always going to take something special to prize me away from iBooks and Readmill was just that. In addition to offering an equally comfortable and pleasurable reading experience, it allows me to keep up with what my friends and contemporaries are reading, as well as share thoughts and highlights from what I’m reading. Readmill will be my weapon of choice for this challenge, so you’ll be able to keep up with my progress, should you be interested and intrigued by it. I dare say I’ll also tweet about this from time to time.
If the strength and feasibility of an idea can be roughly measured by how one feels about it after a night’s sleep, then I suppose a good one must survive a further six. I’m happy to report that I remain as excited by the prospect of this challenge as I was when I began drawing up the longlist of titles, which were soon whittled down to the final 52 below.
I cannot think of a more appropriate way to celebrate one person’s vision and audacity than to read a few books in the digitised form he introduced forty years ago.
I feel as though I’ve already gone some way towards ensuring an interesting year. I guess whatever I do, or wherever I pitch up over the course of the next twelve months, I’ll never be too far away from my eBook reader. Wish me luck.
- 2011 in articles and blog entries
- Long live the online book club