I've just finished the most difficult book I have ever read.
Every time I've been to Dublin I've wandered around thinking I really should read Ulysses one day. This time I cracked, walked into a bookshop and parted with €3 to emerge clutching a copy of Ulysses. It's taken me a few weeks but I've just finished it. Could I say that reading Ulysses was fun? Well not all the time, and I had to resort to setting myself a daily reading target in order to ensure that I kept going and didn't get distracted by, oh well, you know ... life. Do I regret reading it? Not at all, and I suspect I will become more and more glad that I did as the years go by (and certainly the next time I go to Dublin).
Last year, I read Moby Dick for the first time. That was a little different to Ulysses as I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg and read it on my iPad on long train journeys. So which of these books did I enjoy more, and did the distribution technology play any role in that? I certainly found Moby Dick easier to read than Ulysses, although of course there are frustrations when Melville goes off on one of his narrative rambles, but I couldn't say that I enjoyed it more. And I don't feel that reading a printed book versus using an iPad affected my feelings in any way, even though I find the act of reading the printed version more pleasurable than squinting at an iPad screen. I'm perfectly happy to have parted with €3 for my copy of Ulysseys, a perfectly respectable price for a book of this age by a dead author. But I am price driven, and apart from the fact that I prefer reading longform in print, the reason that I hardly ever buy ebooks is the pricing ripoff. I've got no problem shelling out €5-10 for a recent ebook by a living author, but unless I can share it with my friends and family if I enjoy reading it, then forget it. If I've bought your book, I'll damn well decide what to do with it once I've read it. My thinking now is that I just need to read War and Peace and then I'm done - I'll never need to read another book again*. And when I do read it, it will certainly be the Gutenberg version.
Seth Godin has just published an interesting post: An end of books. In some sense, every book you read is an end, as well as a beginning. I'm more interested in Godin's discussion of technology as a multitasking distraction than I am in the rest of his post. It's not an end of books we should be thinking about, but an end of longform reading. Yesterday I sat in a meeting discussing the idea of producing ebooks to support student maths teaching. I argued strongly against the original plan to produce a maths ebook-to-end-all-ebooks and in favour of shorter, topic-focused units - and algebra ebook, a calculus ebook, etc. This morning my latest purchase from Amazon arrived in the post. I will enjoy reading it. There will be no end of books. How we reading them will continue to change.
* This is a joke. I am prone to making these.