Reading for Sport?

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What is it with turning regular every day activities into contests?  The simple joy of eating a hot dog is now a sanctioned event governed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). Ironing is now an extreme sport as is growing a beard.  Don’t get me wrong…as both a competitive person and a male (age 18 to 35) I can appreciate a ridiculous challenge, and while I am skeptical about reading for sport, I feel that if you’re going to do so there needs to be rules.

This morning, I came across the following blog post on entitled “10 Novels That We Dare You to Finish.”  In the post, “foolhardy readers” are encouraged to go through the list and comment on which titles, if any, were finished with ease.  In a related blog post, GallyCat editor Jason Boog has included links to “free eBook copies of five massive novels.”  Boog who enjoys reading electronic versions of long novels feels this approach “seems like the perfect way to interact with these unwieldy titles.”

Boog does raise an interesting point in that downloading a free version of something like War and Peace may certainly be more convenient than borrowing it from the local library or finding a cheap copy of the title at a used book store.  But if one is being challenged (or in the case of Flavorwire  … “dared”) to read these titles, then I would argue that downloading the “e” version is cheating.

If you are going to challenge someone to read titles that “also function as doorstops,” then I feel you should only read the print-versions.  It wouldn’t be the same experience otherwise.  The most cumbersome book I own is Carl Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novus).  The book is a whopping 15 by 12 inches and almost 10 pounds.  When I read it, my wife thinks I look like a Benedictine Monk studying some ancient text.  The content of Jung’s book is fascinating, and I can’t imagine one having the same experience with an eBook-version of it (I don’t even know if an electronic version exists to be honest).  Moreover, what little remains of the book’s original simulacrum would be further diminished, I feel, when converted and displayed in electronic form.

For most readers, the simple joy of reading is motivation enough to tackle titles like War and Peace or The Red Book.  But if you’re going to challenge people who would not normally read “long, long books,” then I would force these folks to stick to print-versions only.  I feel you should have to lug them around with you in all their unwieldy glory.  In doing so, it will make for a richer experience.  At the very least, when the challenge is over, you’ll still have a physical version of the book.  Like a trophy on a bookshelf from some sporting challenge, it will stand as proof of your prior conquest.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

4 thoughts on “Reading for Sport?”

    The URL above is a link to a photo of “The Red Book” sitting on my desk. It’s bigger than my computer monitor, keyboard and iPad. It certainly does not qualify as an easy beach read nor is it conveniently stowed in the overhead compartment.

  2. Hey Gavin, I love the idea and agree for the most part. There is definitely something fantastic about holding an immense book in one’s hands and making that incremental daily progress. It helps drive a person on through those middle chapters and provides a sense of accomplishment when you get to close the back cover. Thump.
    On the other hand, there is something to be said for the challenge of trudging along through an eBook–particularly a huge one–, not knowing when something like Thackeray’s Vanity Fair will end. That would definitely require a whole new level of perseverance–like running a full marathon on a treadmill. Only you know that you accomplished it. The physical trophy will not exist, but you will KNOW you accomplished something.
    As for The Red Book–the image of your copy is GORGEOUS. I might just be adding that title to my Christmas wish list. Thanks for the heads up on that one. And yes, I will be asking for the paper version.

  3. “That would definitely require a whole new level of perseverance–like running a full marathon on a treadmill” – That’s a great simile.

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