I’m having a little trouble keeping the eyelids open on humpday, so I’ll probably come back to this later. Still, I’ve been away for a couple of days, so I thought I’d ruminate for a few paragraphs.
A conversation with a colleague a couple of weeks back has had me contemplating the status of audiobooks. Conversation turned around the question of whether audiobooks constituted “reading,” an ameliorative factor to the generally dismal view of literary reading that’s been out there ever since the NEA report in 2004.
I’m not convinced, but I am intrigued by the general status of audiobooks and how they relate to the historical practices of reading and listening aloud. It’s worth saying that a characteristic of modern reading practices has idealized silent reading for oneself. Reading out loud, and worse, listening to others read, has largely been a sign of immaturity or deficiency.
But should it be? Not sure. Something I’ll have to come back to.
I recently stumbled across Librivox. Again, something I’m sure many people were already familiar with, but which seems brand new to me. Essentially an archive of open access recordings of various works of literature, the recordings done by volunteers.
Librivox has all the strengths and weaknesses of democratic webdom. I literally could not understand some of the poems I tried to listen to. Some readers sounded vaguely like adenoidal adolescents, slurred words together and substituted speed and volume for earnestness and emotion. Others started well, but seemed to get bored with the poems as they go along. It takes a lot of effort, evidently, to be sonorous and measured and musical, to have a voice worth listening to without making listeners hear the voice more than the poetry itself.
Still, I ran across Justin Brett after listening to about a half dozen recordings of Dover Beach, and immediately became a sucker for his resonant baritone and British accent. I could listen all day.
For several good recordings of Brett’s vocal work, listen to the following:
Is it reading? I still don’t think so, but I’ll come back to it. Is it literature? That’s an interestingly different question, that will also await another day. Is the experience of literature linked inextricably to the page, or is it in the word that the page “merely” symbolizes? Is whatever is literary about literature independent of the written word–ink or digital–just as we might think of music as essentially free of and even superior to the page upon which it is composed? I don’t think so, for now, but it’s worth thinking about.