Apart from the obvious mental switch from one medium to another, in what other ways are audio books changing our perceptions of literature?
I asked a friend the other day if she bought my book yet; and she got confused. Have I written a book? She knew nothing about it. I would have expected her to get confused by my assumption that she’d buy my audio book at all, but no – her mind just could not imagine a ‘book’, without that hard, rectangular paper object, with letters and pictures to hold in her hands; and flick through, one by one, in the solitary silence of her personal space and the physical evidence of her virtual journey.
Indeed, the romance of our reading habits cannot be matched by the images of hardware plugging our ears, to the disturbing sounds of someone else’s voice eroding our daydreams and distracting us from our own imagination.
No – not if we try to enjoy the literature in the same way.
The recent surge of production in this fast-expanding medium gives audio books a place of practicality, convenience and dry pragmatism, in our minds. We tend to think of it as something borne out of necessity – a response to our fast-paced lives, which have gradually bumped the solitary moments, daydreams and reading-for-pleasure out of our life schedules... Or, maybe, we simply think of books as something that is read – not listened to.
Whatever it is, our sense of comfort with multisensory consumption of literature is only the matter of time, but that’s not all. Audio books do a lot more than replicate a book in a different medium.
What audio books do is create additional layers of literary experience, while still leaving it to the listener’s imagination to create its own vision of the journey.
Human voice is a micro-universe of unique expressive systems, controlled by willpower and breath. Each and every vocal system in our species is different. We are a race which creates by existence. No ‘book’ remains the same, once read out loud; and it changes again, when read by someone else. The sometimes subtle differences in our voices leave deep impressions on the listener, which are often more meaningful than the meanings of the words. These differences are due to the endless combinations of our different body structures and life experiences. Human voice is the window into our souls. Voice and word reveal the complexity of our beings, in bloom.
Technology has done much to change our perceptions and consumption habits, in all ways, including literature. Here, like everywhere, it manipulates. It highlights, distorts, elevates, tunes, asserts... It is our own overpowering tool; and we have to tame it, train it, restrain it – own it. It is the one segment, which stands out of all others, as the defining experiential difference – ‘is something live or recorded?’. Audio books are the recorded versions of the spoken-word art; and, by the virtue of that, they are completely different.
Many audio books these days come without sound effects or music. I think this is a pity. Of course, not all of them call for those additional layers – indeed, they may be distracting – but many of them miss out on it, due to the short production schedules, again, driven by the desire to expand and multiply. Sound effects and music play a vital part in storytelling. They are another phenomenon of unique human endeavour, which helps us define who we are. They, in themselves, are complex, multi-layered creations, often able to stand as stories, on their own.
Weaving the web of storytelling together, these different expressions of our identities are the wonders, discoveries and celebrations of our existence. Call them ‘books’... or maybe something else?