Silence is impossible

Mark Lawson, in the Guardian, explains why audiobooks are destroying our souls.

For most works of literature in most circumstances, a fully sighted reader who is not in a car or on foot should be reading rather than hearing. Despite their blessed conquest of obstacles to reading, talking stories ultimately risk an infantilisation of literature: a vision of a Britain full of grown-ups having stories read to them; books that, exacerbating the babying, will often be the Harry Potter novels. Adults should read grown-up stories to themselves. The best reading – always – takes place without a sound to be heard.

Really, he sounds like a 1909 Temperance freak deploring the wireless adaptation of The Mill on the Floss.

As Norm says, this is a total non-issue. Lawson makes one good point – that many audiobooks are abridged. He agrees that there is a visual quality to writing. And he acknowledges that the form is essential for blind, partially sighted or illiterate readers.

But he ignores the massive oral tradition in storytelling, from Homeric verse to Morvern Callar. And the advantage that audiobooks have over the printed word – that skimming is impossible. Stephen King, who does not allow abridged recordings of his books, listened to the early Dark Tower novels on tape in preparation for completing the cycle. He found that he was forced to take in every single word. Listening is hard.

With text, your eye can skip and bounce down the page – how many times have you read a document and only taken in a third or less? Audio removes this lazy option. Lawson’s indolent undergraduate isn’t going to listen to six hours of Kazuo Ishiguro. He’ll cut and paste from Wikipedia and get thrown off his module.

As for the idea that ‘The best reading – always – takes place without a sound to be heard.’ Not necessarily. I’ve had great times reading on trains, in bars, standing up. If there’s noise, a good book will tune it out. Which is fortunate, because I don’t think that total physical silence is possible – there will always be the sound of your own heartbeat and respiration.

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One Response to “Silence is impossible”

  1. Silence is Golden~ I wonder what color sarcasm is? | Tea Break Says:

    […] Silence is Golden~ I wonder what color sarcasm is? August 29th, 2009 // (photo from Max Dunbar blog) […]

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