Reading by ear allows for a variety of other activities likely to require sight—running, driving, frosting birthday cakes—or no physical access to sight at all—after all, American audiobook publishing was born of the needs of blind readers. However, as with most things in life, there is a middle way: the opportunity for the sighted, or those with memory of the capacity to engage the world with their eyes, to use no organ other than ears and imagination to conjure the visual elements of what is being read. Eyes can be closed so that even the more or less automatic use of physical vision to track print across a page or screen comes out of play.
To read with the ears in this state of unaccompanied eye input is to give an open field to the images and colors the words and phrasings themselves evoke in the mind. This allows the full measure of works rich in such visual recreations to take center stage within, an experience that can be, in seriousness as well as punnery, heady and exhilarating.
A fine example of this involves an anthology of short stories commissioned to celebrate individual paintings by Edward Hopper. In Sunlight or In Shadow (print Pegasus Books, 2016) was a project of author and demonstrably gifted anthology editor Lawrence Block and comprises 17 short stories by the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Gail Levin, and other well known, critically acclaimed authors. Reading these tales of cravenness, fantastical mystery, and regret would be a rich experience in itself. Continue reading Opening the Mind’s Eye→
Literary short stories rarely, if ever, get a chance to make an impression on their own terms, as they are usually buried in print anthologies that get lost quickly in an ever-expanding universe of published content. When short stories are given a new life in digital format—not only by extracting existing texts and migrating them online but also by translating them into several languages and adding original audio elements to each—as is the case with The Short Story Project—their impact is undeniable.
Professional reviewer Michael Rogers here sheds light on this mighty new entrant into the digital publishing and library market. NSR is pleased to publish this review and we look forward to following TSSP’s progress and development in the months and years to come.—Ed.
Stories that cross the line
Launched in 2015, The Short Story Project(TSSP) hosts a wide selection of short fiction from noted international authors. The acclaimed site—nominated for the London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Initiative Award in 2016, among others—also co-exists as an app of the same name for Androids and iOS devices. It was founded upon the belief that “reading is an experience that can make a difference. An experience that enables reflection on the human condition, inspires empathy and encourages examination; that reading is more than a pastime; it is an activity that can serve as a bridge between people and cultures, a sounding board for voices and ideas.” This belief is evident in many details, including TSSP’s tagline (Stories that Cross the Line).
TSSP endeavors to promote that philosophy through the “lively, stimulating presence of short fiction in contemporary culture,” enabling the “voices of writers from across the world be heard and resonate.” It is the creation of Iftach Alony, an Israeli-born business man with a history of successful entrepreneurial ventures. Alony is the author of two novels (2009’s Thief of Dreams, and 2012’s best-selling Spare Parts), the short story collections, Garuda’s Gaze and Plagues (of Egypt) Now (2015 and 2017, respectively), as well as the poetry collections, Let the Thorns Die (2013) and Gravity (2014). He also is the founder and coeditor of Block Magazine, a producer of several travel-films, and has served as a judge for short story competitions and other literary endeavors. Continue reading Introducing The Short Story Project: A whole new way to discover, curate and appreciate short stories→
For nearly a quarter century, the actors’ troupe Word for Word has been staging narrative stories and chapters, with every word of the author’s original maintained and spoken by the actors. With several different productions each season, they’ve shown how such written-for-the-page as Edith Wharton’s short story “Xingu” and the opening chapter , “The Ride,” of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!. Contemporary authors are well represented as well, with Colm Töibín’s “Silence” on the boards this year and past performances of Dorothy Bryant, Angela Carter, Sandra Cisneros, David Handler, and Alice Munro among many others. Langston Hughes, Toni Cade Bambara, Bernard Malamud, Rudyard Kipling, and Armistead Maupin also have gone from page to stage with the every-word treatment Word for Word employs in its dramatizations.
Among real (physically present) experiences fewer and fewer children and youth meet in either entertainment or educational milieux is the live theatrical stage. While cultural doubts that widespread literacy could survive film, radio, television, and internet connectivity have been put to bed by the reality that each, turn, has increased interest in popular reading, attending plays has for many communities, become a non-experience.
Aside from the skills of actors and directors, set designers, and architects who have designed theater spaces to both contain and enhance unrelated stagings within them, the literary component of theater is unique in its genre qualifiers: the script requires dramatic interpretation by its actors and audience is an essential component to final production. That production gives the audience access to facts, feelings, and ideas carried to them from physical expression (typically physical gesture as well as human voice). In the case of audio drama, human gesture must be indicated through tone, pacing, and breathing on the actors’ parts. Continue reading Audio drama for education→
Back in the mid-1960s, a magazine writer who had some working experience in law enforcement, some living experience in the nudist movement, and some floor experience in martial arts, began publishing a series of police procedural mysteries. The popularity of
author John Ball’s character Virgil Tibbs mushroomed with the excellent film adaption, in 1967, of the his first novel in the cycle (published 1965), In the Heat of the Night. Other film sequels followed and even a short-lived television show. As for Ball, he kept writing new cases for Tibbs (not the ones that appeared on screen adaptions of the main character after that first one), including six more novels and four short stories.
Ball was a white man from New York State via the Midwest; Tibbs was a black man transplanted to Pasadena, California, from the Old South. Several of the later novels in the cycle include both Asian and Asian American characters, cases related to locations in Asia, and storylines that rely on aspects of culture in Japan, Katmandu, and Singapore. An important character in the fourth novel in the series is a young woman of mixed Japanese and African American descent: she’s never met her father, who was stationed as an American soldier in her mother’s occupied postwar country. The second novel in the series is set in a nudist camp and, except for Tibbs, the main characters are white, a potentially fraught situation for investigator and suspects in mid-1960’s US, even in its California location. Ball’s storytelling addresses race, racism, racialism, and Tibbs’ own reflections on all of these matters directly, just as he does with gender. This made for provocative reading half a century ago. How does it all stand up to 21st century reception? Continue reading Literacy Happens When….→
We Need Diverse Books (#WNDB) has gained energy and publisher awareness since its launch in 2014. The proportion of published kids’ books continues to skew below parity for those by and about people of color, varied gender and sexual identities, and specific disabilities, with the latter two broad spectra receiving less census taking and data analysis to date in the publishing world. However, inclusivity has become a publishing value, with more people now noticing that skew and more publishers and publishing gatekeepers are actively working to correct it. The efforts have been concentrated on print titles. While both titles for kids and visually read books desperately need this attention and change in publishing traditions, adult readership and readers who use their ears need increased and sustained inclusivity in publishing as well. Among these are reviewers, whose critical pronouncements on audio materials needs to include articulate and culturally competent attention to authentic inclusivity.
An essential element of moving publishing resources toward inclusiveness, again largely in the kids print market, is awareness of own voices, which has been building broader social media consciousness with the #OwnVoices hashtag. This effort draws attention to the need for justice in publishing: narratives from and about marginalized experiences and characters from authentic sources should be sought and supported. Those who live beyond and beside the empowered culture’s contours are the ones whose voices need to be heard. Inclusivity is necessary to all of us if we are to inhabit a cultural home that has windows, mirrors, and doors. Continue reading Own Voices→
Among the literary arts, poetry almost always needs oral performance to bring even the solitary reader close to the text. In efforts to record poetry, too its authors almost always are the best choices for performing their own works. This week, take a poetry break and learn about lives and dreams from the mouths of the poets giving their literary art immediacy, whether you are generations away or remember seeing their lines in print.
Amiri Baraka read at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Decker Library, 14 September 1992, an occasion and performance preserved in its entirety. The MICA Archives include more than 100 readings and lectures by poets and artists. Many of the recordings here were made at local performances in Decker Library, including this 1973 reading by Allen Ginsberg. Listening to Baraka and Ginsberg across a quarter- and nearly a half-century offers something more compelling than nostalgia: these poets committed vestiges of their immediate social and political contexts to sounds that resonate with listeners in the here and now.
Recording of William Carlos Williams are preserved at the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound Center. These tiny, literally seconds-long audios offer him reading his “The Red Wheelbarrow,” on three different occasions, spanning 1942 to 1952. One poet, one poem, and three different pacings give listeners the opportunity to appreciate how each time we express ourselves, the expression is just a bit different, perhaps easier—or more difficult—for the listener to access. PennSound also contains a treasure trove of Adrienne Rich reading her works on a great number of occasions, including this 1988 poem, “Divisions of Labor,” that speaks of matters that continue to be trenchant nearly 30 years on. Also available at PennSound, Francisco X. Alarcón’s “Letter to America”, published first in 1991, is indeed an anthem for today, both in word and performance. Continue reading Time travel with the ancient aural art→
With the explosion of digital audiobook publishing, dedicated listeners now exercise a wide range of free choices for their literate ears: diverse genres, classics, backlist sleepers, hot-off-the-press new titles. There are other choices they can make now, too: performances by single narrators, full cast performances, audiobooks enhanced with musical beds or realistic sound effects, short-form works and those that require more than 40 hours of submersion. The choices literate listeners make are shaped by both wide-ranging experiences with various options and awareness of which of these holds the most satisfaction in their personal consumption. These two shaping mechanisms function iteratively to further develop listening taste. And every choice made regarding listening taste deepens the listener’s skills and comes courtesy of the freedom to choose.
In contrast to all these benefits of free choice, children new to literate listening come up against forces of external power over their potential to gain independent skills. For school children in marginally progressive classrooms, this typically takes the form of adult insistence that a child listening to an audiobook must have a print paper or ebook copy in hand. Many American schools, still subscribing to the benighted Accelerated Reading cult, keep any kind of literacy freedom bound to prescribed levelling codes and a schedule of completion over immersion time. Continue reading The power of free choice in literacy acquisition–kids’ edition→
Putting aside (although hardly forgetting) concerns with truly universal access to audiobooks for this post, let’s consider how listening can build engaged literacy. As the Walrus article ALA made sure to circulate broadly last week argues, literacy is as much endangered by lack of interest on the parts of those with the skills as other human epochs have experienced its fragility through lack of the skills themselves.
True literacy, when it comes to experiencing the world- and empathy-expanding powers of lengthy, carefully crafted narratives (that is, books) requires the reader to maintain connection with what the author has to say and how the author says it to a vanishing point between the book and its reader. Having the skills to decode letters, words, phrases, and passages is akin to amassing the bricks, mortar, glass, and roof shingles needed to build a house: unless you can stick with the efforts to reconstruct this pile of ingredients by following the author-supplied blueprint, you’re left with a lot full of debris or a haphazard stack that offers no fit dwelling place. On the other hand, once you’ve followed the blueprint, you then have a staging point (a house) from which you can go forth with the experience of building and dwelling in it. Continue reading Renewing literacy through sustained listening→
With the exception of oral storytelling, every way we share literature, published information, and literacy experiences requires some kind of material tool. From clay tablets to paperbacks, cinema screens to computer screens, live theater stages to the mobiles on which apps can reach audio files, we need to control an object of technology (or technologies) in order to get narrative access. Each newly rising literacy experience technology bridge has been met by naysayers, unwilling to give up the old—tried and true, in their estimation—material access point for something newer, less cumbersome and, often, more difficult for the naysayer accustomed to another sort of technology, to use at the start.
The reality, of course, is that everything we do as individuals is more difficult when we first try it, from dressing ourselves to negotiating a journey beyond our home. And we learn to achieve some level of technical competency because others before us have achieved competency that, through repeated use has attained popular assimilation: our general culture accepts clothing and travel outside as normative reliances on material objects. The same has become true for literacy throughout many world cultures. Literacy’s spread, in fact, depended on material things—manuscripts that preserved words and concepts developed by earlier authors and then printed books that made the transmission of scripted literature available to copious duplication (and thus wider distribution). Culturally, although of course never universally as individuals, we have achieved literacy, using yesterday’s tools. Continue reading Access to literacy connection: Material technology still needed→
Earlier this month, the UK government published a policy paper on “Digital Skills and Inclusion: Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need” that, in keeping with the authors’ purpose, focused on digital skill relevance to employability. Reading it from the perspective of a Stateside librarian committed to building and supporting means for transliteracy development, I see potential application to the need to educate both sides of the digital divide regarding the relevance of critical listening to critical thinking, the availability of resources to build critical listening skills, and, through access to digital audio, the tools to create listening capacity that opens channels of both understanding and empathy for civic participation to become more fully realized.
Attentive listening is no more a passive condition than is purposeful sight reading. We gain copious details by listening to content that escape us when seeing a text-based presentation, especially if we are either (1) a sight reader lacking fluency and thus stopped by confusion about punctuation or sentences with multiple dependent and independent clauses; or (2) an overly confident and actually lazy sight reader eager to achieve the finish line and prone to glossing past complex passages on the way to doing so. A written passage may take several paragraphs to create, through text alone, those images and speeches and thoughts and explanations needed to present a single, momentary instant or insight. (Sequential art[ii], of course, can achieve this more efficiently). Visual performance arts, in addition to the copious acting skills of those on screen or stage, make use of scenery and costuming to impart information beyond the physical actions and words exchanged. Continue reading Access to digital literacy increases potential for civic inclusion→
Almost all of us know a kid whom we recognize as an inveterate reader, and some of us were that kid or grew up to be litaholics as adults. When you think of such a person, regardless of age, is your image limited to that someone who reads silently, eyes focused on text strewn pages?
A variety of expert groups now are on board with audiobooks both as “acceptable” for supporting literacy attainment efforts. That has placed them in a kind of literacy medicine cabinet, where the format is simply means to an end that must be in a different format, the silently consumed text on paper page.
Listening well can help us understand concepts and feelings—and thus our world and the others in it, as well as ourselves—that escape our notice when we listen poorly or apply only our own interpretation to a printed page’s text. Audiobooks aren’t a booster chair to get kids to the table of text literacy; they are a rich means of offering the opportunity to build a skill just as valuable and necessary as that: the skill of feeling at home in a world where others are just as real as we are. Continue reading Just Listen→
A study has just been released that confirms the positive impact of audiobooks in literacy development. But do we even need to conduct more studies to prove that listening is, in fact, learning? Haven’t people been listening to stories for centuries, and long before they could pass them around to each other on paper? And aren’t we also using our imagination when ‘listening’ to a story in order to conjure up mental images of what is being told to us? Audiobooks have always been popular, and for good reasons: some people (including children) prefer to listen rather than read, and many believe one can learn just as much from listening.
The really interesting aspect of this is the connection of audiobooks and ebooks. Since audiobooks are often thought of as “digital content,” let us not forget that many ebooks nowadays come with an audio component built in, which means they can be read or listened to (or both). Which also means: ebooks and audiobooks are quickly blending into one type of “format,” making it harder to distinguish between the two. Making it rather obvious that in the not-so-distant future, we will not need to.
‘Just learned about the results of some recent experiments in using tablets and e-reading to foster literacy in children in very different environments, including rural Ethiopian villages (from an article on TeleRead). Stories like this matter. They serve to remind content creators, publishers, technological innovators, educators, librarians, and parents that ebooks or digital content (or whatever term rings your bell) can, in fact, improve literacy — and improve it dramatically regardless of geography, economic status, or national background.
Imagine a kid in an Ethiopian village benefitting from e-reading (and having access to the same content) as a kid in the United States or any other industrialized nation. Imagine a world in which knowledge and information know no geographic restrictions.
If that’s not enough to motive the professionals among us to be less afraid of the unknown and more willing to go beyond a “safe sale” or a “safe purchase,” then we are all continuing to fail ebooks (not the other way around).
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