Mark Schatzker’s popular science book, The Dorito Effect (audiobook edition read by Chris Patton for Dreamscape Media, 2015) delves into the industrial hijacking of our concepts of natural flavors. This has been the order of the modern American food chain in an effort to expedite a shorter cycle of both plant and animal life from birth to table, increase shelf life of prepared foodstuffs, and tease taste buds with dramatic sensations that encourage more snacking. In short, the modern favor cupboard relies on predictability in exposure: every bag of salt and vinegar crisps will offer uniform tang and crunch. And that disposition isn’t reserved only for the foods our bodies both need and crave. We’ve put too many minds on market-assured nutrient replacement literacy diets as well.
Instead of encouraging true experimentation with narratives written by artists and researchers for the joy and engagement of discovery, we line up the fortified tan-tinted bread of leveled readers and roll our eyes if a reading child develops a prurient taste for stories in which the juvenile characters don’t show respect for their fictional parents or prefer listening to page-gazing. In short, the acquisition of literacy too frequently devolves into measuring how many 2-ounce bags of cheese powder-flavored chips a new reader can hack with a single bottle of orange-essence-scented fizzy water. This is truly junk reading; escapism called junk reading, on the other hand, might just as often be venison or creek-caught crawdads swallowed illicitly but to the tune of collecting really-o, truly-o unfarmed protein.
The quiet that it takes to read—either visually or by ear—when books that aren’t hewing to the lab-tested recipe is where actual literacy can find the cells to grow the reader’s mind. “Quiet” isn’t about the presence or absence of ambient noise but rather the impressively internal complexity of my-mind-tasting-your-words that literacy engagement can be.
August, traditionally the last month of vacations and the apex of busting produce gardens seems a good time to move away from laboratory-designed foods and literacy experiences and instead taste the bounty of unpredictable and possibly delectable natural options. Instead of listening to an audiobook instead of reading it with your eyes, listen to one to taste aural literacy untethered from a flavor formulary.
Find one to suit by hunting along the lines of what you want to hear—full cast, male, sardonic, Canadian French accents, whatever—instead of focusing on what-you-would-see-in-print. Let your literate brain make contact with the flavors of voices. Tone and pacing, mellifluousness/abruptness scale, these are the natural flavors of auditory literacy. Dare to seek the variety of their tastes in your ear.