When Audio Leads

On the heels of the London Book Fair’s attention to audiobooks this year, a story in yesterday’s Entertainment section of BBC News goes more deeply into the medium as its own literary form. Four salient points need attention by librarians, vendors, teachers, and readers regarding how audio-format reading addresses more than just an option for busy consumers:

  1. Audiobook production, as a predetermined publication end, can give authors an opportunity to explore and expose specific narrative styles. Poet and novelist Sophie Hannah points up her desire to make specific use of dialog, when her writing is to be recorded in audio. Knowing that the ultimate publication of a story will be for the ear, rather than the eye, can lead to choices of words and phrasings with specifically auditory power and character and relationship building might take an alternate course, through dialog, than when such developmental passages are intended to be presented as text.
  2. Creating literature for audio sharing takes the role of storyteller back to the roots of literature itself. Attending to how a narrative sounds aloud echoes the role played by epic poets in making the narrative’s sound compelling enough to follow, remember, and revisit.
  3. Reading with one’s ears requires mental attention, just as reading with one’s eyes does. To use audiobooks as background noise defeats the whole purpose of playing them.
  4. And, in a point worth considerable examination and corresponding pilot project study, author and former teacher
    Joanne Harris

    Joanne Harris suggests that audiobooks may offer specific appeal to boys who have been trained that reading is a passive activity.

While the business end of the BBC article is interesting, in that there seems to be increasing harmony between styles of audiobook recording and listening in the UK and the US, these four points go much further than marketing. Each one offers insights for consideration in library programming, classrooms, and practice by both authors and narrators.