What We “Hear”

As a writer laboring for uncounted hours to create what you believe has some literary merit and readers will enjoy (silly you), you become accustomed to being told about the latest big thing that you’ve foolishly overlooked or inexplicably omitted. You’re also constantly stumbling on this or that declaring you’re hopelessly out of touch and doing it wrong. At times, it’s like high school lunch never ended: the cool kids are all at another table…

  • “What? There aren’t any alien babes? Not to tell you what to write, but I’d set the book in a vaguely Scandinavian frigid place with magical stuff and long-haired, bearded hunks. And I’d toss in some babes wearing fur… and make sure it’s vegan.”
  • “I know, yeh, the president and all that. But nobody really cares about the War of 1812; they don’t even know the year it started. It’s all dystopia now. Or flying broomsticks at posh English boarding schools.”
  • “I get you feel strongly that’s inappropriate and ludicrous behavior, but that’s you. What you’ve written here is just too old-fashioned. Romance is all modern now. Audrey Hepburn is dead. Look, how about some cable ties on the second date at least?”

That’s story-wise, of course. And, yes, I know I’m exaggerating there. (But only, really, somewhat.) Eh, it’s Friday, let’s smile. 🙂

More seriously, tech has it’s own “big things.” The newest is audio books:

[ homepage.]

Amazon’s Audibles are increasingly making publishing industry, uh, noise, according to this June 3 AP article:

…The industry gathered over the past week for BookExpo and the fan-based BookCon, which ended Sunday at the Jacob Javits center in Manhattan. The consensus, as it has been for the past few years, is of a stable overall market: physical books rising, e-book sales soft and audio, led by downloaded works, expanding by double digits…

…For some publishers, as many as 1 out of every 10 books sold is in the audio format, a percentage far higher than just a few years ago. And while the industry debated whether e-books expanded the market, or simply shifted it to digital reading, publishers agree that audio brings in new customers and allows them to encounter a narrative when a physical or e-book would be impossible — while driving, for instance, or doing housework.

But as the market thrives, competition grows and the industry looks warily at audio’s dominant seller, Amazon, and the Amazon-owned audio producer and distributor, Audible Inc.

An audio book, particularly those voiced by multiple people, is to me more a “radio play” being marketed now as something “new.” It’s one level below a television or a film adaptation. Because it’s listening to a media production with a cast, it’s not reading.

There I go, risking being labeled out of touch again, I suppose. My first Kindle reader years ago (it was one of Amazon’s first Kindles) had the capability to “speak” the text electronically. You may remember, or even still have one. I accidentally smashed that Kindle’s screen in carry-on luggage, and the replacement I got lacks even that functionality. Neither apparently does the Kindle app for Apple.

But I can’t say I miss it because I rarely used it even when I did have it. It was more amusing than useful: it made loads of silly pronunciation errors, but worst of all it was devoid of “passion” – both of course being understandable. Think of War and Peace being voiced by a deadpan “Dr. Sheldon Cooper”:

[Excerpt from War And Peace, on a Kindle device. Photo by me, 2018.]

So there was no confusing that humanless technology with a real person’s voice.

As a reader we “hear” written dialogue inside our mind. So in proofing what I write I re-read dialogue out loud – preferably while I’m alone – in order literally to test how it sounds. Dialogue should read as if people are actually saying it; if it sounds “wrong,” I make changes.

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

I like to think that a reader, in their head, certainly “hears” the voices there of upstate New Yorker “Robert,” South Carolinian “John,” English “Henry,” and French “Héloïse.” Actual voices would be fine. Yet they just aren’t (in my opinion) quite the same.

E-books seem now to have their niche. No one is seriously talking any longer about print books disappearing. And audio book use is growing at least for the moment.

For the foreseeable future, though, my books will remain, umm, “read only.”

Have a good weekend, wherever are you in the world. 🙂

2 replies »

    • Definitely. We have increasingly lost the ability to sit quietly and be with our own minds. We always have to be “busy”. Yet sitting quietly and, say, reading, is so good for us. I always feel uplifted reading a good book.

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