Reading is for chumps

Why use your eyes like a sucker when you can use your ears like a… not…sucker? When I was growing up in the 80s, music videos were all the rage (do they still do the moving pictures with sound? tell old pappy), but I never watched them. Why? Back then I would have said something about being anti-corporatization and -dilution of form. But now I recognize it was one simple thing: I didn’t want anyone else’s music-inspired images in my head. What I imagined from Aha’s Take on Me was not at all what happened in the video. And since that video entered my brain, I’ve never seen anything else when listening to the song. So I’ve avoided videos for most of my life. It about then as well that I decided to make a house rule (still standing today, mostly), that you can’t see a movie based on a book until you’ve read the actual book. And that’s how I feel about audiobooks. I don’t want to hear some actor’s interpretation of my favourite character’s voice. I want to find out what my own brain thinks.

Audiobooks are in the midst of a boom, with Deloitte predicting that the global market will grow by 25 per cent in 2020 to US$3.5 billion (£2.6 billion). Compared with physical book sales, audio is the baby of the publishing world, but it is growing up fast. Gone are the days of dusty cassette box-sets and stuffily-read versions of the classics. Now audiobooks draw A-list talent – think Elisabeth Moss reading The Handmaid’s Tale, Meryl Streep narrating Charlotte’s Web or Michelle Obama reading all 19 hours of her own memoir, Becoming. There are hugely ambitious productions using ensemble casts (the audio of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning Lincoln in the Bardo features 166 different narrators), specially created soundscapes and technological advances such as surround-sound 3D audio. Some authors are even skipping print and writing exclusive audio content.

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