Multi-modal reading

I had not previously been aware that public readings of entire novels had taken place during the age of the Victorians.  It did not occur to me, as someone who has been accustomed to the solitary enjoyment of reading (a la Rubery’s explanation of today’s literary scholarship on p. 60), that public reading would be a fashion.  After reading “Play It Again, Sam Weller: New Digital Audiobooks and Old Ways of Reading” it seems to be an obvious pastime and one that I would most likely enjoy being an audience member of.  I know that I love reading with my nieces and nephews as they learn to be independent readers, but it’s so far been a tradition that ends when they do establish their ability to read on their own.

It also makes sense to me now, that the modern day audiobook has evolved from the practice of reading aloud in audiences, and as Rubery points out that it’s possible the “audiobook is the latest step in the long process of commodifying literature, this development presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how our own attitudes toward reading aloud have evolved since a nineteenth-century inventor first imagined a ‘talking book’…” (59).  Until the requirement for this course to listen to an audiobook, I hadn’t thought about reading/listening to a book in that way seriously in quite a while.  I’d seen the many advertisements for and get occasional emails from Amazon about my first free audiobook, but music and podcasts are what I listen to today, not books.  Nonetheless, I do fondly remember a long car ride to Ohio from New York for a friend’s wedding many years ago where the 8 CDs required to listen to The Memory Keeper’s Daughter kept me occupied (I found the book on clearance in Barnes & Noble which I remember thinking that it was so deeply discounted because no one listened to books, they read them!).  But here I am, after this assignment, newly enamored with the format and want to ask my family if they’ll indulge me in establishing a read aloud tradition for us.  I also want to suggest to the director of the library where I work that we have a series of events around the reading of various literary titles available in our library.

What has me so excited about the audiobook (much like Thomas Edison’s excitement over the possibilities of his invention of phonograph) is the feeling that this could be an entertaining endeavor with my family (Rubery 62).  I am looking forward to learning more about the process of creating audiobooks in the next weeks of class.

When deciding what to listen to this week, I considered several things:

  • What platform would I use?  I looked at Audible (through Amazon), Librivox, and finally the NYPL’s mobile app: Libby (which is what I ended up choosing from as I didn’t want to have to pay for the book)
  • How much time did I have to listen to the book?  I wanted to choose a title I’d be able to complete by class, but saw that many books took hours to read.  At first, I was going to choose an abridged Mansfield Park from the BBC that ran at 2 hours, but I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted an abridged version, despite the all star cast of Benedict Cumberbatch, Felicity Jones, and David Tennant.  What I ended up choosing was the unabridged version of Between the World and Me, authored and read by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I was familiar with Mansfield Park, but had failed to complete the reading of Between the World and Me, so I took the opportunity to complete it.
  • I was concerned with who was reading the book.  Librivox is read by volunteers and a famous actress had read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, but I was interested in hearing the author read their own work to me (like Dickens had done many years before).

Thus, I decided on a book read by its author and provided to me free of charge that I could complete in the allotted time for the assignment.  Having read the first section of the book over a year ago, I knew that the author was writing this book as a letter to his adolescent son, but that it was also meant for a greater audience.  It was very personal, and at times I felt as if I had no right to be listening in, but at other times, I felt like this was a book (letter) that everyone in America must read/hear.  Rubery cites Camlot’s study and writes that “the sound of the audio book inhibits our own imagination by performing our potential imagining of the text’s voice for us” and continues “listeners…complain about how unsettling it can be to find a narrator’s voice at odds with their own ideas of how that voice should sound” (72-73).  Yet, for this book, I believe that Ta-Nehisi Coates is the only person qualified to read this book aloud to an audience.  Perhaps it’s the title I chose, that only has one voice, and it’s the author’s innermost personal thoughts, and it’s not a made up story.  Had I chosen a work of fiction, with many characters, Rubery’s statements on the sounds of the readers’ voices might make more sense.  Rubery goes onto describe how “central voice is as a source of meaning” and I do think I’m better able to understand Coates’ book after having had him read it to me (74).

To conclude, we briefly discussed in class last week the idea of the “sage on the stage” and I want to argue that there are times where that model is appropriate in the classroom.  To reiterate, I feel I have a better understanding of Coates’ arguments after having it read to me, much like how I feel after attending a good lecture, but I also think that, as Rubery introduces, that a “multimedia approach” to literature is the “lingua franca” of students today (68).  He goes on: “[t]his fluency with technology stems from years of downloading entertainment, filming with digital cameras, and communicating through mobile phones.  Students have little trouble understanding how these devices shape their communication – the way in which the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously put it…” (68).  Reading in a multi-modal fashion (and using technology in a meaningful and useful way) will get students (and hopefully my nieces and nephews, too) to think about literature (and reading, more generally) in new and different ways that opens up the possibilities for interpretations, discourse, and learning in, and outside of, the classroom.

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