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Re-utilizing “Cumbersome Formats” of Literature

In thinking of our upcoming audiobook assignment, I was most struck by Mathew Rubery’s “Play it Again, Sam Weller: New Digital Audiobooks and Old Ways of Reading” reading for this week. Particularly, I am most interested in his notion of “cumbersome formats” (63) and how the notion of the audiobook has gained momentum with technological advances and the elimination of cassette and disk form audiobooks. Despite the small gains in the usage of audiobooks Rubery states that “… while relatively small in comparison with conventional book sales, (audiobooks) still account for a substantial number of readers as well as an upward trajectory. As the number of overal readers continues to decline, audiobook use is among the minority of reading continues to decline, audiobook use is among the minority of reading practices found to be increasing general literacy.” (63) It is fascinating to think that the increase of audiobook use comes down to more about convenience in an advancing technological world, versus reshaping how literature is absorbed or documented. Rubery describes the Victorian era ideal of the novel as a “..’talking book’, capable of preserving the voices of eminent Victorians” which now seems so far-fetched to the current reality of audiobook use. When I imagine the average person purchasing an audiobook off their phone I imagine it as an alternative to having to swipe page by page while commuting on the train/bus and listening to the book to tune out the hectic noises of daily life. In college, any audiobook I may have purchased was also out of more convenience or frankly laziness to to want to have a more passive experience of absorbing knowledge that required minimal following of texts on a line by line basis.

This generalized notion of the purpose of the audiobook however, goes entirely against my own exposure to audiobooks during my adolescence.  This group assignment has been a wonderful opportunity to re-engage with a series of audiobooks my mother created with me about 19 years ago of The Royal Raven by Hans Wilhem and The House on the Hill by Christin Couture, at around the age of 6 when I was learning how to read. With only a cassette player, tapes, and a recorder my mother thought it would be a sort of time-capsule/motivating project to inspire me to read knowing that my words would be documented to listen back to in adulthood. I’d like to say that I was able to have that moment of nostalgia and self-reflection once I finally found those tapes in my childhood things and was met with a very serious problem. I had no cassette player to listen to my audiobooks! I can’t quite express the disappointment in being so excited to listen to your childhood self and be denied it through lack of access to analog technology. I never realized how I took these forms of tools for granted. I’d like to think that platforming these audiobooks into more modern forms of technology to avoid this problem would be ideal, but now I find myself conflicted. When I think of Eurocentric models of learning like the Victorian era, my first response is to turn away and look instead to the indigenous values of oral tradition and preservation of knowledge through the passing down of ancestors. The form in which my mother chose to engage me with my imagination through reading became a bonding experience in which not only my reading skills improved, but my general sense of self was instilled through an oral tradition passed on through ancestral generations. In summary I’m conflicted as to how modern technology is a force moving us away from oral tradition or more towards it?

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