(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Edwin Abbott

“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”*…

Audiobooks are on the rise. Karl Berglund explores what that might mean to literature, literacy, and the business of publishing…

For an increasing number of people, reading means listening to streamed audio files through a smartphone. The audiobook has a long history, of course, but what is new is its commercial impact: For the first time, audiobooks can no longer be seen as a niche market. Now, the audio medium competes with print books and ebooks for the attention of book readers in a large and diverse range of national book markets. Most people in the book trade believe that the audiobook share will continue to grow in the coming years. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), 8.1 percent of the revenues of the total US book trade in 2021 came from audiobooks. This figure can be compared to ebooks (11.6 percent), but also to change over time: in fact, it is audiobooks—in contrast to all other book formats—that have shown a rapid and steady increase over the past ten years.

The audiobook boom is altering the book business and reading culture. It provides opportunities for people to read more and in new ways, but it also affects how “reading” can be understood. In highlighting the complexities of popular fiction reading, Janice Radway once famously objected to the metaphor of consumption when equated with reading. Reading is not a passive thing, she claimed. I agree, and a multitude of readership scholars have convincingly proved this to be true: reading is active, participatory, social.

But thanks to audiobooks, we might need to update this reasoning. In fact, some of the audiobook practices surfacing indeed seem to be exactly this: passive. One can easily pose the argument that the rise of audiobooks is a sign of an ongoing crisis of our book culture, where people no longer actively engage in books but lend them half an ear as a mere distraction while doing something else. People are reading while doing the dishes, driving, working out, sleeping, etc. Can such practices really be regarded as reading? In any case, passivity must be a problem for literature, right?

In one sense, it is true. But it is also not true, since print-book sales are not dropping when audiobook streams are skyrocketing. Perhaps audiobooks are not primarily competing with print books and ebooks, but with podcasts and other audio media? If this is so, audiobooks could be regarded not as a threat to our book culture but, rather, as a defender. Well, I don’t believe that to be the case either. But I do believe that audiobooks are about to fundamentally change our reading habits.

In fact, what appears to be happening is rather that people are expanding how they make use of books. Or, if you will, expanding what reading is, and what it can be…

Read on for Berglund’s explication: “Audiobooks: Every Minute Counts,” in @PublicBooks.

Tangentially apposite (albeit not your correspondent’s sentiment): “Good riddance to long books.”

* Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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As we muse on metamorphosis, we might spare a thought for Edwin Abbott Abbott; he died on this date in 1926. A schoolmaster, theologian, and Anglican priest, he is best known as the author of the classic 1884 novella Flatland (c.f. also here and here)… a book that it’s hard to imagine consuming aurally…

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 12, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Above all else show the data”*…

 

With the hope that your celebrations will be warm and peaceful, and with thanks for your kind attention over the last twelve months, (Roughly) Daily is going on it’s annual Holiday hiatus…  So here, to tide us over, The Economist Graphics Unit’s wonderful “2017 Daily chart advent calendar” (the first installment of which, above)– a collection of 25 of the years best infographics, each with a short accompanying essay.

See you in the New Year!

* Edward Tufte

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As we revel in new ways of seeing, we might send terrifyingly (and at the same time, amusingly) insightful birthday greetings to Edwin Abbott; he was born on this date in 1838.  A schoolmaster and theologian, Abbott is best remembered as the author of the remarkable novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884). Writing pseudonymously as “A Square,” Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to offer pointedly-satirical observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. But the work has survived– and inspired legions of mathematicians and science fiction writers– by virtue of its fresh and accessible examination of dimensionality.  Indeed, Flatland was largely ignored on its original publication; but it was re-discovered after Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity– which posits a fourth dimension– was introduced; in a 1920 letter to Nature, Abbott is called a prophet for his intuition of the importance of time to explain certain phenomena.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

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