Books and Audiobooks

by John Holbo on October 8, 2012

I was amused by this Tor piece: most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably totally illiterate. And then life imitated art: Amazon ate Audible, that is. A while back, Amazon acquired Audible (the audiobook store) and now they have added a whispersync for voice service which, I confess, is just what I’ve been waiting for. You buy the kindle book and then, for a few bucks extra, add the audiobook. Now I can do what I couldn’t: listen, add bookmarks, and later consult/cut&paste text for the usual scholarly/bloggy reasons. Your progress point in the book is synced, so you can listen on the bus, read when you get home. I realize this post is reading like a sponsored ad for the service but, for me, it’s going to make a significant difference. I consume a lot of audiobooks, and I like nonfiction titles. But there are reasons why scholars – or just plain thoughtful people – like to work with text, not audio, for study and reference purposes. Also, if there are tables or illustrations, it’s nice to be able to see them. For our Debt event, I bought the audiobook and it really wasn’t a full enough format, on its own, although I made do.

I find myself drifting further and further from traditional print culture into a weird sort of audio-visual mix. (But, then again, I’m a professor. What’s school like, after all?) But I’ve done this, in part, as a defense mechanisms against the much-lamented distractions of hypertext. I’m a less distracted listener than I am a reader, these days. (Memo to self: someone ought to write a theory of the book along the lines of the theory of the firm.)

Death of the book-wise, I hold the line these days at Chris Ware [amazon]. Charles Burns, too. And Seth, and a select few others. Mostly I read even comics on Comixology. I’m increasingly of the opinion that comics – but only the best ones – are the last argument for the old-fashioned book. As its plain utility wanes, the swansong of the printed book will be a series of preposterously beautiful art objects.