not the new reading

I just saw an ad for Audible (which I guess is a part of Amazon these days), with the slogan “Listening is the new reading.”

I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to advertising, but this really caught my eye. I confess that my immediate reaction was negative, at least in terms of fiction.

I’m not anti-technology, and I’m not anti-Amazon (I’m writing this on a Fire tablet, in fact). I’m not against listening to things being read to me — I have my own drafts read to me all the time, as I’ve talked about before.

And I’ve enjoyed some audio books quite a bit. Douglas Adams reading his own books, Frank McCourt (my high school English teacher 🙂 ) reading Angela’s Ashes, and Ron McClarty reading Inherent Vice (which I’ve listened to many times).

But it’s not the same as reading, because I think reading encourages deeper understanding. For one obvious reason, the fact that you can reread sections until you really understand them, and go back to earlier chapters to check things — either to remind yourself of things, or in light of later developments.

And even something as simple as the ability to go forward at your own pace.

But also, with art, there is always a point to experiencing it the way the artist intended. Most writers wrote their books to be read on a page.

I saw a documentary years ago about the Beat writers which brought this home. As I wrote in my review:

“Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper and John Turturro show up to read Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg (respectively, and respectfully), but obviously only Depp understands the difference between reading and acting. Turturro is mannered and awkward reading parts of ‘Howl’ (they should have got Patti Smith, or just shown footage of Ginsberg himself) and Dennis Hopper does okay with some Burroughs, but Burroughs himself was one of the great performers of his time, and Hopper doesn’t even come close to his wonderful, arid, sardonic rasp. Depp, however, obviously knows that novels and poems, unlike plays and screenplays, are designed to deliver their effects without any additional help, so he simply reads Kerouac’s words, as plainly as he can, and of course that’s all that’s necessary. I wish he’d done more.”

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