Tuesday, June 26, 2018

READ Carefully, Book Lovers by Joan Baum

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. Joan has a long career as a critic and reviewer, writing for, among others, WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT's Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine and writing on subjects in her dissertation field, the major English Romantic poets. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.

With an eye on reviewing fiction and nonfiction that has regional resonance for Connecticut or Long Island – books written by local authors or books set in the area – Joan considers the timeliness and significance of recently published work: what these books have to say to a broad group of readers today and how they say it in a distinctive or unique manner, taking into account style and structure as well as subject matter.

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It was a front-page article in The New York Times on Sunday, June 3rd: "Listen Carefully, Book Lovers: Top Authors Are Skipping Print." Listen, indeed. The theme of the piece is that audiobooks are such a fast-growing phenomenon that authors are by-passing their own publishers who have audiobook divisions to deal directly with companies such as Audible, owned by Amazon, because the money's too good. Yeah, but they love literature, the authors say. And yeah, audiobooks are democratic and humane, considering the number of folks who for various physical reasons cannot read easily, and the number of people who enjoy listening to books in cars, in gyms and on trips.

The article noted the financial and psychological rewards for authors going straight to audio ‒ a greater number of readers immediately and a greater pay back in making multi-book deals, though for sure the reputed $15-$45 cost of buying an audiobook is certain to go up, given the likelihood of forced subscriptions. (A side note not pursued is the article's report of a diminution of sales of ebooks!)

The article also noted the kinds of books lending themselves to audio success: nonfiction, popular novels, science fiction and self-help guides. But …

What about those who love serious fiction? Well, yes, there are those short stories that get read by actors on public radio, but those are classics or standards, and the dramatic readings are broadcasts from literary events, not new publications. What about "book lovers" of serious new novels? What’s in audiobooks for them?

Not much.

I can think of nothing more insulting to a reader ‒ or listener – or literary author! – of having a recorded voice determine how to respond to sustained complexity in a novel – to irony, paradox, ambiguity, pacing, tone. When interpretation is kidnapped by an actor who has decided how to present dialogue, monologue, point of view, taking away a reader's imaginative response and engagement, that is the end of one of the most intimate relationships in the civilized world. Audiobooks of serious fiction are an affront to the cognitive values already under threat from an ever-extending quick-fix electronic world – reflection, analysis, reconsideration.

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You can catch Joan's most recent book reviews on WSHU, an NPR member station, where she recently covered The Permanent Press's new African thriller The Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Frederic Hunter. Do pass this piece on to other book lovers you know, and feel free to comment on this post and our others. Also feel free to share your thoughts with us by contacting our co-publisher Marty at shepard@thepermanentpress.com, and Joan herself at joanbaum29@gmail.com.

8 comments:

  1. I look forward (listen forward?) to Joan's commentary and reviews. Wonderful and concise critical analysis.

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  2. The Calculating Passion of ADA Byron by Joan Buam. I picked up this book to learn more about Ada and expected it to be highly academic. Ada is a fascinating woman in science and I always appreciate learning about previous scientists and thinkers.

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