On April 29, 2020, The Week published an article I wrote about how the audiobook is a medium unique to the 21st century because it merges the millennia-old practice of building community through storytelling with the solitary listening that we engage in everyday on our mobile devices. Mark Athitakis wrote a similar perspective in The Washington Post recently, where he points out that reading in solitude is a perfect way to practice social distancing, but reading alone is a very late development in how humans relate to stories.
Athitakis wrote his piece to address how reading can be a way to handle the isolation we are all in right now, even if this means reading books we have already read several times. My point is similar to his but it works at a more aggregate level, addressing how listening to stories connects us to our own humanity and the humanity of those who came before us, sometimes several thousand years in the past.
Society tends to be divided about the merit of audiobooks. Some argue they’re no different than physical books. Others are staunch opponents to them, even going so far as to suggest they’re linked to a decline in literacy. And even if you’re not opposed to books on tape, you likely harbor a quiet assumption that listening to a story is, well, lazy. But audiobooks are just a modern incarnation of a tradition that’s older than civilization itself: the act of listening to the voice of another human telling us a story.
We may think reading is the purest form of engaging with a story, but in reality, humans were listening to stories long before we were reading them.
Take, for example, The Iliad and The Odyssey, the two works considered the fountainheads of our literary tradition.
If you wish to read the article in its entirety, please click here.
In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.