I don’t mind confessing that I have a life-long love affair with audiobooks. If you’ve never tried ‘reading’ a novel with an audiobook, the experience is somewhat challenging to describe. It’s a visceral, enchanting, and hands-free way of experiencing a story. The performer(s) reading the story will bring the characters to life in ways that simply reading from a page never can. Some audiobooks that I’ve come across also make use of diverse sound effects that enhance this feeling.
Oral storytelling is, of course, not new. Anthropologists like the esteemed J.P. Harrington used audio recordings to preserve and study Native American oral histories (Wikipedia article). The human species seems compelled to record and share its stories across cultures and worldviews. However, the concept of putting it into a formal recording to share with the world is fairly recent.
“Spoken audio” of poetry and plays became available for public consumption as early as the 1930s, with the advent of the spoken novel coming much later in the 1980s (Wikipedia article). The Talking Book Program was established in 1931, primarily for visually-impaired veterans returning from World War I (Wikipedia article). The content for these early books was very often patriotic (e.g. the Declaration of Independence), moralistic (e.g. sections of the Bible), or educational (e.g. Shakespeare) (Wikipedia article). The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) spearheaded this movement and was given congressional approval to distribute audio books by post without restrictions from copyright (Wikipedia article).
Although I use the library as my source for audiobooks, there are many people interested in making audio books available for free within the public domain. LibriVox is one of these platforms – it was conceived in August of 2005 when Montreal-based writer Hugh McGuire set up a blog and posed this question to his followers: “Can the net harness a bunch of volunteers to help bring books in the public domain to life through podcasting?” (Wikipedia article). The site has since cataloged over 7,400 works in 34 different languages; this vast reservoir of literature is (impressively) based entirely on the efforts of volunteer readers (Wikipedia article).
Audiobooks can be a fun way to shake up or reinvigorate your enjoyment of novels. With a long and intriguing history, we’ve also come to a point in time where many written works are available in audio format for free on the internet!
Do you have a favorite audiobook? If so, what is it? Comment below to share!