David Redl
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Welcome to the weird mind of David Redl, capable computer scientist, sometimes ScrumMaster, and aspiring author.

I am passionate about stories and started this blog to share my experiences with the written word as a reader and, hopefully someday, an author.

My family and I are blessed to live and work on Treaty 7 land in Alberta, Canada.

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A Case for Audio Books

In light of The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

essay book review audiobooks Amanda Palmer memoir

2023-04-15 - David Redl

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of audio books or, more generally, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of telling stories in whichever way you will reach the audience that needs your stories. That is, after all, what books are all about. The story is what is important whether it is in print, Braille, e-book, audio book, animation, or any other format. Modern audio books even have the opportunity to go beyond simply telling a story as seen with (or heard with) The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, which I will get to in a bit.

“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”

A long time ago, a storyteller’s reach was limited to the people sitting around the same campfire. Stories were inherently auditory experiences – with acknowledgement that physical art played an important part by representing key characters or scenes on cave walls, clothing, tapestries, vases, or whatever was available to a given group. Even after people invented various methods of writing, their widespread adoption was slow and there weren’t great ways to mass produce text for distribution. People continued to rely on others relaying stories to them by word-of-mouth. Despite the fact that humanity’s oral tradition of sharing stories spans far more time than books have existed, it has recently come into vogue to claim that enjoying stories shared orally is not reading or is not as valid a way of experiencing a story as reading print. This would no doubt shock our ancestors but is also inherently problematic.

Reading, that is, with your eyes, is one way of consuming stories. It’s potential to relay those stories faithfully is limited by the imagination of the person reading the book and by their abilities to see and understand text. This gets at one of my biggest pet-peeves of people talking down on consuming stories aurally. Some people, and I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody, cannot see. For those who cannot see, there is the option, of course, to read by touch using Braille or by sound using audio books or screen reading software. There are also people who cannot understand text. Some of these are children who are read to by family members, a practice most people agree is important to early childhood development. There are many other reasons why people might not be able to read text but could otherwise enjoy stories, even as adults, and they should not be robbed of this opportunity which is also conveniently provided by audio books. In this respect, audio books are an accessible format. To talk down on consuming audio books is therefore inherently privileged and ableist.

To fully get at why I’m a big fan of audio books, or just diversity in formats, its important for me to explain what I think is important about stories. Stories are connections. If the story is non-fiction, then it is a connection to a real person that existed at some other time in some other place. If the story is fiction, then the truth of that story can help us form connections to both the commonality and the uniqueness of the human condition. Every story we read or hear helps us to understand that there are people out there who have things in common with us, even while having differences, and helps us to understand that our perspective is not the only one that exists, nor the only one that matters. At this point in my life, I have surely read or heard thousands of stories. These can be short stories or novels, sure, but can even be little informal stories, like when somebody tells me where they came from, what they do for a living, or how their day was. For every story that has found its way to me I have learned something about another person, and the world, that I have not experienced or maybe could not experience and I am improved for every one of them. Connections through story-telling are essential to community.

So where does The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer fit in to my case for audio books? Well, there are many autobiographical audio books available that the authors narrate themselves. This is one of them and I found the connection formed by the story to be all the stronger for being able to hear it in the voice of the person I was forming the connection to. Amanda Palmer wrote and later recorded her personal story and some time later I was able to hear her tell me, in her own words and in her own voice, what she has experienced and what made her into the person she is today. I learned about people who are important to her, about experiences of hers that I can scarcely imagine, and about the community she has fostered through her art. While I could have read the book myself it would have been in my head and in my own voice rather than hers and I would have lost out on some of that connection. Moreover, the audiobook featured musical elements that the print book could not have contained: performances by the author, her band, and others. This is one more way that modern audio books advance the medium.

“Seeing each other is hard but I think, when we truly see each other, we want to help each other.”

Experiencing stories, in any way, helps us to see the other people in our communities, their struggles and triumphs. Experiencing stories from people in their own unique voice can help those stories stick with us and mean more; the stories aren’t just words on a page but are connected to a real person. There are other real people like them next door, down the street, in our schools and places of work. In The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, Amanda Palmer gifts us with her story alongside her art. It is well written and masterfully performed. It teaches us about ourselves and the people around us as we receive her gift and, as she says, “The value of the gift rises in transit as it is passed... from heart to heart.”


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