Skid marks

In a world populated by the mentally shiftless and imagination-deprived, it probably had to happen

David Morley

I LOVE books and magazines and reading in general.

Always have. Some of my earliest memories are of Enid Blyton characters and Biggles and comics and any motoring magazine I could get my paws on.

My parents, relieved that I might actually be finally learning something, were delighted to keep throwing whatever reading matter at me they could find. Mind you, my request for a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories at age nine raised their eyebrows a bit. But I still have that book.

Meanwhile, the latest figures I can find suggest that conventional books and their electronic offsider, the eBook, have either peaked or are experiencing a small downturn in market share each year (it depends on whose statistics you bump into). Trouble with that is that the only real growth in the publishing industry is in goddam talking books. Spare me days!

Talking books are to literature what a family-sized ham-andpineapple is to Italian food. The very expression ‘talking book’ makes about as much sense as ‘voluntary conscription’.

Shouldn’t come as any great surprise, of course: When the population would rather make ‘friends’ on a social networking site than by actually getting dressed and leaving their house to find real people and then decide whether they like them or not, you can see how the talking book might be on the rise.

The argument put forward by fans I of the talking book is that they’re convenient; you can listen to a book while you’re doing something else. Also – these same lunatics claim – you can gain an appreciation of the nuances of the book by the emphasis and intonations of the narrator.

Okay, let’s start with the multi-tasking thing: A good yarn is its own reward. If the story is being well told and gets its hooks into you, you honestly won’t want to be doing anything else at the same time. And if you do try to attempt another activity while the story unfolds, you’ll miss bits of it. But what about the skill of the narrator taking the yarn to a new level? Surely to god, just as it’s part of the author’s job to prick your imagination into life, part of the art of reading a story is adding your own interpretations and nuances as it unfolds. It’s called using your melon for something other than keeping your hat from collapsing. Funny that.

So why the rise of the talking book? It’s pretty simple, I reckon – pure laziness. In a society where you don’t even need to get out of your car to collect your lard-burgers, having somebody else do the pesky job of reading the book for you is very appealing. When groceries are ordered online and delivered to your door (can’t really call it shopping anymore, can you?) why not have a third party read, interpret and relay the story to you?

This all conveniently ignores, of course, that there’s real joy to be had from the act of reading; looking at letters on a page, unscrambling them and finding their meaning, both literal and metaphorical.

Of course, in a world populated by the mentally shiftless, emotionally crippled and imagination-deprived, it probably had to happen. But I can tell you this, it won’t be happening at my place. Because here’s the bottom line: they’ll be salting the roads in Hell before a CD player or iPod replaces the big stack of car magazines in the man-dunny at 13 Struggle Street. M