21 Pages

Introduction: Talking Books: Matthew Rubery


Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies is the fi rst scholarly book to consider the signifi cance of the audiobook, defi ned here as any spoken word recording of books, periodicals, or other printed materials.2 As such, it examines the tradition of recorded literature since Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877, the earliest machine to enable the reproduction of the human voice. No sooner than it was invented, the phonograph was put to use for literary ends, capturing the verse of Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. With the growing popularity of auditory literature since Edison’s time, readers can no longer turn a deaf ear to the ways in which oral delivery has infl uenced the reception of literature. Recent advances in sound technology-not to mention the conspicuous presence of an audiobook narrator in the White House-make this an opportune moment to refl ect on the evolution of our reading practices since those earliest instances of recorded literature. Some of the questions addressed by this collection include: What is the relationship between printed and spoken texts? What methods of “close listening” are appropriate to the reception of auditory literature? What new formal possibilities are opened up by the use of sound-recording technology? How have attitudes toward recorded literature changed over the past century? What are the social consequences of new listening technologies?