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I love reading. I always have. Like many people in fandom, I escaped early into books and the fantastic and different worlds it offered. Like many fans in fandom who came of age pre-Internet, books were something personal and intimate, and while I didn’t know (m)any peers who shared my strange interests, I knew that they had to be out there, older, other places, but I wasn’t quite so alone when I was with my books and threw myself into the past and future, the sometimes familiar but often quite unfamiliar worlds.

Whether through the amounts I read or simply my approach to reading, I started reading very fast. Reared on genre fiction, which often was driven more by plot than any other aspect, I took these reading habits into a career studying text, with often varying effects. It profited me when skimming and quickly comprehending theoretical texts, but I still sometimes miss the small details in fiction. And I’m glad I never had to take the all too popular reading tests, because I barely remember the names of characters, let alone what color a house was or how many dogs were in a scene.

It is for all these reasons and more that I have grown to appreciate and love listening to fiction. I started getting books on tape the way many do, as a way to pass long car rides. On a several hour commute, books would pass the time. It was during that time that I realized two things: (1) some books that I enjoyed reading, seemed interminable when being read to me, so that I actually sometimes would pick the abridged versions of bestsellers, and (2) I had to listen to every word, which made me focus on things I had skipped in previous readings.

The two are actually connected and are what I want to talk about here: how listening to stories can fundamentally change the way we engage with the text. I am not making any universal claims here, simply because I know that not everyone reads like I do. In fact, I am a horribly undisciplined reader: I skip entire sections when they bore me; I skim large parts of books; and I read forward and backwards, often reading the ending early on. When I watch TV, I tend to fast forward my way through the show once before I sit down and watch it, and it merely mirrors the way I engage with books. Which is why audiofic is such a novel and welcome way of engaging with fiction for me. It not only paces my reading by not permitting me to skim and by forcing me to listen to every word, it also forces me to follow the story linearly.

I recently read a teen’s account of swapping his iPod for a walkman for a week (and now I wonder why I only ever listened to music on my walkman when I rode my bike to school—were there no books on tape or were they just too expensive?). The biggest insight (after realizing that there were TWO (!) sides to a cassette tape and he needed to physically turn it :) for the boy was the fact that he couldn’t randomize his songs or skip. He tried to circumvent it by fast forwarding and rewinding a lot until he realized that he was killing the tape—non digital media deteriorate, after all!

In a way, even though I listen to digital versions on an i-product, audiofic allows and forces me into that same scenario. I could potentially skip forward, but I can’t skim the audio to see where I need to jump back into the text. And while theoretically that might bother me (and I have turned off a very few stories that were simply too slow for my taste—R.R.Martin, I’m looking at you!), in podfic fandom that has become one of the most appealing things.

I probably started out as many, trying to simply shift medium and having something to do when I couldn’t read fic. While I cooked and drove and shopped and ironed, I could simultaneously be told some new adventures of John and Rodney, often with some added hot sex in the mix. (And that’s an issue all of its own—the almost illicit pleasure of listening to porn when you’re doing things that seem contrary to that, like grocery shopping or watching your kids on the soccer field. I actually think that the 50 Shades phenomenon mainstreamed that when it started its blockbuster life on e-readers.) My favorite readers were the ones that disappeared so that I could focus on the story exclusively, could fall into it, so to speak.

As I started podficcing myself, I became more critical but I also started to appreciate more things, like music and sound effect, different forms of vocalization and collaborations—all things that would draw attention to the MEDIUM of podfic. Along with that, I also began to acknowledge what stories I preferred and why, and I was surprised it wasn’t always the ones I liked when reading. The slow contemplation of the prose and the forced linearity made some stories shine and impeded others for me.

The epic stories I eat up, the ones that start at 80K and can be a couple hundred K, the ones I like to live with for a few days, those often do not hold up as podfic. I think I may edit as I read, not just SPAG errors but repetitions and simply sections that could be tightened up. But when listening to a story that’s impossible. (And now I’m wondering if part of what appeals to me in all these cases is the fact that I get to live with these specific incarnations of my beloved characters for more than a few hours?)

Likewise, the experimental stories that are visual or that may jump between different strands of time often do not translate for me into audio. Anything that contains visuals and other graphic moments can be hard to translate, though some podficcers have done great things with changing covers! For more complex narrative structures, I may need to check back up the page to understand where the time lines exist, and I can’t rewind that easily. It’s like listening to The Sound and the Fury on tape and getting lost in the complexity of timelines and plot. An exception to that are chat fics, which can work really well in audio, but even email exchanges can easily become tedious in audio.

In turn, however, there are those poetic stories with little plot and a lot of atmosphere that I often skim and find wanting—and then I listen to it and it’s poetry on the page (well, in my ear!). Stories listened are often more visceral, more intimate, and that can make a story more erotic, more horrific, or just...more! There are the stories where every character sounds just like on the show, and I don’t quite realize that until I listen to it (or read it out loud!). There are, frankly, writers who write for audio and others who don’t. And the latter can be amazing writers, but they may not necessarily translate easily into podfic.

I think podfic has retaught me how to read in a particular way: linearly and one word at a time. It’s introduced a level of unhurriedness and deliberatness into my fic consumption that I appreciate and that has, in turn, changes my approach to my own podficcing as well. I now think of stories I read and stories I hear, and there are some that excel in both mediums, but there are others that for me are best encountered in one or the other.

Date: 2013-05-10 02:58 pm (UTC)
pslasher: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pslasher
I guess I read fairly quickly, so when I first started listening to podfic I had trouble listening to slow podficcers. I've since learned to accept a slower pace, and it doesn't bother me like it once used to.

But I know what you mean about being unable to rewind easily. I can't listen to podfic if I'm doing anything that requires me to think at all, because I loose the thread of the story. Not even email, or driving somewhere new. I have very specific times I can enjoy it, but I'm so glad that it exists.

That's funny you say you edit when you read - I think I may do that a tiny bit, but I hadn't really thought of it until you mentioned it. Or maybe not edit, so much as skim through bits that are slow...

I have the same trouble sometimes with very visual fics in audio form, and sometimes I wonder if I'm just not getting the story, or if the format just doesn't work. On the whole, though, I find I'm able to process a lot of the visual stuff with a good podficcer. The poetry in my ear thing, though, I definitely get.

Podfic has made me think more about how I structure the words I write, if they would be readable out loud or not.

Date: 2013-06-10 11:21 pm (UTC)
pslasher: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pslasher
Reading out loud to catch errors, good point.

so I stick to the written for audio ones
Do you? I hadn't noticed about that aspect of your chosen fics, only that your reading always works for me.


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