Yes, audiobooks count as ‘real reading’. Here are 3 top titles to get you started


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Brigid Magner, RMIT University and Linda Daley, RMIT University

Audiobook listening has been called a “silent revolution” in the publishing industry over the last decade. The US audiobook market is estimated to be worth US$1.1 billion annually and is growing at a rate of more than 10% each year. Industry insiders say this is a fresh market, with 37% of Australian audiobook listeners only taking up the habit in the last year.

Audiobook downloads (up 15% on the previous year) were part of a pandemic boost for publisher revenues. Some are read by the authors themselves or by famous actors including Elizabeth Moss and Tom Hanks.

But are listeners really reading? If we challenge what we think we know about reading, audiobooks can be seen as not just a cheat’s shortcut for catching up on classics and bestsellers, but a new way to engage more people with stories.




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From vinyl to digital

Audiobooks are not new. The term refers to any authored print book vocalised through a variety of technologies — from records through to cassette players, and CDs. Digitally downloaded or streamed audiobooks have added a new dimension to this heritage technology, traditionally viewed as a compensatory tool for visual impairment or reading difficulties such as dyslexia and the rarer condition of alexia.

The surge in audiobook sales is likely a halo effect of the huge popularity of podcasts. But audiobooks are single-voiced, immersive listening experiences. Audiobooks do not include book-length texts “read” by an automated voice.

Audible (owned by Amazon) dominates the audiobook market and is now getting into the “original audiobook” game, meaning they produce the audio version rather than a book publisher. Other services offer “born audio” productions. Storytel Originals bypass print as the starting point in the traditional book publishing cycle.

Librivox — a site dedicated to making “all books in the public domain available, narrated by real people and distributed for free” emerged from a group of friends reading aloud from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. It draws its 15,000 titles from Project Gutenburg’s 60,000 free ebooks.

Unlike the commercial services, with narration and soundscapes on par with radio drama productions, the quality of Librivox audiobooks is highly variable. There are excellent recordings and “readings that sound as if they come from your worst nightmare of community theatre — either monotone or way over the top”, according to one LA Times reviewer.

earbuds on phone and books
Audiobooks are different to podcasts because they are voiced by one person and are immersive listening experiences.
Unsplash, CC BY

How we read

Reading is a complex process. Rather than a single cognitive act of decoding, we know from imaging technologies that reading engages several discrete actions within the brain’s visual region. When the reader encounters an irregular letter-sound relationship, neurologist Stanislas Dehaene tells us the auditory brain region fires up as well.

When reading, we engage a bundle of brain skills that have evolved over centuries if not millennia. A recent study used fMRI scans to show people generate word meaning in the same way whether they see it or hear it.

Though reading is still usually thought of as a stationary, silent and solo practice, there is a long tradition of reading communally and aloud. This is not only reading by adults to children, but also among adults.

Streamed audiobooks available through smartphones enable reading-as-listening while mobile. The kinetic dimension of reading-as-listening while moving through space, commuting, walking or while driving is yet to be fully understood.

person with headphones waiting for a bus
How moving while listening affects our reading experience is yet to be fully understood.
Unsplash/Henry Be, CC BY



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New reading, old storytelling

Audiobooks challenge established practices and assumptions about reading, but also remind us of the oral cultures of storytelling from which print cultures developed.

In Australia, streamed audiobook listening might offer a 21st century way of celebrating the affective, imaginative and kinetic dimensions of the Indigenous songlines that criss-cross the continent, either by remediating print books or bypassing the written form altogether.

Listening to audiobooks may help to close the gender gap common with reading literature. The Reading the reader report from Macquarie University found that more than 60% of “frequent readers” are women. Of “non-readers”, three quarters are men. Yet, men and women are equally likely to consume digital format books such as ebooks and audiobooks. Audiobooks may inspire more male readers to participate in bookclubs, which traditionally involve more women than men.

Man on train with phone and headphones
Reading on the tram or train.
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Audiobooks could also be used more in higher education. Princeton University Press recently announced the release of their PUB audio series, signalling new educational formats for scholars and students.

Rather than being one act for one purpose, literacy researcher Sam Duncan argues reading is a bigger umbrella than we may have previously realised, under which sits a diversity of practices, involving different “skills, challenges and pleasures”.

Listening-as-reading to vocalisations of books enables a level of imaginative and affective engagement that should not be diminished by our traditional assumptions.

book cover Carpentaria

Audible

Here are three great books to listen to:

1. Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

The audiobook of Alexis Wright’s epic Carpentaria, is narrated by Noongar actor and dramaturg Isaac Drandich. Using a range of voices, he offers the reader-as-listener an enhanced experience.


Audible

2. Taboo by Kim Scott

Reading his own book, Kim Scott’s gentle voice animates his sparse prose style beautifully.

The novel dramatises a brutal past event and its present day reckoning.

3. The Odyssey by Homer. Translated by Emily Wilson.

Claire Danes’s vocalising of Emily Wilson’s translation brings this ancient text into the contemporary world through plain speaking and her emphasis on satellite characters. The Conversation

woman in pink jacket
Actor Claire Danes’ narration of The Odyssey gives the text a modern tone.
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Brigid Magner, Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies, RMIT University and Linda Daley, Senior lecturer, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Google Play Books – Tools for Kids


The link below is to an article that looks at the tools available inside Google Play Books for making reading better for kids.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/google-play-books-now-has-new-tools-to-make-reading-easier-for-kids

‘Goodreads’ readers #ReadWomen, and so should university English departments


The social network website Goodreads provides insight into what some women are reading.
(Flip Mishevski/Unsplash)

Karen Bourrier, University of Calgary

Even in the 21st century, women writers are often consigned to what American novelist Meg Wolitzer has called “the second shelf.” Women’s novels are designed and marketed with a female audience in mind and publishers still presume that novels about women won’t appeal to male readers. Unfortunately, even in 2021 there may be some truth to this presumption.

This sexism can be seen in the continued speculation that female-identifying novelist Elena Ferrante is actually a man.
Vanity Fair contributing editor and book columnist Elissa Schappell summarized the assumptions behind the speculation: the novelist’s prolific output of “serious” books that interweave history, politics, violence, sex and domestic life, while “unflinchingly showing women in an unflattering light.”

Books by female-identifying authors are also less likely to be reviewed in prestigious literary magazines. In 2019, more than 60 per cent of reviews in magazines including London Review of Books, The Atlantic, and Harper’s, were of books written by men. This is actually an improvement since 2010, when between 69 per cent and 80 per cent of reviews in these magazines were of male-authored books.

The popular #readwomen hashtag on Twitter has been one response to the marginalization of women authors or sexism about their work. The social network website Goodreads can also provide insight into what women are reading.

Reading women

My collaborative research with data science professor Mike Thelwall has explored the reading habits of a cohort of mostly female readers (76 per cent) on the popular social network site Goodreads. As a group, Goodreads users also skew younger, whiter and more educated than the general population.

We examined what books readers read on Goodreads compared to what university professors assign in the classroom, using data from the Open Syllabus Project.

In past decades, researchers relied on handwritten diaries, letters and surveys of readers to find out how everyday readers responded to the books they read. Goodreads, which collects book reviews and ratings from 90 million members, offers one portal into reading habits.

On average, women Goodreads users read twice as much as male Goodreads users, and are more willing to read books by both male and female authors.

We scraped data from Goodreads and found that most Goodreads book club members were likely to have read books in common by women authors.

These women authors fell into two categories: young adult authors (J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer and Veronica Roth) and 19th- or early 20th-century authors (Jane Austen and Harper Lee). The popularity of young adult series by women, including the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, means that 13 of the 19 most popular titles are by women.

Cover of three books from the Hunger Games series
A study found that that most Goodreads book club members were likely to have read books in common by women authors.
(Shutterstock)

Compared to what professors teach

In a second study, we compared what books Goodreads users read to what university professors assign in the classroom, using data from the Open Syllabus Project. The Open Syllabus Project originated at Columbia University. It amasses syllabi, or college reading lists, from openly accessible university websites. Open Syllabus currently has a corpus of over nine million syllabi from 140 countries.

Our study focused on Victorian literature, literature published during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), which is both commonly taught at the university level and still read by general readers.

For the most part, we found that Goodreads users read books — including classic works by Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde — about as often as university professors taught them.

However, we also found that the books that Goodreads users read more often than they were assigned in university tended to be by women writers, to feature strong female protagonists and to be aimed at a young adult audience — or all three.

Taking women writers seriously

This research is important because it suggests that professors who want to connect to students should take women writers more seriously.

Women writers show up less often than male writers on university syllabi. A survey conducted at McGill University in 2018 showed that 73 per cent of writers assigned on the university’s English literature syllabi are men.

Unfortunately, this is no surprise: English Prof. John Guillory’s work on canon formation captures the state of college English classes 30 years ago (and sometimes even more recently) when it was not uncommon for English professors to teach only white men.

Works by women writers are formative for many readers. For example, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are often among the first “adult” novels that young English-language readers read. Their combination of romance and strong female protagonists continues to appeal to 21st-century readers outside the classroom.

Our study also showed that Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — three works of young adult fiction featuring girls — were also read more on Goodreads than we would predict given how often they were assigned on syllabi.




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It is more than time that publishers, book reviewers and university professors give women writers the respect they deserve. In an era of declining English majors when most English majors are women, English departments can at least start by assigning more women writers.The Conversation

Karen Bourrier, Associate Professor of English, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, adult literacy should be improved. But governments can make their messages easier to read right now


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Cath Ferguson, Edith Cowan University

A parliamentary inquiry is looking into how to improve adult literacy in Australia.

Having a low level of literacy is not the same thing as being illiterate. The definition of “illiterate” is the inability to read or write. A low level of literacy is more complex and relates to people’s abilities to read, write and understand a range of information that allows them to fully participation in society.

According to the OECD, 40–50% of adults in Australia have literacy levels below the international standard required for participation in work, education and society.

Together with literacy, the inquiry will also look at numeracy and problem-solving.

While it’s important the inquiry look at ways to improve literacy for those struggling with it, the government could start acting now to make its information and services more accessible. One way is to present information in plain English, and make services like Centrelink easier to navigate.

Why are we having this inquiry?

The inquiry will consider both economic and social aspects of literacy. But its focus is on increased labour market participation, and increased productivity.

It was initiated after a 2020 Productivity Commission report showed Australia’s falling rates of educational achievement, compared to other countries in the OECD, were related to our levels of productivity — particularly as compared to the United States.




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The OECD numbers show our literacy rates are similar to New Zealand and actually better than in the United Kingdom and US.

In a survey of adult skills conducted by the OECD in Australia from October 2011 to March 2012, Australian adults scored fifth out of participating countries for literacy — after Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The United Kingdom and the US scored at 15th and 17th respectively.

Person reading book with a cup of tea.
A low level of literacy isn’t the same as not being able to read. It is about accessing information in a way that allows a person to participate in society and the economy.
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But for numeracy Australia ranked 14th, the UK 17th and the USA 21st.

Adults with low literacy come from different cultural or language backgrounds. Those born in Australia could have low literacy due to various circumstances including:

  • learning difficulties
  • alternative preferences for learning
  • social circumstances that prevent school attendance or lead to many school changes
  • health issues during childhood
  • childhood trauma (including family/domestic violence)
  • a lack of interest or motivation to learn.

What are we doing to improve the issue?

A number of programs are available to train adults in certain skills to increase labour market participation. One example is the government’s Job Trainer Fund that provides free or low-cost courses as part of its economic response to COVID.

There are government programs too that focus on literacy and numeracy skills. They include

While these program are good to have, there is stigma attached to low literacy and this can inhibit help-seeking at all ages.




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Schools are increasingly recognised as the best place to improve the educational outcomes for adults. Early childhood education is especially important as the earlier in life issues are identified, the better the outcomes.

Kindergarten kids listening intently to the teacher as she reads from book.
A good early learning system can help ensure most people learn the literacy skills they need at a young age.
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Still, people with learning difficulties are often experts at hiding their challenges and some people will slip through the school system without their issues being addressed.

Services can be more accessible

The inquiry has received around 100 submissions from a range of organisations and individuals.

A submission from Read Write Now (where I am a tutor) — a West Australian organisation that provides free one on one support for adults in areas such as filling out forms, or reading aloud to their children — notes new arrivals are more likely to seek literacy help than those born in Australia. This is not always a case of demand, but one of stigma around illiteracy.

Their submission also notes there is little consistency of such services across Australia.

Many of our clients, especially people from Indigenous backgrounds, live a transient lifestyle. We find that often when they move there is no literacy program to link them into at their new location, so they fall out of the system.

A few submissions highlighted the difficulty many adults have filling out forms and navigating government services such as Centrelink. A submission from the NSW Council of Social Service noted the “increased digitisation of government services is a compounding factor”. It points to the need for government agencies to adhere to requirements for plain English and easy access material.

In this, the government can start making changes now.

Our recent analysis of government information on COVID-19 found many documents were written in a way that is inaccessible to struggling readers.




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The problem lies in not only helping to improve adults’ literacy but in making services more accessible, as well as reducing unnecessary hurdles. For instance, in one submission, a woman talks of her husband who is a recent migrant with dyslexia. Although he can speak English well, he struggles with complex writing tasks that prevent him from being able to get the kind of jobs he has the skills to do.

She writes:

he could fulfil a handyman role offered recently by our local council — but only if the job were offered to him. He would not be able to provide a written CV and selection criteria responses during an online application process without significant assistance from me.

Organisations need to be aware of such issues, to not prevent skilled people from doing a job due to the application process alone. We also need to encourage those who need support to access the available services.

The House Employment, Education and Training Committee is continuing to hold public hearings for the inquiry into adult literacy.The Conversation

Cath Ferguson, Senior research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Easier Reading of Children’s Books on Google Play


The links below are to articles that take a look at how Google has made reading children’s books on Google Play easier.

For more visit:-
https://blog.google/products/google-play/learning-to-read-tools/
https://www.makeuseof.com/read-google-play-books-easily/
https://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2021/03/03/google-adds-new-reading-tools-for-kids-to-play-books-app/