Author Archives: edefreitas

The Audiobook: The E-reader’s Less Controversial Cousin

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In recent years, book lovers everywhere have been faced with the question of whether or not an e-reader can compare to the tactile sensation of holding a good book in one’s hands. There are pros and cons to both, but in this discussion, there’s one reading medium that’s frequently overlooked:  the audiobook.

I have yet to hear a single person panic about the easy availability of audiobooks, and what that means for the future of the physical book. Nevertheless, thanks to the internet and the widespread use of various forms of technology, audiobooks are easier to acquire than ever, and easier to consume. With ipods and smart phones, readers can grab a pair of earbuds and listen on the go. They can even do other tasks while reading.

There’s another advantage to audiobooks too:  for some, they’re more accessible than physical books. My younger brother has dyslexia, so when we were kids, my mother turned to audiobooks to help him read. She didn’t want the world of writing that everyone else could access to be closed off to him because of his disability. People who are blind can also benefit from audiobooks for this reason.

My family used to listen to audiobooks on long car rides, so vacations were prime reading times. So were easy, everyday chores. We’d listen to a chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler while loading the dishwasher or folding laundry. We’d usually end up sitting and listening once the chore was done, too absorbed in the story to look for another task. My favorite audiobooks were read by actors who changed their voices for different characters. To this day, there’s a line from the aforementioned book that my family frequently quotes, because of how hilarious it sounded when read aloud.

That brings me to the best part about audiobooks:  the audio part. They add something to the reading that isn’t there in a paperback or e-book. The actor’s inflections and voicing of the characters adds another layer to the reading. Reading an audiobook isn’t just reading, it’s experiencing a performance. The difference between experiencing a physical book and an audiobook is similar to the difference between reading a play and seeing it performed, though subtler.

All this makes me wonder why audiobooks aren’t more popular. Most of the people I’ve talked to about this—people who love to read—are far more likely to read a physical book or e-book than an audiobook. I initially thought this was just chance, and that I happened to only know fans of physical books and e-books. A Google search brought me to some statistics from the Pew Research Center, which can be viewed here. Despite my small, relatively insignificant sample size, it seems my experience matches the statistics. People are actually reading far more physical books than anything else, with e-books coming in second at a much lower percentage, and audiobooks dead last.

Seeing this information, I can’t help but wonder what percentage of readers has never listened to an audiobook. Are people choosing physical books and e-books out of preference, or out of habit? I certainly have a bias toward audiobooks. While I don’ t prefer them over other forms of reading in all cases, I like to read them.  I have trouble imagining that most readers have tried them and chosen to never use them again. Then again, maybe audiobooks are sometimes not as convenient as other forms of reading; not all books are available in audio form. That might send some people to a different reading format.

Some people find their focus drifting away during long periods of listening, but I personally find that audiobooks increase my typically short attention span. In middle school, the CD version of The Lord of the Rings helped me get through Tolkien’s lengthy descriptions of Middle Earth. Often when I’m reading something that’s particularly dense, I wish I had an audio version. Maybe I’m an auditory learner, or maybe it’s because an audiobook keeps plowing ahead at a steady pace, but whatever the reason, I’ll probably always be a big audiobook fan. I’m seriously considering getting a subscription to audible.com after college, once I have more time to read for fun.

Have you tried audiobooks? What’s your opinion about them? Feel free to leave a comment!

-Emily DeFreitas

Raison D’écrire—Why Writers Write

screenshot_cover photo

There is a debate in the writing world over whether it is best to write for oneself, or for an audience. Writing for the self is often viewed as the more artistic approach, usually for the purpose of self-expression. Writing for an audience, on the other hand, while seen as an excellent way to target a certain group of people and build a fan base, is sometimes viewed as “selling out,” as if writers only do this to make money. There are countless examples to show that this is an enormous oversimplification. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to have participated in the publication of a work that provides a fascinating answer to the question of why people write as a typist and co-editor.

The book in question is Letters to My Younger Self, a collection of writing by incarcerated men at Graterford prison, and it took several years to create. It all began when Professor Jayne Thompson, who teaches Creative Writing at Widener University, started to teach a writing class at Graterford prison, a maximum security men’s prison in Graterford, Pennsylvania. The men wrote insightfully, with powerful poetry, prose, and letters addressed to their younger selves, covering topics such as home, family, decisions, and prison.

In addition to her classes at the prison and at Widener, Professor Thompson taught some classes at Chester High School and heard the cases of juvenile first offenders in Chester, PA. Time after time, she watched her students disappear into the criminal justice system, and then heard cases from others of the same age who were also falling into lives of crime. She mentioned this to the men at the prison, and they expressed deep concern for those young people, who reminded them of themselves when they were younger, and together they came up with an idea for a book of their writing as a way to address this problem.

I was able to visit the prison for the first time a few weeks ago, and I was deeply moved by their reasons for writing, as well as their reasons for sharing their work. The men, many of them fathers themselves, expressed a desire to reach out to those young people in some way. They feel that they have failed the younger generations by making choices that led to their incarceration, because now they aren’t there to support, guide, and encourage those youngsters in a way that might be beneficial to them. They feel this responsibility not just for their own children, but for any children whose lives they might have influenced in a positive way if they were living free lives themselves. They are attempting to make up for that absence with their writing. More than anything, they encouraged their young readers to get an education, and to choose their friends wisely.

Clearly, the works in this book were written with an audience in mind, but not for financial reasons. The book can be purchased on Amazon, but the money from each purchase of the book goes to a fund for putting it in the hands of its target audience: at-risk youth. The men did not write for fame any more than for fortune, as the prison requested that their last names not be given, so only their first names and last initials are displayed beside each piece.

Are they writing for self-expression then? There are definitely elements of that, as they share many personal experiences that they feel led them to where they are now, and they may have felt some closure as they reflected in this way, but that is just one part of the picture. Ultimately, I’ve found that writers write for a myriad of reasons, and who is to say that one is better than another? This book is an excellent example of why writing for a particular audience does not necessarily imply selfish intent. In this case, it is an effort to bring about change.

To learn more about this book, and to hear some recordings of the men reading their work, check out this segment of Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane.

by Emily DeFreitas

The FUSE Conference: Uniting Literary Journals Across the Nation

The gathering of undergraduate editors at the 2014 FUSE conference at Bennington College in Bennington, VT.

The gathering of undergraduate editors at the 2014 FUSE conference at Bennington College in Bennington, VT.

The FUSE conference, which took place at Bennington College in Vermont this November, was a unique opportunity to interact with like-minded people who aim to produce excellent literary journals. FUSE, or the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors, is a national organization that serves to connect student editors from schools across the nation, giving them the chance to share ideas, offer advice, and support each other in their endeavors.

The conference consisted of presentations by students, faculty, and guest speakers about editing, publishing, and other general concepts related to creating a literary journal with undergraduates. There was also time set aside for attendees to take a look at the various journals being represented, and to show their own.

DSC00238 (2)

Autumn Heisler, editor-in-chief of Widener Ink (left) and Emily DeFreitas, editor-in-chief of The Blue Route (right) present on community outreach during the conference.

While there, I had the opportunity to take part in a presentation on community outreach, but more importantly, I was able to listen to the thoughts, ideas, and strategies of other literary journals. I came out of the event with a substantial list of things The Blue Route staff should consider doing in the future, and I suspect that editors from other schools did as well. As one of the speakers pointed out, the main competition for a literary journal isn’t other literary journals. In reality, we compete with the distractions of the electronic world around us as we attempt to reel in readers. Because of this, having a network through which we can promote each other, encourage readership, and improve the individual journals we’re producing is an extremely valuable thing.

Some of the ideas presented were not necessarily specific to literary journals alone. Some might be well applied to groups like Widener’s own English Club. Students talked about write-ins, open mics, and blind dates with books, all of which are fantastic ways to participate in the literary world, building a reading and writing community in person, not just online or on paper. This conference was meant to assist in building that community. Throughout the event it became clear that there are many ways to do that, and literary journals play an important role.

by Emily DeFreitas

Does your school have a literary journal? Are you interested in learning more about FUSE? Check out their website at http://www.fuse-national.com/