Bottled Authors: the predigital dream of the audiobook

I’m a big fan of audiobooks. As a grad student who moved to Toronto without knowing a soul in the city, while studying for my area exam in literature I recorded myself reciting poetry for about 90 minutes. I carried the tape around with me in a WalkMan as I explored the streets of Toronto. Sometimes coming across a random line from Alexander Pope will conjure up the dizzying view from the Bloor Street Viaduct or the smells of the Bay Street farmer’s market.

I listened to most of the Harry Potter series — though I stopped the recording of the final book so I could read the last few chapters at my own pace.  I’m currently listening to a new recording of The Great Gatsby (a title recently freed from copyright jail). I will often play audiobook while I’m doing something that engages my hands and eyes (such as Blender3D) but leaves my ears unoccupied. (I much prefer listening to audiobooks than listening to music.)

This article covers the history of audiobooks, which it turns out is not that different from the history of the mechanical recording of sound.

There was no way to preserve sounds before the nineteenth century. Speeches, songs, and soliloquies all vanished moments after leaving the lips. That situation changed in 1877, when Thomas Edison began working on a machine that could mechanically reproduce the human voice. Edison’s team successfully assembled a device on which Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a nursery rhyme that would become the first words ever spoken by the phonograph.2 Depending on how you define the term, Edison’s inaugural recording of verse might be considered the world’s first audiobook.. –Matthew Rubery, Cabinet Magazine