Reading a book—not listening to it—has become its own sort of status symbolby Caroline O'Donoghue / March 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
You can’t talk about reading without talking about snobbery. At some point in the last decade, we decided to abandon most forms of physical media, therefore making a rod for our own backs when it comes to gift-giving (remember when you could just give someone a Monty Python boxset and be done with it? Now your choices are a candle and a skydiving experience) and providing us even fewer clues as to who we really are. Once upon a time, you could walk into someone’s home and piece together their entire existence based on the DVDs and CDs on their shelves. Now we’re supposed to puzzle out who they are by how they yell at their Alexa.
Books, for some reason, have survived this unremitting cull. Books are the clue, the key, the Rosetta Stone for finding out who someone is. As a result, books have become more of a lightning rod for conversations around snobbery than ever. Every day there’s another riot on social media about people who aren’t reading “properly” (see a recent panic about people who chop big books up into chunks as they read them, to lighten their weight); there are fights about book awards and who has been snubbed by them; fights about book awards mattering at all. And, despite the fact that we are living in the era of podcasting, there is still snobbery around audiobooks.
“Well you didn’t really read it then, did you?” has become the common response to conversations around audiobooks, which have been growing steadily more popular over the last few years. And as with many items in rising demand, audiobooks become more scorned the more popular they get. “Nobody sits on a couch to listen to one. Nobody rewinds to linger on a particularly beautiful passage; nobody dog-ears a book on tape,” claimed an essay in Wired published in 2018. “It’s hard not to feel like something is lost in this transition.” Yes indeed, here is “reading” you can—very practically—do at the same time as driving, dusting or anything else. Which is exactly why audiobook snobbery has come to symbolise something big, deep and strange in our collective unconscious.
We are no longer using things to demonstrate…