For anyone who’s ever listened to David Sedaris or watched David Foster Wallace read his own work, you know that hearing the author reading his own work transforms it. I attend author readings to get a different, more personalized, perspective of the literature I’ve fallen in love with. It takes interaction to a whole new level, brings new meaning to sections or lines I may have read a hundred times.
So when I heard about a literary magazine allowing that intimacy between author and reader and stories, I knew I had to share it. The Drum Literary Magazine is a “non-profit online literary magazine dedicated to literature in audio form.” You’ll find authors who’ve published in Ploughshares, Tin House, Glimmer Train, Best New American Voices, The Kenyon Review. I even found a story by Jonathan Papernick, a creative writing professor at our alma mater, Emerson College. Many of The Drum‘s stories are free for listening on their website, but there is some premium material available to subscribers, as well as the ability to download any of the content on the site.
I love two things in particular about the project. First, that lesser known authors and writers just starting out in their publishing careers have the ability to connect with their audience on a level previously available only to authors afforded a book tour. Second, that it combines the new and the old in an exciting and potentially groundbreaking way. Oral tradition is made fresh and new with technology that allows it to be contained and made widely available.
Each generation has its own visions of the apocalypse, in all areas of culture and nature, and the Internet’s ever-reaching domain is no different. You can’t discuss publishing these days without the inevitable discussion of its erosion, for the naysayers, or its revolution, for the rest of us. The literary community is fighting back, whether with personal projects that take advantage of technology to create what they want to consume (see: Burnt Bridge) or movements such as Slow Reading, that emphasize the importance of taking our time in a fast-paced environment of knowledge-sharing. With links coloring every bit of Internet reading we do, it can be difficult to actually make it through an entire article or story, or sometimes to even remember how you ended up where you are. The art of slow reading, of allowing what you read to absorb and stew and reabsorb, isn’t anything new, as Patrick Kingsley’s article in The Guardian on the topic demonstrates. Nor is re-emergence of the phrase due to the birth of readers new to the art of slow reading. In fact, the sole importance of discussing the topic or even having a name for it is raising awareness.
Erosion indicates a slow wearing, an analogy fitting what some reference as an epidemic reading overload. The question “How did I get here?” applies on both the immediate how-many-links-brought-me-to-this-article level as well as the grander scale of the impacts our ADD has on culture and society. But just as the sentence, “Don’t think about elephants” inevitably draws up an image of an elephant, bringing attention to the disappearance of our attention spans challenges us to do something about it.
In Kingsley’s article, he references the statistics about how many people will actually make it through his entire article based on the medium through which they’re experiencing it.
If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.
These subtle and genuine references prompted my virtual ears to perk up, and I tried to prove to myself that I wasn’t part of some statistic. (He also does us the favor of including only 15 links in his article, just shy of 2,000 words – an admirable feat in the age of linking every word even peripherally related to an article the author has read or written within the past month.) And if slow reading is a great answer to the panic-stricken, sleepy-eyed voice of the overstimulated, The Drum is a great reaction. Rather than an attempt to reinvent the wheel of storytelling, The Drum is a platform that uses the accessibility of technology to promote stories and their authors rather than tear them down. The short story and its telling are very much alive at The Drum, and I look forward to see the work they continue to highlight.