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Tuesday News: Audio books are booming; 50 Shades as Intimate Partner...

Audio books overall from increased from $480 million in sales in 1997 to $1.2 billion in 2012. The reason is the portability of digital audio and, I suspect, the lowered costs. Audio books are somewhat affordable now via Audible’s subscription policy. Of course, Audible’s rise is a feather in Amazon’s cap rather than publishers. Thanks Zara Keane for the hat tip. Wall Street Journal.

While romance is a genre for women written by women (for the most part), books like 50 Shades reach beyond the romance reading crowd. It’s easy for us, in our insular world, to say that every one is adult and can separate fact from fantasy. But the problem with 50 Shades’ depiction of relationships is that it feeds into certain stereotypes. 

The popularity of 50 Shades, I think, confuses the hell out of men. Journal of Women’s Health

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth. Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. KT Grant
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 06:03:20

    I find it so strange that there is such a study on Twilight fan fiction ala Fifty Shades. I wonder what EL James thinks of this? I really think when she was writing her fan fiction she wasn’t concerned about the abuse some believe Christian does to Ana, including the effect it has on readers. Most fan fiction is over the top, so it makes sense these things people are concerned about would be written in fan fiction.

  2. DB Cooper
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 06:51:38

    Heck yeah! “The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brother’s Grimm” was my storytelling bible while I studied abroad. Guarding the washing machine for an hour? Pull out the book. Taking a long bus ride across half of Ireland? pull out the book! I’m very excited to hear about this new discovery.

    Now, I just need to wait for a collection translated by Jack Zipes!

  3. Deborah Nam-Krane
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 07:07:20

    Just read the Fifty Shades piece. Really disturbing.

  4. Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley)
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 07:39:12

    I adore audiobooks and am so happy to see them doing so well. I love to listen to them while actually following along with my print/Kindle copies!

  5. Junne
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:04:15

    @Deborah Nam-Krane:
    Agreed. And it points out something that has been bothering me in other romances too ( BDSM or otherwise): the forceful hero commanding his wife/GF to eat, even if she doesn’t want to. Somehow it’s supposed to make us feel he has her best interests at heart (also that he doesn’t care if she gains weight – something very rare indeed in our looks-based society), but I just see it as a way to rule over her.

  6. Amanda
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:36:02

    The fairy tale news is beyond great.

  7. Jennifer W.
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 09:14:21

    In regards to article on 50 shades, I find the fact that this study even exists to be somewhat problematic. Even if I completely agree with every piece of analysis the authors present and think that 50 shades romanticises abuse. Even if I agree that reading a book that romanticises abuse will make me “alter my real-world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication” and seek out a partner that abuses me or stay with an abusive partner because I now embrace abuse as romantic. All of which I definitely disagree with.

    Even if all that were true, how does this phenomenon contribute to the intimate partner violence against women? My thinking abuse is romantic doesn’t make my partner hit me. My partner wanting to hit me makes my partner hit me. Popular culture criticism of abuse would be much better served critiquing cultural aspects that are made and consumed by men. There is an abundance of male centred fiction, songs, and videos that depict women as sexual objects whose only purpose in existing is to serve men. I would think that kind of dehumanizing depiction would have much more of a direct impact on intimate partner violence than anything that women consume.

    The entire point of this article seems to be saying to female victims that they are to blame for their partners abusing them because of the books they read. I fail to see how this is at all helpful to women.

  8. Michele (mharvey816)
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:05:35

    I can’t help but post here to tell you all that was me in the WSJ story! I was contacted by Audible to see if I would be willing to talk about how much I love audiobooks and Audible. As you can see from how many Audible titles I owned as last count (yes, it’s more now), I love them a lot.

  9. Deljah
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:08:46

    @Jennifer W.:

    I read the piece as well. I didn’t see it as blaming the victim for being abused or as stating that women in general condone or invite abuse by reading 50. To me, the article analyzed Christian’s and Ana’s relationship, concluded that it was emotionally, verbally, physically, etc abusive and gave reasons/examples why. It held up the book as one example of literary and musical works that serve to “normalize abuse” in our culture. I think this analysis was important to do, and the popularity of 50 further served to make it a great candidate for such review. If abuse is “normal” and not identified or recognized as such, that makes it even more possible for some women to be in abusive relationships w/o even realizing it. I know that from experience.

  10. hapax
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:40:00


    You remind me of a play I read years ago when I was on a J. M. Barrie kick (yes, the Peter Pan Barrie). It included a subplot with several lower social class women (I think they were washerwomen) were pitying one of their friends because her husband didn’t beat her, and that meant that he didn’t really love her.

    They suggested several things the poor woman could do to provoke her spouse, and the storyline ended with the husband finally cuffing the wife amid general rejoicing.

    This bit was quite obviously meant to be played for laughs, but I can’t imagine anyone finding it funny now. It kind of creeps me out, though, to think of it being played as romantic and sexy.

  11. Lada
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:52:09

    Being able to download and listen to audio books while on the move has been a life changer for me. I’ve been too busy to sit and read a book for weeks now but I still get my book fix by being able to listen while doing everything from driving to painting closets. Standing in endless lines is easier, too! A good narrator/performer makes all the difference and can really bring a book to life.

    (But I’m still not interested in listening to a book about zombie wars. Is Max Brooks’ book that good because the movie looked awful.)

    ETA: New fairy tales is exactly what the world needs right now!! Glad they’re already working on translations.

  12. DS
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 12:31:35

    @Deljah: Good point. Having increasingly become involved with situations where I see women involved in abusive relationships, I can’t tolerate it in fiction. I don’t care if someone wants to fantasize about it, I just end up cringing as I do when someone tells me that she is going to marry the man who is lying to her and controlling her and smacking her around and that once they are married things will be better. Watching this play out over and over in real life has killed any potential fantasy there.

  13. Estara
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 13:12:33

    @Michele (mharvey816): That is so cool ^^

  14. Susan
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 18:04:07

    @Michele (mharvey816): That’s very exciting!

    I’ve just started dipping my toe into audiobook waters, in large part because of the reviews and commenters here at DA. So, thanks to everyone for dragging me into the current century. It’ll be a long time (if ever) before I catch up to Michele on the number of audiobooks, tho. (The ebooks are another matter. I won’t tell anyone how many of those I own.)

  15. MikiS
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 20:39:49

    I’m one of those folks who has recently (last few years) been turning more and more to audiobooks to keep up with my “reading”.

    As mentioned above, a good narrator (however you define “good”, because I really dislike some that others love) makes all the difference. I really wish there was a “fast-forward-through-the-20-minute-sex-scene” button on my MP3 player, though. I never really noticed how long some of those sex scenes were until I had them on a speaker at home while I was cleaning with the windows open, hoping my neighbors didn’t wander past! Add to that the generally breathless, swoony way they’re often read…gak. Much easier to skim all that stuff in a paper or eBook.

    The other thing I’ve had come up – which I generally didn’t notice “in print” (eBook, too) – was when an author tended to overuse a certain phrase. I did a “listen-through” of the Michelle Sagara Elantra series (which I love, by the way), and by the end of it, I was cringing every time I heard the narrator say “no more, no less”. I don’t know why I didn’t notice that verbal hiccup when I actually *read* the books, but I can’t not hear it now that I’m listening to them! (And that’s just one example – don’t get me started on Eve Dallas’ “pistoning hips” or “scissoring” legs).

  16. Susan
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 21:20:32

    OK, forget the fairy tales. I just read that 160 new Barbara Cartland manuscripts were discovered.

  17. Laura Ashlee
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 21:55:34

    I read the Fifty Shades article this morning. I thought it was interesting. Having read Fifty Shades, it was easy for me to identify what the author of the article was trying to say.I didn’t agree with all of it. Some of it seemed to almost put down the BDSM lifestyle that Fifty Shades presents, which is not good. It’s a legitimate type of relationship, and a lot more people are involved in it than man realize. On the other hand, I found I mostly agreed that Christian was verbally and emotionally abusive. He manipulated Ana in ways that just aren’t healthy for any relationship. That’s pretty much been my problem with those books since I read them. I think they do represent a seriously unhealthy relationship dynamic. The things is, a lot of romances do that. I feel like I’ve read quite a few lately with that dynamic. It just makes me kind of sad.

  18. Fiona McGier
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 22:54:53

    Wow! Reading that article just makes me so glad I’ve never read FSOG. My college-aged daughter did, last summer because her friends gave her the books and told her they were “must-read”. She didn’t really like the Twilight books because they were “dull”, but she liked the hot werewolf men in the movies. She thought FSOG was dumb, but laughed when I warned her that if any man ever hits her, her brothers and her Dad will have to get in line behind me, because he’ll have to deal with me first. Grrr!

    I disagree that the article criticizes consenting BDSM relationships. Instead it regularly points out the differences between a contract signed voluntarily by both parties, who both enjoy those kinds of activities. This analysis supports criticisms I’ve read on this site before, that the main problem with FSOG is that the books purport to be about a romantic relationship, but only if the person who “enjoys” BDSM sees the error of his ways and “grows into a mature, loving person who doesn’t need that kind of weirdness.” In other words, people who voluntarily choose BDSM must be “fixed” to be happy. I agree that this is a ridiculous claim. There are as many ways for people to be happy as there are people. What works for some seems abusive to others, and what works for some appears boring to others. The whole point this article seems to be making is that under the guise of presenting a “love story”, the author has written a manifesto outlining the stages of an abusive relationship. How on earth something like this can be called romance is beyond me…which is why I’m not counting my shekels on the way to the bank, like this author and the many other copycats are.

    I’m still waiting for the “next big thing” to be strong, independent women having an encounter with a hot man, then he realizes they’re meant to be together, and he has to prove it to her. Once that trope hits it big, I’ll be a happy author, since those are the stories my muse gives me. Until then, I labor in obscurity.

  19. Tracey
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 11:54:03

    Audiobooks are so wonderful. I wish the WSJ article had touched on how audiobooks help struggling readers.
    I’m such an advocate for this practice that I find myself critiquing every article that only focuses on how portable and popular audiobooks are becoming.
    Audiobooks helped our son, who has dyslexia, overcome his reading challenges, expand his vocabulary and launch a love of books I was afraid he would never have when he was struggling so hard with reading. Now, a college freshman, he reads physical books every day and listens to audiobooks several times a week as well.
    The appeal of audiobooks is so multi-faceted and individualistic, but the benefits are just as broad and should be shouted from the rooftops by parents & educators alike.
    Will step off my soap box now.
    I’ll go back to listening to Neil Gaiman read me Fragile Things.

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