Does listening to a book count as ‘reading’ it?

I have a friend who is visually impaired who will, of course, say ‘yes’ to this question. And I have myself just included an audiobook on my reading log page at Exigency. (It was, in fact, a podcast from CBC Radio; I’m currently listening to ‘Wolf Brother‘ by Michelle Paver on podcast as well – makes the housework go faster!)

I have had limited success with audiobooks in the past – I tend to read quickly, and I like the voice in my head that makes up different voices for people or picks out different details than the people who read audiobooks picks out. And I found out earlier this year when I downloaded and listened to ‘The Black Dahlia‘ from iTunes that listening to a book rather than reading it is definitely a learned skill – I found by the end that I had missed several crucial details in the murder mystery and was completely lost as to how they found the actual murderer… But I have really enjoyed listening to ‘Rockbound‘ by Frank Parker Day and ‘Wolf Brother’ (which is being read by Ian McKellen, BTW). Maybe it’s the serialisation aspect, which means I can listen to it in 15-minute-or-so-ish chunks, and maybe my brain is just at the stage of dealing with my cold (yes, summer colds are the worst…) where focusing eyes is not good, but ears work fine. And it encourages lying down in a comfy bed – although I have had to rewind several times in order to catch things I’ve fallen asleep for… But that’s not so different from having to re-read something because you were almost asleep when you read it the first time, is it?? At least you don’t hit yourself in the face repeatedly with your iPod when you fall asleep listening to an audiobook…

But am I missing out on something by not reading it in the traditional fashion myself? It certainly seemed faster to listen to ‘Rockbound’ than read it – but it may also have been an abridged version… And I didn’t get my voice in my head – but the actor, Richard Donat, who read it certainly did the Nova Scotia accents better than I could have imagined… Hmmm. Must ponder…

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About Beth

Canadian English teacher living in the UK with husband, daughter, imminent baby and cat...
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One Response to Does listening to a book count as ‘reading’ it?

  1. I suffer from the same quandary. It somehow seems like “cheating” to be listening to an audio book version of a novel rather than read it. However, it is something I find I do a lot. I spend a lot of time commuting, and audio books as well as podcasts and lecture series from “The Teaching Company” take up a lot of my travel time.

    It is interesting how people interpret things differently. It would never have occurred to me that people in novels have distinct voices – although I guess they must, or it would be awfully confusing for characters to talk to one another :p I find that what I tend to fill in mentally is visualization of scene and action, and this suffers not at all in the audio book versions.

    To answer your question I would have to conclude that listening to a book is not reading it. The content of the novel is there, but reading is more than only absorbing information; reading is an experience in itself. However, I think that the differences between the experience of reading and the experience of listening are awfully close together. We read to children as a precursor to them learning to read themselves; one can blend into the other, so they can’t be that far apart. It’s rather like having your favorite chocolate cake at home by the fire, or in a fancy restaurant: The cake is the same; the ambience different. You can’t say that you only have eaten the chocolate cake if you do so at home (although I’m sure many people watching their weight would like that) – still the experience of the cake is different. I do not feel that I have to go back and read novels that I have only listened to in order to gain anything more from the printed versions. It is a question of what you think is more important: content or form; cake or ambience.

    I both read and listen. Only a tiny percentage of what is published ever makes it into audio book format, so I don’t think audio books are going to replace print any time soon. But I do think that audio books allow us more access to literature, as it allows us to access books in situations where we can’t “actually read” such as driving or jogging.

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