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On the Validity of Audiobooks

March 15, 2010

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I’ve loved audiobooks for years. I first discovered them in high school, when I began getting debilitating migraines. My aura made me too sensitive to any kind of light (including the flickering of a television screen against my closed eyelids), but I could handle an audiobook as long as the volume was turned down low. When I wasn’t ill, I enjoyed listening to them while I was crocheting or cooking, and later when my migraines disappeared but my fibro remained, they became a life-saver during the really bad days. Also, I found that adding an audiobook to my bedtime routine was the most effective cure for my insomnia.

While I discovered audiobooks due to health reasons, I love them for so much more than that. They are a different experience from reading a hard copy, they engage my brain in a different way and often times help me look at a book from a new angle. So imagine my surprise when I joined the book blogging community and occasionally encountered posts that were, to say the least, skeptical about audiobooks. I’ve seen people debating whether they should ‘count’ as reading for years now, but a post at Literary Transgressions last week is what finally made me decide to write my own audiobook manifesto, as it were. (But ladies, don’t think I’m picking on you!)

I think it’s insulting to say that reading a book via listening to it isn’t real reading. Yes, it uses a different sense…auditory instead of visual. But so does braille, which depends on touch. Would you argue that a blind person has never really read, because the words come to their brain via their fingers? That somehow, the act of reading with their fingers makes their brain have to work less to interpret the book? Because that’s the same argument I’ve seen over and over regarding audiobooks. Just replace the ‘fingers’ with ‘ears.’ Balderdash.

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When I’m reading a piece of paper, I can choose how much of my brain I’m committing to the task. Sometimes I skim, zoning out. Sometimes I go over every single word, giving each one my complete focus. Most often, I’m somewhere in the middle. And my options for focusing are exactly the same when I’m listening to words. I firmly believe that there’s nothing about audiobooks that inherently makes them less of a challenge than paper books. It’s all in the intent of the reader, as it always is.

Yep, sometimes I’m listening to an audiobook, and I look up five minutes later and realise I haven’t processed a word that’s been said. So I have to go back a few minutes, and pick up the train. But that happens to me with paper books as well…I’ll get to the end of a chapter, and have no memory of what happened for the last six pages or something. So, I flip back and reread. I don’t really notice that I have more of a tendency to zone out in one format than another.

Of course, audiobooks do give some differences. For one thing, I can never speed-read them. I can never think, “Gee, I really want to finish this chapter before I have to leave to run errands, so I’m just going to speed up my reading.” I spend more hours with an audiobook than I would with a paper one of comparable length. Now, I’m not one of those people who think that reading slowly is automatically richer (that’s a post for another day). But, that extra time means that I live in the book’s world for longer. I can play there, noticing little details. I let the story unfold as the author wrote it, no flipping ahead to see what might be in store for me.

Also, and this is the big one, listening to an audiobook inserts another person between you as the reader and the author: the narrator (unless, of course, the author’s narrating herself, which is usually great*). I find that, as long as I’m going into an audiobook blind (aka it isn’t a reread), I can adjust to most narrator’s styles within an hour or so. If after that time, I’m still incredibly annoyed by the narrator’s voice, I usually just give up the audiobook and resolve to try a hard copy instead. But honestly, this has only happened a couple times in all of the years I’ve been an audiobook fan. Most of the time, the productions are handled really professionally, and it’s actors who are hired as narrators, so they know what they’re doing. Yep, they add inflections to their reading, because they’re not robots. But the ideas for the inflection and tone come from the author’s writing; they’re not simply imposed on the whim of the narrator. So there is an extra layer to my reading experience, but I find it to be less influential than I might have supposed.

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A paper book and an audiobook are still two different mediums. Sometimes, I find that a book that didn’t work for me all that well in paper comes alive in audio and vice versa. But I don’t think that’s because audiobooks are ‘easier.’ I think it’s because some authors’ writing sounds even better spoken aloud. Or because, since I’m rereading a book, my expectations are far different from my first read. Are there differences between the way that I experience the two types of books? Certainly. But I don’t think that those differences come in easy categories like easier or harder, more work or less work. To me, it’s an odd high horse to choose that has people look down on audiobooks, to view them as lesser than paper books. And to argue that I haven’t read a book because I used my ears instead of my eyes? Well, that just strikes me as silly. I think reading is an inclusive enough term that we should be able to find room to welcome those who experience books through braille or audio.

What do you think about audiobooks? Do you listen to them? Why or why not? Do you ever feel judged as an audiobook listener?


Footnote One: I say usually because I ended up having to stop listening to Farenheit 451, because Ray Bradbury’s voice grated on me so much.

79 Comments leave one →
  1. candletea permalink
    March 15, 2010 6:10 am

    I just started listening to audiobooks, because I was always afraid I would lose track of the story faster when listening to audio. I’m beginning to fins out that that isn’t necessarily the case. I have to be honest and admit though that the first audiobook I’m currently listening to is the first Harry Potter and thus a book I’ve read on paper several times. This is where the embarassing part comes in: I actually listen to it either before I go to sleep, or while I’m running. I’ve found out that I really enjoy listening to an audiobook while going for a run. I can’t say I like listening to music when I run, because it’s always in a different pace than what I’m running in. Stories make me feel good while running though and they distract me from the running itself. I do not always listen to an audiobook while running, I like the quiet of running without anything on your mind as well, but I’ve really grown to love the combination.

  2. March 15, 2010 6:15 am

    Amen!! I love audiobooks! They supplement my “paper” reading beautifully! There are times I enjoyed a book more on audio than I would have (or did) in hard copy form, and there are times I enjoyed the book on audio so much that I have gone back later and reread in hard-copy form so I could study it more closely and savor it more slowly. And there are books I was too intimidated to “read”, but I was able to enjoy them immensely in audio form because I felt it freed me to just listen and take it in without struggle. That was just a personal perception, but it worked for me. And I can’t express how much they’ve helped me get through nasty commutes and long, boring tasks at work.

    I totally understand that audiobooks are not for everyone and I have no problem with that. But it is sad that there are those out there who have to pass their nasty judgments on to those of us who feel we have deeply enriched our reading lives with the use of audiobooks.


  3. farmlanebooks permalink
    March 15, 2010 6:42 am

    I love audio books and it does annoy me when people say I haven’t read a book because I ‘listened’ to it. Thank you for the braille argument – I’ll use that one next time someone questions me.

    I find that a lot of books don’t work in audio format, but some (espcially books written in the first person or letter form) work much better. I wish more people would discover the magic of audio books!

  4. March 15, 2010 6:44 am

    Great post, I have to say that I am not the biggest audio book fan. I love podcasts I think probably because they are shorter and you can miss little tiny bits – I tend to listen to them when am doing a big shop or cleaning the house. I almost darent say this but I have always felt audio books are cheating… is that wrong of me? I just dont think its reading and so you cant say you read the book if you know what I mean.

    Oh dear I might have to go into hiding now hee hee!

  5. March 15, 2010 6:50 am

    Fantastic post! I love listening to audio books! I definitely count them as reading as I am still taking in the information and the story. I also feel it’s unfair when others take the “snobbish” approach to reading; like you, many people have health restrictions (migraines, etc) and prefer reading via listening. Or many students, like my little brother, can’t focus enough to read an entire book or are too intimidated to try. I recommend audio books to these students and after a while, once their confidence is up – they attempt actual “reading.” It works.

    Oh, and PS: I love your header! It’s amazingly poetic.

  6. March 15, 2010 6:52 am

    I totally agree with you. My reading has been brought to a whole new level through audio books. Not only am I able to read more books in my hectic life, my experiences have (mostly) been enriched by reading audio books. I find that reading the booking traditionally or audio-ing it can lead to different experiences. It is also a way to be exposed to yet another level of talent in the form of the narrator/reader.

    I find it interesting that you have enjoyed the audio books that you have read that have been read by the author. I have had the opposite experience. The authors that I have heard read their own work has not been as good as ones read by narrators. Chuck Palahniuk in Choke comes to mind. That was just not enjoyable to me (the book was OK, but I didn’t like his reading style). I respect that they get to read their book the way they think it should be heard, and I kinda love that, but I guess I have just been reading the wrong authors read their books! The best book I have read that was read by the author was The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper. I would not have been able to read the Liberian dialect the way that she could and, even though I read it a year ago, I still hear her voice in my head when I think about the book.

    There have been a couple of times when, after reading an audio book, I realize I would not have read the book in paper form, or would not have liked it as much if I had. I tried to read My Friend Leonard after reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey via audio book, and I just couldn’t get into the choppy writing style. Listening to it was not a problem for me at all though. Also, I just finished reading a book where the narrator’s voice was the best thing I had to say about the book. I’m glad I got to experience that even though I didn’t care for the book. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I wasn’t audio-ing it.

  7. March 15, 2010 7:02 am

    I personally don’t listen to audiobooks at all, unless the narrator interests me. (For instance, I own the Star Trek XI novelization if only to hear Zachary Quinto in various accents.) But I’m shocked to hear that there are people who don’t consider audiobooks reading- of course they are! It’s just a different format.

  8. March 15, 2010 7:04 am

    I haven’t actually tried a full audio book yet, though I have been toying with the idea. I find that in my reading I often stop to think about a certain paragraph or a certain sentence or quote, or I lose my thread and have to go back a few pages. I started one book in audio format but I found it harder to stop and go back to re-read a sentence, if you get my meaning. I think I would enjoy a certain genre of book in audio format but I would, at least to start, limit myself to fiction.

  9. March 15, 2010 7:11 am

    I agree with what you’ve said: it comes down to how much you invest in the experience, so whether that sensory involvement is with the eyes or the ears, it’s how the reader puts the content to use that makes the reading rewarding or superficial, not the format itself. (My habits are fairly old-fashioned — I might read one audiobook for every twenty printed books that I read.)

    Back when the “Walkman” was current technology, the only audiobooks readily available were “safe bets” for commercial success and an abundance of abridged works; maybe that’s where some of the feeling of being judged comes from, because when you mention you’re listening to a book, some folks assume a self-help book or an Agatha Christie, rather than the latest Booker Prize winner, not realizing how much the marketplace has changed in the past coupla decades.

  10. March 15, 2010 7:18 am

    I love audiobooks! Honestly they save my sanity when I am commuting or when I am at the gym. I’ve been listening to them for years, beginning with Harry Potter with my dad in the car. Jim Dale does such an amazing job, it almost put me off other audiobooks (and I do get annoyed when narrators can’t do the voices right!!) But I have since found plenty of audiobooks that I really enjoyed. Some even that have saved a book for me, like you said. I really couldn’t get into the Night Watch for some reason. There was almost too much mystery at the beginning and I got frustrated. But then I let the narrator take over and I enjoyed listening to it so much. It was an amazing book to listen to in audio, reducing me to tears most of the time! Right now I’m listening to Fat Cat in audio, and I wish it was narrated by a teenager instead of an adult because it sounds funny, but other than that, it’s working really well as audio. Thanks for posting this! I have to agree with you, audio is very much reading.

  11. March 15, 2010 7:35 am

    I can’t get on with audiobooks because I zone out too much – I need words in print in front of me or my attention wanes. I listen to podcasts on my way to work sometimes but they are a struggle too – when I’m surrounded by people and their noise, getting off and on of tubes etc, I just can’t give all of my attention to what I’m hearing, I also sometimes can’t hear bits over the din of the surrounding world, and then I lose the thread and get frustrated and give up. I definitely can’t listen in the car – I’m so busy looking around me that I can’t listen to anything other than music that usually I zone out anyway. If I had the luxury of time to lay down in a quiet room and just listen, not doing anything else, then I’d probably love audiobooks, but I don’t have that time. All of my reading, pretty much, is done on public transport, and I can’t listen and take in information in that environment. That’s just the way my brain is!

    I don’t think audiobooks are an easy option for lazy people, and I’d never say someone hadnt’ ‘read’ a book if they had ‘only’ listened to it. If your sight isn’t great or the only time you have to take in a story is driving to work, and you can take in information aurally, unlike me, then audiobooks are a necessity. Everyone’s minds and senses work in different ways and what works for some doesn’t for others. I love to read the printed word and that’s how I best take in information – I often ask people at work to email me information rather than tell me over the phone as then I can be sure I’ve got it all correctly. However I know plenty of people who hate having to read and they skim everything, preferring to listen instead, as that sense is better developed. So, each to their own. A story is the same (unless it’s been abridged, of course!) however it’s delivered, as far as I am concerned.

  12. March 15, 2010 8:01 am

    Like you, I don’t understand why people don’t count audiobooks as reading- I agree 100% with your Braille comment. Actually, I remember when I was in high school English, our teacher telling us that blind people process books in their brain in the same way people with sight do. It’s not like they’re touching the words and stimulating different parts of their brain- they are LITERALLY “reading” with their fingers and processing the information in the same parts of their brain as everyone else, which is awesome. I am not sure if that is a proven fact or if my teacher just made it up, but I believe it, anyway.

    I did a few audiobooks when I was commuting to and from work and I think if I were to take a long road trip, I would take them along as well so that I wasn’t stuck listening to Lady Gaga all the time. I don’t think people should try to narrowly define things. It just doesn’t make sense. In the same way I love that the definition of fantasy and steampunk is expanding, I think it can happen for the defintion of reading, too.

  13. March 15, 2010 8:06 am

    Audiobooks are definitely reading! Plus you tend to have to concentrate more.

    I only have two audiobook experiences. I bought the audiobook of Twilight – yes, I know, but I love the series and it’s a real comfort book. I’ve read it several times and listened to the audio several times too. I like to have it on while I’m doing the dishes, which can take me an hour! I also like to listen to an audio book while doing jigsaw puzzles. (my nerdy side is really coming out now!)

    My public library doesn’t have many audiobooks. Slim pickings. I borrowed Son of a Witch, the sequel to Wicked – I haven’t read either, which was a bit of a mistake. The author narrated and I hated the way he did it. I couldn’t follow the story at all. His “voices” for the characters really irritated me.

    When I look at the audiobooks in Chapters, I see mostly ones for books I’d never read in print, and the ones I would read, I’ve already read. They’re very expensive too, so I’m not keen on experimenting that way. Plus I never have time to listen to them. I don’t have an MP3 or iPod, so I can’t listen to them while travelling to work. I take a book everywhere I go, even to the gym!

    I also have a weird thing about having trouble concentrating. Twilight worked so well because I’d already read the book a few times. I’m more visual than auditory, I guess.

    When I read a book, though, I don’t skim. I read every word. I’m slow that way ;) But when an audiobook is playing, my thoughts can stray and I’ll realise that I’ve missed five minutes of the story while I was thinking about something else entirely! But I still value them, I wish there was more choice, and I wish they were more affordable.

  14. March 15, 2010 8:14 am

    I totally agree with you!

    I discovered audio books when I commuted between Edinburgh and Glasgow every day (roughly an hour each way) and since it was evenings (I worked 1pm-11pm) I had to stay awake driving home, but there is a radio silence hole at the half way point, plus at 11pm in the evening radio is often heavy metal, not my thing. Audio books became the perfect thing for me.

    And like you I discover new things when I hear the books rather than see them. For example I never got the riddle in HP and the Goblet of Fire but when Stephen Fry read it, all of a sudden it became clear.

    I like to listen to audio books when I have my insomnia bouts because then I focus on the book not the “if I fall asleep NOW I will get to sleep for 2 hours” but the story lulls me to sleep.

    I do occasionally have narrator issues but if the story is good I often forget about them.

    Thank you for such a great defense!

  15. March 15, 2010 8:17 am

    Interesting post!

    I usually like listening to audiobooks when it’s something that’s meant to be heard aloud, like poetry or Shakespeare. On iTunes, they have recordings of T.S.Eliot reading his own poems, and for me, it’s perfect for working out or going on a walk – you don’t have to worry about plots and characters, but can just get lost in the rhythm and flow of the words.

    Actually, with Shakespeare, this is kinda nerdy but, I like listening and following along in my book at the same time! I find that I miss so much when I just read Shakespeare in my head. And I butcher the language when I try to read it aloud myself. Listening to British actors perform the play while reading along is how I get the most out of it.

  16. March 15, 2010 8:44 am

    I don’t listen to audiobooks, but I don’t look down on anyone who does. I count graphic novels in my reading count and there are those who are appalled by that idea.

    Audiobooks and I haven’t found a workable rhythym as of yet. I keep hoping someone will get me an iPod for my birthday or Christmas so I can give it a try while I’m out walking the dog. I think that’s about the only time I could make it work. That or a cross country road trip–something I rarely do. I love my music and news too much to give those up during my short commute to and from work. Nor do I really have any hobbies that would allow my mind to concentrate on a book while I’m taking part in them (my several attempts at crocheting all failed miserably).

    I’m quite content with my print books. I may not be able to reach the numbers I might if I did listen to audiobooks, but that’s fine by me. I respect a person’s personal choice in how he or she chooses to read books–and I would hope others would respect mine as well.

    I think people spend too much time worrying about what other people are doing–whether it be what a person is reading, the way a person reads or even how a person blogs.

  17. March 15, 2010 8:47 am

    My library has a great audiobook collection. When I was teaching last year, I had to drive an hour each way to get to school and back, so audiobooks became my best friends. It was great to be able to listen to a wonderful story for 2 hours out of the day and decompress. It was my only relaxing time the entire day and I treasured those hours in my car on the highway.

    That being said, I found it really hard to listen to certain kinds of books. I liked books with a lot of action and excitement and a great narrator. Sometimes a narrator will pronounce words funny and things like that annoy me, so I would just add the book to my hard copy list instead.

    These days I have a hard time finding the right moments to listen to audiobooks, although it is definitely something I want to get back into. I don’t drive anywhere of a long length anymore and I am home enough where a solid book does the job. Perhaps in the future though!

  18. March 15, 2010 9:49 am

    I definitely agree. I do find some books that I just don’t think work as audio books, but overall I LOVE them, and they let me get in way more reading than I would otherwise.

  19. March 15, 2010 9:54 am

    I also love audio books, though I don’t listen to them very often (they’re too expensive to buy and our library has a very limited selection). I love the extra drama that comes with a well-read audio book, the different voices, etc. I tend to ‘see’ more images in my mind when listening to a story compared to reading on the page.

    Also, I think audio books are the only solution to my knitting-or-reading conundrum. Your post makes me wish I had an audio book lined up to read!

  20. March 15, 2010 10:42 am

    I’m a very visual person. I have a hard time listening to anything but music. I have tried audiobooks but they put me to sleep. Actually reading paper books is my preference. My dad listens to audiobooks since he has vision problems which is a great solution. I can see many instances were audiobooks would be great-cleaning, long drives. Just not for me!

  21. March 15, 2010 11:43 am

    I have read (and yes I say read) audiobooks for many years. At first, I used them when I had a longer commute to work. Now, that is not the case, but I still love them. It just takes me longer to listen to the book. I will say that I am pretty picky about the narrator, but if I don’t like the sound of the voice, I just don’t select that narrator again. One thing that I have found useful and comforting is listening to some of my favorite books on audio. I’ve done that with all the Harry Potter books (Jim Dale is marvelous) and, for me, it added an extra layer of enjoyment. Plus, if you miss a bit, it’s OK. You know what’s coming. I think that the audio version of The Guernsey….book is wonderful, with several narrators. I have a copy of The Help to listen to soon that uses the same device…several readers.

    Mostly, I agree with what Wendy (Literary Feline) said in her comment above. I think way too many people worry about what other people are reading, how they are reading it, how they are blogging, what their blog looks like, etc., etc. We are all individuals and, as such, have our individual tastes and gifts. Viva la AUDIO!!

  22. March 15, 2010 11:46 am

    Great post Eva! As usual you have made me think. I agree that listening to audio books definitely counts as reading. However, I have not personally been a fan of them. I am a strong visual learner and not such a good auditory one. However, after reading all of the benefits of audio books in your post I really do think I should try them again. I’ve been saying that for about year now so I know one of these days I will!

  23. March 15, 2010 11:49 am

    I love audio books, I listen to them on the way home from work (a 30min to hour long journey) and if I’m being good and walk the 3 mile round trip to town and back.
    I have listened to some which were amazing – The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Adventures of a Part-Time Indian (read Alexie Sherman the author – amazing!) and Speak. I’ve given up on a few because of the narrator and on The Enchantress of Florence because it needed massive concentration because of all the details and the drive home wasn’t the right place for that type of focus.
    I think that the audio experience should be viewed as real reading, you are still processing the information, lots of people struggle with audio learning as apparently you only process 10% of the information (alwayd worrying when you think how we are taught in schools), so maybe this is what puts people off. I love being read to, so audio books are perfect.

  24. March 15, 2010 11:57 am

    yes, Yes, YES!!! I couldn’t agree more! I’ve written about this on my blog as well. Thanks for putting it out there so clearly. :)

  25. March 15, 2010 12:15 pm

    I just started listening to them. I like that I can turn one on while I do stuff around the house since I spend a lot of time cleaning. A bad narrator is one of my pet peeves though.

    I loved hearing PD Wodehouse’s Jeeves. It was a good thing I was alone because I laughed out loud so many times.

    I get the occasional migraine with aura. I had the 1st one in 7 yrs 2 weeks ago. They are the worst.

  26. March 15, 2010 12:24 pm

    I never ever listen to audiobooks. I enjoy being read to, but I’m just never in one place doing something mindless for long enough to listen to audiobooks. I hardly ever exercise, and when I do it’s usually with someone, and when I’m driving I want to listen to music and sing. I support their existence though! I do not think they are lesser than print books!

  27. March 15, 2010 1:45 pm

    I’ve found audiobooks to be a great cure for sleeping difficulties, too. David Sedaris works particularly well for me, although I don’t know why.

  28. March 15, 2010 1:47 pm

    I love audio books! They’re great for long car journeys and it allows me to knit or sew and ‘read’ when I’m at home. Anything that allows me to enjoy more books is a good thing.

    Personally I think it gives an extra element to a book that you can’t get from anything else. A good example of the is The Time Traveler’s Wife. The audio version I have has it two narrators; Male for Henry’s chapters and female for Clare’s. For me this made it more enjoyable.

    One of my particular favourite audio books is the Harry Potter books – I have the UK and US versions, read by different people and that makes it kind of like reading a different book. I’ve listened to the UK ones, read by Stephen Fry, so many times that when I re-read the books, I can actually hear his voice in my head!

  29. March 15, 2010 1:53 pm

    My husband and I constantly have the argument about whether audio books count or not. He says they shouldn’t (at least for the purposes of our competitions) but I think they’re wonderful. And make driving so much better.

    I get migraines and I am the same way – super sensitive to light but not so much to sound. I listen to audiobooks then as well.

  30. March 15, 2010 2:14 pm

    I’ve only just discovered audio books, and I’m liking the ones I listened to so far. I don’t think all books work as audiobooks though, for some reason. Maybe it’s because of the faculty we’re using: some works just look better on page than they do when they’re being read aloud.

    But definitely, no speed-reading when it comes to audiobooks. Which again, works well for certain books, but for others, because I can’t speedread, I might drift off more often than I would if I could hold the book in my hand and skim the page a little.

  31. March 15, 2010 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Eva! I don’t listen to audiobooks now but I’ve been meaning to try it for a while – from what I’ve heard it can really enhance a book, although I guess sometimes it might depend on the narrator. The one thing that’s keeping me from doing it is that you can’t listen to a book as fast as you can read it, and I am definitely a speed reader. At any rate, I hope that I’ll get around to trying out audiobooks soon.

  32. March 15, 2010 2:58 pm

    Count me down as someone who used to be skeptical about audiobooks. Then I borrowed one from the library this winter (it probably helped that it was Emma, already one of my favourites) and I was converted. It definitely takes more effort for me to focus on listening to the story, since I’m so used to reading, but it’s worth it to experience it in a whole new way. My only complaint would be that audiobooks are usually abridged and I’m not terribly comfortable with the idea that I’m not hearing the full story as the author wished to present it.

    • March 16, 2010 1:44 pm

      Actually, almost every single book that is available in audio is available in an UNabridged version. very few publishing companies insist on producing those horrid abridged editions. Yuck.

  33. March 15, 2010 4:16 pm

    I resisted audiobooks for years, but I love them now. I got hooked on them when I had a long commute, and once I moved closer to work I found I couldn’t give them up. I certainly wouldn’t call it a lesser experience, just a different one.

    I have had more problems with losing focus with audiobooks. Actually, I don’t know that I lose focus more with audio than print, but when I noticed I’ve drifted when reading print, it’s easier to get back to where I was when my mind wandered. Plus, it’s easier to flip back and reread if I’ve forgotten some details regarding something that happened earlier. So in general I still prefer print, especially for more complex books. But as others have commented, there are books I’ve enjoyed on audio that I don’t think would work in print. I have more patience with more repetitive, simpler stories on audio. And some authors are much better to listen to than to read because their really enhances the experience. David Sedaris leaves me cold in print, but I love him on audio.

  34. March 15, 2010 5:19 pm

    I love this post – I am firmly in the “audiobooks are reading” camp. I have seen the other sentiment around the blogsphere, though – but it seems to come mainly from people who don’t like audiobooks to begin with.

  35. March 15, 2010 5:39 pm

    YAY….I totally agree with all you’ve said regarding audio books. I LOVE them, and always have one going. I especially love listening to them in bed at night, or when I cannot sleep. (It is so relaxing). IMO as long as the audio is not the abridged version, it is the SAME as reading the book.

    It also makes long trips so much more enjoyable.

  36. March 15, 2010 6:48 pm

    Your posts are always so well thoughtful and well written. I haven’t really given given it a lot of thought. I think that if someone had asked me off hand before I read this and actually thought about it, I would have said that it is not reading.

    But you are particularly right about what you say about people who cannot see – they can only ‘read’ audiobooks, does this mean they never read?

    I also think its a good point though about the written word. We are so used to thinking about the reading as involving the written word, perhaps it will just take time for the usual idea of things to catch up with modern technology.

    I need to cut this short, damn work, just got a call.

  37. March 15, 2010 6:59 pm

    Err…. I do listen, but sorry to say they are not my thing. I only started listening last year, and my schedule lets me listen to just 30-60 minutes a day, not enough to make me love them, but enough to make them regular enough. What I find problematic usually is the narrator. I don’t know whether I am choosing all the wrong narrators or if it’s just me, but I’m hoping someday they’ll work well for me.

    As for counting them as books, heck I do!

  38. March 15, 2010 7:16 pm

    I find I prefer audiobooks read by the author themself, although Jim Dale’s reading of the Harry Potter books was fantastic. I find that the author reads it with the intonation they had in mind when writing and that adds an extra dimension to the story for me.

    I also have an odd quirk in that I almost never listen to an audio book that I haven’t already read as an actual book. I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan, and have listened to nearly all of his audio books(read by him) instead of re-reading the book. I am trying to pick an audiobook occasionally that isn’t something I’ve read before, perhaps something I might not have picked up in paper form.

  39. March 15, 2010 7:35 pm

    Because I love listening to music, I don’t really listen to audio. I already spend so much time reading books that I want to keep my other passions alive as well.

    having said that, I’ve learned not to think of them as less. And I do enjoy them on long car trips.

  40. March 15, 2010 8:12 pm

    Amen and heck yeah! I always dread the “audiobooks don’t count” argument. I think you make a great point with the braille comparison. I often find it more challenging to digest an audiobook because my attention span tends to be less when I’m listening. It’s a brain workout for me personally, but also a really enjoyable experience when the audiobook is well done. I haven’t listened as much lately because I don’t have a commute to work, but I do miss them a great deal.

  41. March 15, 2010 8:17 pm

    I’m not much of an audiobook person (slowly beginning to enjoy audiobooks more), but a few years ago, I got steamed at a news item in which members of a book group protested when they found out that one of their own was audiobooking. What a bunch of idiots.

  42. March 15, 2010 8:29 pm

    I’m the first to admit that I am completely tactile when it comes to books: I love the feel of the paper, the heft of them, the smell, the look of the print (or cover)…But last year, when I made a lot of long car trips, audio books saved my life; there are authors I would never have met if it had not been for a book on CD. My only gripe is that it is much harder to return to the same place in a CD book (old-fashioned cassettes are better for this)–because you lose the track if you haven’t listened in a while (say, overnight). At the same time, audio requires more concentration because, as you point out, it is more difficult to return to the exact spot you lost the key phrase in the paragraph. (Say, when the guy in the car behind you decides to pass in front of an oncoming truck)

    We know we live in an age when the idea of what it is to “read” is changing. Seems to me that audiobooks are in one way a return to the original notion of story: a group of people huddled around a fire (or a steering wheel), in thrall to the voice of another–listening.

  43. March 15, 2010 8:29 pm

    I do believe that audio books are legitimate reads, but I have a difficult time with them. My mind wanders quite a bit with this format. I have found that if I close my eyes and block out any visual input I do better; but then I risk falling asleep! I recently went to hear Neil Gaiman speak and he spent a fair amount of time reading from some of his books. I absolutely loved the way he read his own books and would like to hear him read all of “Odd and the Frost Giants.”

  44. March 15, 2010 8:51 pm

    I have to confess I’ve never listened to an audiobook. Not that I have anything against them but more perhaps because of my age. They simply never featured for most of my life and I’ve never felt an inclination to try one. I like the solid presence of a real book, the feel of the pages and wonder how I would manage without that.

    Still, I agree that reading began with one storyteller and a circle of listeners so maybe its worth a try.

  45. March 15, 2010 9:36 pm

    Thank you for this! I too think audiobooks are perfectly valid and should count among books read.

    I love audio-ing when I had to commute to student teaching. It would put me in a more relaxed mindset before dealing with tweens and teens. I also like to audio when I’m doing house work. I haven’t bought an audio book yet, I get them from the library.

  46. March 15, 2010 11:03 pm

    Audio books are not widespread in Turkey so it is hard to find good audio books as per both the content and the quality…Personally, i dnt like listening to them as i guess i have a concentration problem…in order to digest a book, i need to see and touch the book..then i get the delight in reading.

  47. March 16, 2010 1:02 am

    I’ve tried audiobooks, but the narrators’ accents really got on my nerves. Maybe if the narrator were Australian I might not have to listen so hard to understand what the person was saying, but all the audiobooks I’d like to listen to are read by English or American actors, and I find their voices a distraction and tend to tune out. Also, a lot of audiobooks are abridged, and I’d like to hear the whole thing. I think it’s great that other people like them, but I’d rather read a paper book.

    • March 16, 2010 5:48 am

      I totally know what you mean Violet. I can handle US pronunciation on the telly but it’s very jarring on audiobook! I don’t mind English accents though.

  48. March 16, 2010 2:35 am

    I really liked Crime and Punishment as an audiobook which I read a few years ago. I’m currently getting back into audiobooks more now since it’s the only time I have to “read” with a baby. Stroller + sleeping baby + iPod + audiobook = long enjoyable walks.

  49. March 16, 2010 2:35 am

    I’m reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo now.

  50. March 16, 2010 2:52 am

    I’ve never “read” an audiobook. Mostly because I like to hear my own voice when I read. I think it is absolutely wrong to suggest that listening to audiobooks is not reading. My three year old can’t read yet. But when he sits quietly and listens, totally engrossed , to whatever book that I’m reading out loud to him, I think that he’s reading. And thanks for the braille argument.

  51. March 16, 2010 4:41 am

    I don’t listen to audiobooks but I agree they count as reading! I tried one a few years ago and I found I couldn’t get into the story. Maybe I need to try another and see what happens.

  52. March 16, 2010 8:51 am

    I love audio books, and find myself more able to get into genres that aren’t my normal reads when I’m listening to them (fantasy, for instance). My partner has a problem with them in that she’s the kind of reader who’ll often flip to the end of a book to make sure things will turn out ok, and she can’t do that with audios, but I think she’s learning to deal with it!

  53. March 16, 2010 10:44 am

    I like audiobooks for rereads, but I find them difficult for new-to-me books. My library offers most of its audiobooks on CD rather than as digital downloads, and I find it awkward to get them onto my iPod. Therefore, I’ve got to listen to them someplace close to a CD player, which means I’m usually engaged in some other intellectual activity while I listen. This makes it tough for me to really focus on the book, so I tend to miss out on stuff. This is fine for rereads, but it’s frustrating with new stuff.

    I did download a free, new-to-me short story collection from Audible a few months back, though, and I loved it. Since it was digital, it was super easy to get it onto my iPod. I listened to it while I cooked supper each night, and there were a couple of times when I listened to it on the bus instead of reading my paper book.

    I think format makes such a big difference, at least as far as I’m concerned. Portable audiobooks are easy to deal with, but traditional ones on tape or CD are just too limiting.

  54. March 16, 2010 1:05 pm

    I am 100% behind audiobooks as a valid book source. I personally can’t ‘read’ them because I’m aurally retarded. I’m sure that if I put some concentrated effort into it, I could learn to read by listening (it’d probably improve my listening skills and I would do way better in class…or have to take fewer notes) but until I have a long commute or a debilitating illness or am nursing twins, I probably won’t be putting the time in.

    Thanks again for a great post, Eva.

  55. March 16, 2010 1:39 pm

    I’m way to late to the party to read all the comments before commenting — or else I’d see that I have nothing new to add, so I wouldn’t comment.

    Storytelling came long before print and long before the printing press and long before near-universal literacy. Receiving stories through an oral medium has an ancient history. Availability of inexpensive printed stories and the leisure time and lighting to read them, is a relatively new thing.

    Audio is just as valid as reading. Sometimes you may get something different out of a book, depending on the medium, but one is no more valid than the other.

  56. March 16, 2010 6:02 pm

    I love audiobooks–as long a the reader works for me. I do use them to help time pass while I’m at work, and I don’t necessarily focus as much as I would otherwise. But I try to make sure that those books are fairly light. A well read book is often more enjoyable to me!

  57. March 16, 2010 6:22 pm

    I pretty much agree with this whole post.

  58. March 16, 2010 7:13 pm

    Wow, hot topic!! I love listening to audiobooks, but I’m hyperaccusive (extremely sensitive to noise) and can’t use headphones. Plus, I don’t have a very good set-up in my house. So, I listened to them when I was traveling to and from Oklahoma to take care of my mother and was stuck in a car. I wish I could figure out a way to listen to audios in my house (without driving everyone else crazy). They were awesome — very helpful for keeping me awake, a great way to still enjoy novels while on the road, a nice bit of escapism from the horror of watching my mother die.

    I’ve always been neutral on the argument about whether or not audio books “count” but you’ve sold me. I totally agree that it’s really no different from reading by braille or reading with the eyes; the brain is still engaged. I was in a reading group in which audios did not count, period, and no argument was allowed. I thought it was kind of funny but a few people really were upset about that policy.

  59. March 16, 2010 8:52 pm

    I have to say, I love how easy it is to multitask when listening to an audiobook! I have listened to many a book while sewing or knitting, and your post has me searching the web for audiobooks I can listen to while working on some projects tomorrow.

    I’ve been thinking more on this ever since LT’s post last week, and maybe some of a person’s feelings regarding audiobooks has to do with learning styles. I find it hard to remember something if I don’t physically see it written down, and I read a book with a pencil in hand, scribbling notes in the margins and interacting with the text in that way. Sometimes I read the text out loud to myself if I feel that the prose flows better that way (something I urge everyone to try sometime!), but I need a pencil and some post-its or I feel lost.

    Maybe my main problem with audiobooks is that I can’t interact with them as well as I can a physical book. It feels like it’s the narrator who is interacting with the book, and I’m on the outside looking in. That’s just my very subjective two cents, though.

    Thanks so much for this post! It’s great to get another perspective :)

  60. March 16, 2010 9:25 pm

    I just recently started listening to audio books. (So recent that I just started this year.) I always thought audio books weren’t for me because I’m a visual person but after being in a reading rut, I gave audio books a try and it really helped. I agree that listening to audio books is reading. Those who feel that it’s not are missing out. I often read aloud the books that I’m visually reading anyway.

  61. March 17, 2010 3:11 am

    That´s some manifesto! :) I don´t like audiobooks, somehow I don´t want to hear voices of strangers in narrative that doensn´t adress me. I know it´s a weird reason and I never had problems listening to my parents when I was a child, but now I want to read by myself with no stranger butting in. Reading is a solitary activity for me and I like it this way.

    I also adore the process of reading, seeing the words on the pages, the way they are formed. It´s not just the content, the story, that´s important for me in a book. Maybe that´s why I think there is a difference. Because you listen to audiobooks, you don´t read them. That doesn´t make audiobooks dirty secrets (listening is a great and worthwhile activity, and should not be down-played), but there is a difference and to give credit to both mediums, this difference should be highlighted.

  62. March 17, 2010 9:50 am

    Great topic! I think audiobooks count just as much as normal print books. To me it’s just another way to enjoy books. I don’t think I’m cheating. I figure if it takes the narrator, say, 8 hours to read the book, then it would probably take me 8 hours to read it. So I’m putting in the same amount of time.

    Now that I drive myself to and from work and I have a 35-40 min commute (each way) I’ve found that I am addicted to audio books. I love music and there is even an afternoon talk show that I love. However the minute I finish one audio book I’m reaching for another. I have found it’s a great way to calm me down and get me out of a work mode and into my home mode. To compensate for not listening to music in the car, I listen to Pandora at work. lol!

  63. March 17, 2010 4:11 pm

    I’m way late on this (as usual) but I just wanted to pipe in and say that of COURSE audio books count as real reading! I love them for the car, I typically get through one book every 1-2 weeks just by listening during my regular commute and it totally helps tackle my stresses at the end of a long day! Just relax and listen to a wonderful book as I drive home, it’s perfect. :)

  64. March 17, 2010 4:15 pm

    I was interested to hear that some people don’t “count” audiobooks as reading. That, to me, just illustrates one of the dangers of counting everything to do with books. I do think it’s a slightly different experience, but if I want to review something I’ve listened to, I usually want to get a paper copy anyway. Sometimes I want to get a copy just to see how the names are spelled! I couldn’t get through traveling or commuting without audiobooks.

  65. March 17, 2010 6:59 pm

    Audio books are fantastic! Like many here, I spend a lot of time in the car each week (8hrs) commuting to and from work and if I didn’t have audio books I’d probably go nuts. They help me make that time productive and are every bit as valuable as physical books. I think the point is NOT the format, it’s the transmission of stories and ideas that counts.

  66. March 17, 2010 7:43 pm

    I enjoy audio books occasionally, mostly in the car. I certainly don’t consider audio books any less valid than reading physical books. I think hearing the words aloud adds another dimension to the writing, and sometimes makes the book more meaningful.

  67. March 17, 2010 8:48 pm

    I have two complaints about audiobooks:

    (1) I’m a visual person. When I read using my eyes, I retain more than when I use only my ears. It was true in college and graduate school, too, when I took notes while listening to the professor lecture. Unless I wrote it down (making it “visual” for me), I didn’t get as much from a class.

    (2) Taking notes while listening to an audiobook is near impossible for me. First, I can’t write as fast as a narrator can read, which means I have to back up over and over. Second, I can’t write down a page number that I can later return to before writing a book review.

    As for “reading,” I’m with you about one being the equivalent of the other. As long as the “reader” is satisfied with the way s/he takes in a book, so am I. When I take long trips, it’s really nice to have an audiobook to enjoy while driving the long stretches.

    I decided to write about this on MY blog, if you want to read it (though it’s pretty much what I said here. Here’s the link:

  68. March 18, 2010 5:08 am

    Audiobooks are great for long trips (i.e. remote area fieldwork in the Outback!) and for running. I didn’t really get into them until a few years ago. I’ve found that books which didn’t work for me as literature (i.e. Dan Brown or Matthew Reilly) worked really well as audiobooks.

    I used to get hung up on whether I could count the book as being ‘read’. When I realised that others did so, I started adding them to my booklist.

    There’s two things about audiobooks that can be tricky for me.

    The first is the narrator’s voice. It has to be believable and not grating. There’s nothing worse than an audiobook read by someone whose voice could peel paint off walls. The second issue is that one can’t speed read an audiobook. Thus, audiobooks take me significantly longer than paper works to read. However, I have found that if you’re listening on an iPod you can cheat a little and speed up the playback.

  69. March 19, 2010 5:07 am

    I do listen to audiobooks, when I’m on a road trip, when I walk the dog, when I clean the house, etc. and of course, I consider it reading! It’s like when a parent reads to a child.

  70. March 19, 2010 10:05 am

    While I’ve never tried audiobooks, I’ve been meaning to jump on the bandwagon. I preferred reading as opposed to listening to someone else read because I could control my pace. I could read as fast, as slow, skim, etc… as time permits. Recently, my eyes grow weary and the idea of listening to a talented actor/actress read to me while I lay in the dark sounds like the perfect respite to the end of an exhausting day at work.

  71. March 20, 2010 12:00 pm

    I love “ear-reading” so much I just got a waterproof case for my MP3 so I can listen while I’m working out in the pool. Great post….thanks for sticking up for those of us who’s learning (and reading) styles and abilities fall outside the “normal” range. For those who claim it’s not reading—GET OVER IT PEOPLE….it’s called diversity.

  72. March 21, 2010 10:39 am

    I don’t know if anyone else has said this, but I believe you have to learn to listen to books in the same way you have to learn to read. Many people try audio books and give up too soon. Audio book listening requires learning to find the right time to listen. Also, becoming good at audio book listening requires practice. I didn’t understand this until I went back and relistened to some of the first audio books I had read. Also audio books have taught me how to read better with my eyes, and eye reading teaches me how to listen better.

    I used to think I was a great reader until I listened to audio books, and then I realized I was a terrible reader. So in my fifties I started teaching myself to read all over again.

  73. March 24, 2010 5:18 pm

    I just started reading audiobooks recently, through podcasts, and I’ve fallen in love with them! Sometimes I have trouble keeping myself from zoning out, but that’s usually when I’m distracted by other things and trying to multi-task too much (like mindlessly checking email while listening). Sometimes I even listen to them when I run, like I saw someone say in an earlier comment – it’s nice to hear a story instead of feeling like the beat of the music is off!

  74. March 25, 2010 1:05 pm

    I LOVE audiobooks and am really frustrated by people who claim they don’t count as “reading” a book. You explained it so well in your post. It is a different medium, but I actually find that I spend more time on audiobooks than hard copies because I can’t control the speed at which I read them.

    Also, I refuse to read any audiobooks that are not unabridged. I agree with those who noted you aren’t getting the author’s complete meaning if it’s abridged and I won’t read any, (audio or hard copy) that aren’t unabridged. I do love to read a book on audio or hard copy and then re-read it a few years later in the other format. I tend to notice more details that way.

    I’ve been reading audiobooks for years (I started in high school as well) and have found that it makes driving, doing dishes, etc. so much better. The hardest part is just having to get out of the car when I’m in the middle of a good one.

  75. March 27, 2010 4:22 pm

    Great post, Eva. I agree with you 100% that audiobooks are reading — though I do feel strongly that they must be unabridged.

    I listen to audiobooks all the time and love them. I have found a few narrators that I couldn’t continue on with, but for the most part I do get used to them as you stated above.

    Happy reading and listening!

  76. March 28, 2010 1:37 am

    I haven’t been able to finish an audio book – I either got distracted (looking at other things and zoned out), or if i close my eyes so I can concentrate no the audio, I fall asleep… been meaning to try listening to audio books while on the elliptical – will see how that goes!


  1. BOOKS AND MOVIES » The Sunday Salon – March 21, 2010 (The “bookish-links-for-Saturday-on-Sunday” edition)

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