Audiobooks: Is it reading?

Recently my husband, who is not much for old school paper reading of any kind, listened to the book I Am Legend via Audible. As he enlightened me on all the differences between the book and the movie, I thought I might be inclined to listen to it myself. Sci-fi horror isn’t really my thing, so I probably won’t listen to it, but even if I was interested in it, I’d check out a hard copy of the book from the library.

I have a friend who recently listened to the book Johnny Tremain after reading my review, and she told me all about the great audio reading app available through our library system. As much as I utilize our library, I’d never even considered whether they offered an audio book app. It’s my least preferred way to read.

I’ve begun listening to several audiobooks in the past, and am rarely able to finish one because I find my mind wandering off to other things. When I am able to listen to a book, and occasionally I am, it’s always in my car. In the car, I can listen attentively to an audiobook. In the house, I can listen to shorter things like podcasts, sermons, and of course, music. Earlier this year, we got a car which connects to the bluetooth on my phone, so who knows? There will probably be a lot more audiobooks in my future.

My husband, conversely, listens to just about everything. The exception is the Bible, which he says he gets more from actually seeing the words, but he considers audio books a legitimate reading activity. At the end of the day, whether you listened to a story, flipped its pages, or read it on a screen, you still took in the content.

I started listening to The Brothers Karamazov on Librivox a couple of months ago, and I was really enjoying it, but I couldn’t go the distance. I’ll be checking it out from the library when I finish my current book. Or perhaps I’ll try to pick up the story where I left off via audio book. We’ll see.

This article at Time Magazine offers expert opinion on whether audiobooks are as good for your brain as reading. Interesting, how they titled it…

What say you? Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading the words on a page or screen?

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9 thoughts on “Audiobooks: Is it reading?

  1. Krysta says:

    I think listening to audiobooks is reading. Maybe if I were teaching a child, I’d want them to gain proficiency in reading text on a page. But if you can already read on paper and you want to listen to an audiobook, you’re getting the same story/information as someone with words on a page, so I don’t see that it’s “cheating” as some bloggers argue.

    I do think the Time article is interesting, though, since it suggests comprehension with an audiobook might be less than with a physical paper. I’d like to see a study on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    Near the end of the Time article, when they showed the disparity in scores between those who listened to a lesson and those who read the same material, I was pretty surprised by the results.

    I suspected that the people who read the material would do slightly better, but 28% is a big difference in scores!

    What I took away from that is that audiobooks are a perfectly fine way of reading for pleasure, but when there are occupational or academic stakes involved, better to play it safe and read the words the old fashioned way.


  3. bikebubba says:

    We might rephrase the question to ask whether it is learning or not. We can always say that reading will be the visual rendition of characters into meaning, with all the distinctives of those media, but that ignores the fact that cultures have passed down knowledge orally for millenia. We can speak to relative advantages and disadvantages of each medium, but you can learn for both.

    And as is noted, the big difference I can see is that you can pore over the written word as long as it takes, and you’re not influenced by how the narrator reads it.


  4. hearthie says:

    Some folks take in information well audibly. Some folks have a very hard time sitting still to read, except if they’re in their cars or in the gym. Those folks can enjoy audible.

    I pay less attention to things coming through my ears than through my eyes. It is the WORST way for me to learn.

    Example: I have a beautiful rendition of the Screwtape Letters as a radio play that I got for DH and gave up and listened to when he hadn’t for some years. (DH does not like books on tape in traffic, says its distracting). REALLY affecting and well played. (They got the guy who played Gollum to do Screwtape). But do I reach for that again? No, not really. It was good. I recommend it (Focus on the Family). But… once was enough.


  5. Grab the Lapels says:

    I always feel like the conversation that talks about audiobooks NOT being considered “reading” are doing a disservice to everyone who chooses or must listen to audiobooks: people with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADD; those with physical disabilities, such as blindness or motor control issues; and those whose clear method of ingesting information better is through audio. I’m not saying your are ignoring these readers, just that I see most conversations on this topic DO. Even my own Granny made the comment that she’s too busy reading “real” books to read audiobooks. Ew. As someone who has been reading and blogging about what she’s read for six years with zero hiatus breaks, I have to say that any book I’ve engaged with using my ears — whether it’s an audio book or I’m reading aloud to my spouse — is one that I remember LOADS better. I’ll forget character names and major plot points in books I read with my eyes, even though I have three degrees in Literature/Creative Writing.

    I guess my bigger question is why people keep asking whether audio books are reading. Do they want to know more about comprehension? To suggest one way is superior to the other? If storytelling is storytelling regardless of the medium? What made you ask this question?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Elspeth says:

    Hi, Grab the Lapels!

    I asked the question because I read an article that asked the question (linked above), and I found the discussion interesting.

    I prefer hard copies of books, but as I noted in the post, my husband gravitates to audiobooks.

    Of course, there are myriad groups of people who cannot read hard copies of books for various reasons. Admittedly, I didn’t really consider those individualized situations when I penned this.

    I was operating from a position of, “All things being equal, is listening to books equal to reading them in hard copy form?”

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, and welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Grab the Lapels says:

    I’m so glad to have met you! The audio book debate is both interesting to me and also not. I start asking questions like “What does it matter if someone prefers audio media over material?” But I think one concern a lot of people have is retention. That being said, I wonder what it matters how a person engages with a story if they can still discuss the themes and plot, and even analyze the work through smart discussion. Teachers care, for sure. I taught composition, literature, and creative writing for 11 years at the college level in a variety of institutions. My bigger concern was not if the person could read a physical book, but if they could discuss it intellectually. The problem comes from whether or not listening to digital media can translate into written works that discuss the book. Basically, can a student listen to audio books and also WRITE well? I’m not sure; these are questions I have and no answers. On the other hand, besides school when are we asking readers to write papers about books? Could a book club not serve the same purpose through verbal discussion? Are we not more forgiving of subpar writing online because we care about hearing other people’s voices even if they don’t have all their grammar and spelling lined up?


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