Let’s Talk Bookish—Listening vs Reading

It’s a free week, so I dove into the LTB wayback machine for this topic from the before-times, or January 2020.

We were all so innocent then.

Anyway, this topic comes to us from Aria @ Book Nook Bits who asks:

Do you consider listening to audio-books as reading? How do you feel about audio-books? Is listening to an audio-book the same as reading a physical one?

OK. I’m gonna start by saying something very important.

I love audiobooks.

I do. After my husband died, I didn’t have the concentration to read, which was a devastating secondary loss. But I could listen to audiobooks, and I did. For months and months, that was the way I got my book fix in.

So, I do not come at this as a hater. I do not look down on audiobooks. I do not think less of you if you choose to listen to them exclusively, instead of reading. Audiobooks are lovely ways to pass the time.

But they are not reading.

This question first came to me about ten years ago on a message board I used to frequent. And, wow…was it contentious. The audio-book people thought the book-people were passing judgement, and the book-people thought that it was absurd that anyone would even think to suggest that reading and listening to the same content was in any way the same. There were 550 posts in that thread, and no one convinced anyone of anything.

Welcome to the Internet.

I am firmly in camp “it’s not reading.” Because it’s not.

Now, there are ways in which the audio book is better. The performances can be great, and we should not underestimate how important it is to be told how to pronounce Hermione. I mean, seriously. I pronounced that wrong in my head for years.

But they are performances. They are not reading. I made the point in that thread 10 years ago that reading Shakespeare and seeing Shakespeare performed are both valid life choices…but they are not the same.

Now, for those that ask “if someone asks if you read a book, and you listened to the audio book, what are you going to answer?” Well…

I mean, I know that they are asking as a segue to a conversation about that book. They want to know if I know about the book so that we can talk about how awesome it was, and whether I read it or listened to it, we can still have that conversation. I’d probably say “I listened to it, actually…it was awesome.”

So, not the same. What say you, Internet people? Do you love audiobooks? When someone asks if you read something and you listened to the audiobook, what do you say? I’ll be, ummm, reading your comments (but only because Sam Jackson turned down my request to narrate them…)

6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish—Listening vs Reading

  1. I used to agree with you that they are a similar yet different thing… until a friend of mine told me how she narrated audiobooks for a charity that helps kids with dyslexia or who are blind access books. It made me realize that my prior position was very ableist, and that it might be a different kind of reading—but it is still reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My neighbor and good friend is slowly losing her eyesight due to an unusual disease and relies on audios. She reads all our bookclub books and offers great insights. However, I listened to one audio and found it frustrating because I felt it went too slow and I read faster. Just me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s another way of experiencing the story. And for an unabridged audiobook I’d say it gives you a vastly more similar experience to the written book than a TV, movie, or stage adaptation of the story would. But even so, it’s not quite reading. That said, I’m all for people experiencing a good story (or a guilty pleasure of a bad story) in whatever way they like; and I’m not judging them for preferring spoken word over written.

    Personally, I don’t consume many audiobooks anymore; though I used to on road trips.

    Just for myself, I tend to find audiobooks a bit frustrating because I find them too slow but also they don’t magically pause when I get distracted. (And the story itself can distract me and I need to pause and think about the implications for a bit). So listening to them tends to be realizing I didn’t really hear the last several minutes, fighting the controls to try to get back to the last bit I’m sure I got, and then doing it all over again not much later. And while I know I can crank up the playback speed, but then it just sounds weird and hard to understand — I can simply read a lot faster than I can listen. (Plus my comprehension and retention happen to be better from written word than spoken)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I listen to a lot of audiobooks and I do a lot of read/listens. I read when I am sitting and not doing something else, but will switch to the audiobook when I am doing tasks like laundry, cooking, cleaning, walking etc. I began listening to audiobooks when my cataracts got bad and I couldn’t see well enough to read printed text. So, so I think it is reading, yes and no.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh it was so great to revisit this topic! I’d completely forgotten I suggested it way back in January of 2020; I can’t believe it’s been that long. Thank you for tagging me here; I loved reading this.

    I must say however, I disagree with you on this one. I’ve always devoured physical books and ebooks, and never listened to that many audiobooks. For my sister, on the other hand, audiobooks are probably the best way for her to read books. She loves books just as much as me, and any other bookworm, but has severe dyslexia. This means that devouring books in the way that many people love to isn’t the same for her. Having to decipher each printed sentence would take a long time, but listening to audiobooks allows her to discover so many magical worlds in books.

    I think that audiobooks are reading, and definitely do count as so. If some asks me if I’ve read a book, and I’ve listened to the audiobook, then I’ll definitely say yes. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books through audiobooks! Audiobooks aren’t reading in the sense of looking at words printed on a paper, but they definitely count for reading a book, in my opinion.

    I loved reading this post, and it was great to see your perspective on it. I hope you’re having a lovely weekend 💕

    Liked by 1 person

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