It’s Audio, but is it a Read?

Are you on Goodreads?  I have been dipping a toe into this site that helps you record what you read and what you think.  It’s another social medium to reveal to the world who you are and what you consider important.  And better yet, you get to see what your friends are reading too. Go market researchers! I wonder, sometimes, why we worry about our rights to privacy at all, but that’s for another blog post on another day.

Books and CDs

What is “reading?”

One of my friends on Goodreads is a voracious reader. I see updates just about weekly of another book completed and thought about.  Sometimes two books.  In my imagination I see this man doing nothing but read–big books, little books, popular, obscure.  He reads widely and voraciously.  This is similar to my good guy at home.  Jealously, I wonder how the “good reading gene” skipped making an appearance on my gene map.  I read so slowly that I’m lucky to get through one to two books a month. And these days, I hardly remember them once read. How unfair is that?

So I asked Mark about his reading.  I asked specifically how he managed to get so much read so consistently. “I listen to audiobooks,” he said simply. Audio books!  But is that still thought of as reading?  “To me it is. In audio books, you don’t have the chance to skim and accidentally miss something important.  You hear every word the author intended.”

Good argument.  Guess who went to the library this past weekend, only to discover a treasure trove of books on CD. Very cool.  I’m currently listening to “This I Believe,” a series of 500-word essays by people willing to express their most deeply felt beliefs on life. Fascinating.

Enter my good guy.  He reads, he says, about 20 to 30 books a year.  I suspect he reads more. Much more.  And this is on top of being a busy software developer and business consultant.  Oh, and television sports fanatic, political junkie, ballroom dancer and a generally busy guy.

“I don’t think listening to audio books is reading,” he said.  “When you read, you skim the junk that’s boring and get to the point.  You also see how paragraphs are constructed, where commas belong, and learn new words.  As a matter of fact, with the e-readers, I can grow my vocabulary even more because I can highlight a word and learn the definition as opposed to guessing at it like you have to in traditional books.”

Another great argument.  I can see both sides.  I do love to pop a CD into my car’s player and travel along with words and thoughts pouring over me on my way to-and-from the dog park.  Yet, I do feel I miss a lot, when I’m interrupted by the demands of driving–squirrel in the road–jerk in front slamming on brakes (or perhaps I simply didn’t see them)–do I turn right here or left? Oops! What was Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett saying?

I do love  audio books, I have to admit.  When I had an office job, I used to listen to things like “How to Win Customers and Keep Them” or “The New Portable MBA” all the time.  I didn’t think of it as reading, but as information gathering, and it was terrific.

But to me, reading is more than the experience of taking in words.  I love how quiet reading is, either from a book or an e-reader.  I love how I “work” over the words, asking myself why an author used this particular phrase, and wanting to jot down quotations from the work.  I love that when I’m reading I can’t do anything else.  I’m too busy being in another world. My body cuddles around the book and together we’re off to outer space or back in time.

In short, the physical act of reading is very romantic to me.

But I’m in flux here. I’m willing to be persuaded that either form of “reading” is still reading. I’d love to hear from you.  Do you read traditionally published books, read from e-readers, or listen to audio books?  Perhaps you do both? Is there one true way to read?  Please let me know what you think.

Wishing you a good week with books of any kind.


13 thoughts on “It’s Audio, but is it a Read?

  1. Hi Liesa! I read traditionally published books. I like to hold the book in my hands, look at the beautiful cover, flip to the author photo once in a while to get a look at the person who wrote the terrific passage I just read. I’m in the camp that believes listening to audiobooks is not reading. Reading is reading and listening is listening! If listening to an audiobook constitutes reading, I bet some would claim seeing a Shakespeare play in a theater is reading, too. As your good guy (that you call your husband your “good guy” is so lovely and sweet!) said, reading allows one to see and absorb the sentence construction, word choice, new vocabulary words, etc… Of course, audiobooks are invaluable to, and have provided comfort for, the many who have eyesight problems. Audiobooks have also introduced great literature and wonderful authors to people who have no interest in reading a book. And as you said, an audiobook is great accompaniment for a long drive, house or office work, or the daily walk.

    I’m glad to hear you had success at your bagel shop book signing!

    • Thanks Jeanne! I hope thoughtful comments like yours will start a good discussion. One group of people I accidentally left out is the group who are under great stress, or trauma. Reading is very difficult if you don’t feel well, but the soothing voice of a good audio book reader can help. Best to you now and always.

  2. Both arguments are good. Like watching TV and reading–both fun. But listening to a book isn’t the same as reading. It’s more like TV watching.

  3. I prefer reading books and ebooks as this allows me to digest the content slowly. When listening to an audiobook, I always find that it is too fast for me and I cannot understand many of the contents. One of the reasons is that my native language is not English and listening skills are not very good.

    I think audio books allow people to save a lot of time (as your post said), but the experience is different. As much time is used to read a book than listen to one (usually), one feels more contented after reading a book.

    • Thanks for writing, Ray. Good thoughts throughout. I especially like the mention of contentment. I often feel a sense of accomplishment, especially when a book is more than a couple of hundred pages. Have a great day.

  4. What an interesting and thoughtful post, Liesa. I have nothing against audiobooks (I love the ‘This I Believe’ series too!) but I consider it being read to as opposed to reading. I’m going to tweet this out to my little group of twitter followers as I just love this post. Hope you’re having a wonderful Autumn!

  5. Liesa, I agree with the comments that audio books constitute being read to, not reading. They have their place, though. My husband and I discovered the joy of audio books on a recent long road trip. Now I check them out from the library all the time. He has a long workday commute, and he can “read” books instead of listening to the radio if he chooses. He’s an audio learner, and I’m a visual learner, so I enjoy reading more.

    • Hi Catherine, Thanks for writing. I particularly like your insight on how different people learn with different human senses. Well put. Also great to see you at the Rocky Mountain’s Mystery Writers of America meeting last night. Can hardly wait for your book to launch!

  6. Oh I absolutely LOVE audiobooks– especially for genres or things I wouldn’t necessarily devote the time to, like Hunger Games or Tina Fey’s Bossypants. YA fiction is a guilty pleasure and is what started me down the audiobook road… I love it! I haven’t tried Audible yet… I mostly stick to what I can get from the library. I’m also not on Good Reads… I’m guessing you recommend it? I don’t know how to “get started” with it.

    • Hi Aussa,
      Thanks for visiting my website! I really like your enthusiasm about reading, whether in audio format or traditional publishing. I also enjoyed Hunger Games, even though it isn’t “my genre” either. As for Goodreads, I am pretty awkward at managing my account still, but like with all forms of Social Media, I think the idea is to dive in, make a few missteps and after a while simply enjoy seeing what your friends are reading (gives you something to talk about over your next dinner together). Good luck, and please do come back often.

      All the best,

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