Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can I Get a Ruling: Does Listening to an Audiobook Count as Reading?

This came up in the comments section while I was incapacitated, but I thought it would make for a good Can I Get a Ruling:

Does listening to an audiobook count as reading?

On the one hand, you're absorbing a book. The method doesn't matter, right?

On the other hand, someone else is doing part of the work, aren't they?

What do you think?


Courtney said...

I chose yes because, with the exception of abridged works, an audio book still presents every single word the author wrote.

Sure, the experience is difference and the professional reader may read/emphasize the text in a way that you would not. However, audio books do not alter the story in the way a movie version of a book would.

The exception, I would think, is a kindergartner counting an audio book as reading. ;-)

Ink said...

Thanks, Nathan! I'm glad you posted my question, as I'm curious to see what thoughts people have about this. Time to kick up my feet...

Dara said...

I say yes for the same reason Courtney stated.

That's how I've been "reading" the Harry Potter books. I think they're also great if you want to read one of the older classics that can be a bit of a chore to actually try and get through on your own.

That said, I really only listen to them on long drives--it helps pass the time and since I can't read while driving or being the passenger (motion sickness...) it's the next best thing. If I'm just relaxing at home, I read the old-fashioned way--I can read much faster than they speak on the audiobook.

Genella deGrey said...

Yes. Even if one reads a book entirely in braille, it's still reading.

I wonder if romance novels have ever been produced in braille?


D. G. Hudson said...

If you have absorbed the contents and the storyline via hearing, then it's the equivalent of reading a book. You have the same result of knowing what the story is about, without what I consider the pleasure of holding the actual book in your hand.

If you're distracted, you may miss some of the nuances of the story, but that's the price of being read to by another voice.

That's my opinion, anyway. I don't like it, but I consider it reading.

Dawn said...

It's not reading, but it is absorbing and enjoying.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Without hearing what the world of reading has to offer why would anyone read at all?
I love reading to my class - authors should get to see what I do when they are listening.
Why cut off any avenue people can take to enjoy books?

But love the internal voices I hear when I'm reading - some actors' voices grate.

A friend of mine - published author - was asked who he wanted to record his novel into audio format - blimey!!

Don said...

Half my reading is done that way. I'd be lost without a book in the car.

mclean said...

When I listen to a George Carlin routine, that's not reading. He's telling stories and I'm absorbing them, but listening to a comedy album is most definitely not reading, even though George Carlin has published books with his comedy. So why would listening to Harry Potter on CD be any closer to "reading"? Because the content is directly from a book? Its still not reading, what you are doing is listening to somebody tell a story.

Which isn't bad or anything, but it is clearly separate from reading.

RW said...

I feel like if I'm listening to it -- really listening -- then it counts as experiencing the book in a meaningful way. Absorbing it? Taking it in? Consuming it? Partaking of? I don't have a problem with someone say that it's still not reading. I guess it is something different, but it's close enough to reading that if it doesn't as something I read then it counts as something that I am familiar with and know about much like I am with the books I have read. Which is too long to say, so I just say I have read it.

If it plays in the background and I don't really listen, that's a different story.

Jared Stein said...

Obviously it's not "reading", but can listening to an audio book provide a functionally similar aesthetic and intellectual experience of the work? Probably.

And while you're talking about alternate formats, why not consider braille?

Hélène Boudreau said...

While some people like to listen to music while exercising, I prefer audiobooks. With two little kids, it's a good way to get my 'reading' in, otherwise exercise/reading would be an either/or kinda thing. Audiobooks also make cleaning the house a whole lot more pleasant!

Travis Erwin said...

I voted yes after all it sure beats watching television.

Yes, even The Hills.

RW said...

The schoolteachers mention a good point I had forgotten -- being read to. I don't suppose I have ever literally read "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" or "The Little Engine That Could." A teacher and a grandmother read those to me. But I know those books in my bones and have always considered them a part of my reading life. It would never occur to me to say that I haven't read those books.

Brittany Hansen said...

Audiobooks aren't necessarily reading but you are hearing the story. If I were a high school english teacher I wouldn't count an audiobook for required reading. But oh man, audiobooks are so nice for folding laundry.

Merc said...

It may not be reading, per se, but I don't see why it shouldn't count. O:) You're still getting the full novel (barring abridgments).

I think audiobooks are a lot of fun-I especially like full cast recordings!

Sara Tribble said...

I went with yes. Only because some people are not strong readers and listen just as well as some read.

However, I myself prefer text and my mind to stimulate with words rather than a voice.

But yes, it's a book, telling a story, in a different way. It's like asking if Blind people's books are still reading with brail? Is that what it's called? Hopefully you get the point I'm attempting to make!

Mira said...

Well, I've never listened to an audio book. For some reason, it just isn't how I want to 'read,' although it's cool for those who do. I guess I think either way, there's an exchange of information and an immersion in the author's world.

Listening and reading do use different parts of the brain. So, I'm not sure if that means the book is processed differently.

Ultimately, I guess it would depend on whether someone was visually oriented or audio-oriented (word?). I do think audio books are a great thing. They make books more accessible for many people.

Duluk said...

I suppose it depends on what you mean by reading. I mean, obviously there is a sense in which, No, listening to an audiobook doesn't count as reading since listening isn't, er, reading. :) But I think there is another sense in which reading is actually more stimulating and better for your mental health than mere listening. I could be wrong about that though; it's been a while since I read up on that subject. Listening may improve memory too; not sure. Listening and reading are two different ways and methods of learning and processing information. They aren't equivalent.

But if by reading you mean absorbing a book, taking in a book, learning from a book, processing a book, then sure why not. Though of course different people absorb in different ways, referring back to my distinction above. Some may actually absorb a book better through listening, while the "reader" will argue that settling down with a book on a couch puts you much more into the world of the novel. (shrug) I think it's likely most people will get the same "information" from a book whether read or heard.

In short, it's person relative. :)

Seth said...

I guess all the comments point to the semantic nature of the question, hinging on the precise definition of "reading".

I'm legally blind, and while I have enough vision to slog my way through a print book, I'm much more comfortable with audiobooks. I still think it's reading, but it certainly alters the way in which I absorb the material. I miss out on some of the nuances peculiar to typography, things like eye-rhyme, and particularly in the genre of speculative fiction which I mostly read the spelling of proper names can hold clues that are missed in audible form.

Having said that, I'd argue that these nuances in the way content is processed appear even between multiple printed editions of the same book. A reader of a dog-eared small-font secondhand mass market paperback edition, for example, will have a somewhat different experience of the book from a reader of the same text in a lush illustrated hardcover. It's not as drastic a difference as that between print and audio, of course, but the point is that form will always influence the interpretation of content to some extent.

Michelle said...

I think it counts as reading. What about people who can't see to read with their eyes? At the library where I work, lots of patrons with vision problems "read" audiobooks. As do the folks whose jobs keep them on the road all day long. Our FedEx guy is one of the most "well-read" people who comes in!

I read a lot to keep up with trends. If not for audiobooks in the car and while I'm cooking dinner, I'd never keep up as well as I do!

Anonymous said...

As much as being fed counts as eating.

Steve Will said...

It's a very "Western" question -- we want to define things so neatly and cleanly in our culture.

I chose "yes" because the essence of what you get out of reading the words yourself is easily obtained by listening to them. The essential effect is the same.

Can I get distracted and miss things if I'm listening? Sure. But I've certainly found myself distracted while reading words from a page, and realizing I have to go back and re-read again.

Dominique said...

I said yes. If you can read with your fingers, you can read with your ears.

Mira said...

Oh. I want to take a second just to notice, two posts from Nathan in two days. Major cool. :-)

So good to have you on the mend! Hope you got to enjoy that pizza.

Nathan Bransford said...

It's interesting that people are bringing up braille, because I feel like that's much more unquestionably "reading" than listening to audiobooks. Whether it's through your eyes or your fingers, you're basically taking words and assembling the information in the brain. There's no filter processing the words. To me: words on a page = braille.

But audiobooks are different. I haven't made up my mind on whether I would still consider it reading, but it's very different. Someone is taking the words and adding their own interpretation, which you are then listening to. Whether it's reading or not it's not the same thing.

Chris said...

Good question! I don't know. My tendency is to say it's not the same. When I hear a book, the reader is interpreting the words and that interpretation is reflected in their voice.

Audiobooks are better than no books, but I say it's a different experience.

Scott said...

Listening is not reading. But to Courtney's comment, I was under the impression that most audio books are abridged in order to make them more manageable to absorb. All those that I listen to are. I guess there's a choice to be made, but the fact that it's an issue does create more of a divide in the experiences.

Personally, I like to do the work at my own pace, and enjoy the language with my own "voice". And what Mira says is a factor, as well: the two activities are very different in terms of how we process information.

I also prefer to savor a passage, or maybe reread it. You can't do that with an audio stream unless you back it up, which I guess is possible if a little cumbersome. Still, not the same thing.

For me, the question bears another: are we trying to credit listening or discredit reading? Or maybe we're just wondering. :)

Aimee K. Maher said...

Listening to people talk has never improved my ability to write like reading does. So I think hearing a book, is not the same as reading one. At all. Quick and easy are cheats.

Rick Daley said...

I say no, it's not the same. There are many elements of written language that will not come across in audio.

For example, you could listen to a Cormac McCarthy book but you would never know what he did (or didn't do) with punctuation.

If you hear new words, you will not know how they are spelled.

I think it's easier to be distracted with an audio book. Many people I know listen to them in the car. At least I HOPE those people are distracted by the task of driving. Or talking on their cell phone. Not that I am bitter.

WORD VERIFICATION: oration. Very creepy coincidence when we are discussing spoken word.

Diana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen P said...

I think it depends on your aim as a reader, but I don't think you can separate the written from the audio cleanly, since they are intrinsically the same work.

1) As a consumer of stories / information - then yes, listening counts as 'reading' the book.

2) As a writer - no, if I want to study the sentence construction, dialogue or style, it is not enough to listen. I need to see the words on the page.

That said, I often read aloud what I have written, or dialogue written by others to "hear" why it works or where there are things that don't work.

And some written works, function better as audio, such as poetry or plays or Garrison Keillor.

Diana said...

I listened to my vary first audiobook when I was painting my office to help pass the time. What I realized was that I found myself really paying attention to the words. Sometimes, when I read, I skim. But when I listen to the audiobook, I hear every word, feel the weight of it, think about the word choices.

Since painting my office three years ago, I've found a whole new way to appreciate books. And some authors, whose works are dialog-driven (like Robert B. Parker) are a big treat in audiobook form.

But for the record, I always get the unabridged versions. :)

Cathryn said...

Yes, it counts (but agree with Courtney regarding the exception for abridged works).

I discovered one of my favorite authors, Ruth Rendell, through an audiobook. I went on to read shelves full of her books.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm undecided! I think the real issue here is whether listening to a book has the same "value" in our minds as reading it with your eyes (or fingers, if in Braille). On the one hand, if I were discussing a book with someone, and I had read the book and they had listened to it but still absorbed the same information and could discuss it, then I'd feel silly holding it against them that they hadn't visually read it. On the other, if I were a teacher and one of my students listened to a book instead of reading it, I wouldn't accept that because I want them to practice the skill of visually reading. Then again, some people absorb information better in different ways...I'm not sure what to think.

Meg Spencer said...

In response to Aimee's comment: one of the best things one can do to learn how to write dialogue is listen to people talk. It's also a very good way to learn about characterization.

I liked the "being fed" analogy one of the anonymous commenters used as well. I'd agree that there are certainly differences but I wouldn't consider one necessarily a better way to absorb a book than the other (although abridged audio-books do bring up some questions).

Also, are there very many people who only listen to audio-books? Most of the people I know who do are voracious readers who listen to books during those times when they can't read, ie. in the car or at work.

Cynthia said...

It an interesting question. From a theory standpoint, the process is totally different. A third party --the person reciting the audio book-- is interrupting the author/reader experience and injecting their interpretation. That invariably changes the meaning of the work (from a reader response point of view).

The implication that an audio book makes the process easier is interesting too. It depends on what is being read, but by and large listening carefully is harder than reading carefully, in my opinion.

spyscribbler said...

Definitely counts! Listening to an audiobook forces me to slow down and really absorb it, listen to every word rather than skim a sentence/paragraph here or there.

I've learned much more about a writer's techniques from the audiobook than from reading their book.

:)Ash said...

My sister-in-law suffers from severe dyslexia. She happened to marry into a family of readers. She felt very uncomfortable for a long time, unable to participate in book discussions with us. Now, we make it a point to read books that are available for her in audiobook form -- she contributes to the book discussions just as much as the rest of us, even though she hasn't read a word with her eyes.

She's just as intelligent as the rest of the family; she just has a disorder that makes reading difficult.

Meg Spencer said...

In response to Rick Daley's comment about not seeing how new words are spelled: as someone who reads a LOT, I've noticed on more than one occasion that I have a fairly sizable vocabulary of words that I have no idea how to actually pronounce. Omniscient was an example of a word I couldn't pronounce correctly for a long time, even if I knew what it meant.

I'm also kind of a bad speller, so seeing a word isn't really all that much use for me in terms of learning how to spell it.

Robert A Meacham said...

I believe an audio book has its place, at least with me. I enjoy reading more because my mind has the option to travel a bit, pause, or re-wind.

Its like listening to music and reading the lyrics as you listen or just listening to the music.

Thanks for an interesting blog.


Ink said...


Just wondering! (At least for me...)

And I'm with Nathan on the braille thing. I think it's more clearly a process of "reading", of piecing together and processing language.

What made me curious about the question is that I've started listening to audiobooks in the car this year (for the first time), while at the same time I read and tell stories to my two small children at home. So, have I "read" the books I've listened to? And the stories I've read to my four year old and two year old... have they read them? Because they can't read! Well, my four year old is learning.

I also tell them stories I make up spontaneously... which is the exact same experience, for them, as when I read them a text story. But in one sense there is nothing to read... words have never been put down.

So I started thinking about a simple question: what is reading?

And thanks to everyone who is chiming in with thoughts! Interesting stuff.

Thermocline said...

We absorb the vocal performance of an Audio Book in the way we absorb the spelling, punctuation, and section/chapter breaks of text. It's not reading, but that does not make it any less of a rich experience. In a way, it expands the circle of shared experience from two (author and reader) to three (plus performer.)

JohnO said...

I voted no, but it's really a "sort of."

When I was teaching freshman comp and shuttling to the community college, I listened to a lot of books on CD.

I found I couldn't listen to anything very dense without it becoming just a stream of words (e.g., Lawrence Durrell).

So I listened to fairly light stuff (Le Carré, Dick Francis, Agatha Christie) because I could still drive and follow the story (and for that matter, the road).

In other words, I started to miss stuff in more difficult works ... which I didn't when I was reading a book.

Meg Spencer said...

A general comment for the people who call listening to an audio book a shortcut or cheat: it takes me much longer to listen to an audio book than it does to read a book. Just saying!

B. Nagel said...

It's "reading" as much as skimming through a book on the beach is "reading." Obviously there are things that the audience misses when skimming and the same is true with audiobooks.

Audiobooks also introduce another filter between the writer's ideas and the audience's experience: the orator. The orator dictates pronunciation, pacing, emphasis.

But who doesn't remember being introduced to books by being read to by a parent, a relative, a teacher, a children's librarian? Audiobooks are a fantastic gateway drug to literature.

serenity said...

Totally counts. I'm listening to one in the car right now. It's in the YA genre, something I'm trying to get more familiar with. And the technique and voice of the narrator are still coming across beautifully. I'm definitely "reading" this book.

Anonymous said...

I live in a family full of ADHD people and my husband is severely dyslexic. The only way they ever read is to listen to audiotapes in the car (and that's pretty challenging to pull off don't want to distract an ADD person while they're concentrating on that an oxymoron?).

Anyway, for everyone in family, besides me, audiobooks are the only books that get purchased.

Marty said...

I agree with all who said it classifies as absorbing the material. (I haven't read each comment so forgive me if I repeat some one elses sentiments)

If you want to get technical then, by definition, reading is done with the eyes.

Take a song for instance. The lyrics are written, but you are not reading them. You're listening to/absorbing the song.

Scripts are written, but you watch the film.

Recipes are written, but you eat/smell the food.

Way back when stories weren't written and were verbally told around some camp fire . . . those people weren't reading.

Books are written and you read them.

Audiobooks are created and you listen to them.

I just think it's a different way of enjoying the material. It doesn't have to count as reading by the technical definition.

Loren Eaton said...

Only if it's unabridged.

Anonymous said...

Wow - the first audio books I ever acquired were for a handicapped person.

I think every form is reading a book accept when the book is not in its full form.

And I dearly loved as a child–and still do as an adult– being read to.

Those books are, possibly, even more realized in me.

Sandra G. said...

I think yes, as you are still experiencing the novel as the author intended.

That said, I'm making this comment on the assumption the author has some say as to who records the book - a bad voice can ruin an otherwise great book.

For me, listening to audio book does not replace the act of reading, and I only go the audio-book route while driving.

Scott said...

It's interesting that the question has become about which is better, or commenters seem compelled to make a qualitative decision on the issue. Probably because the words "count as" were used.

Better or worse for the individual, they're clearly different otherwise there'd be no debate. And if they're different, neither one counts as the other.

Anonymous said...

I have a question that I would love to see answered in a blog post (or pehaps answered by sympathetic writers?).

What is the average wait a writer can expect to endure once their agent has submitted their manuscript to publishing houses?

My manuscript was sent out to six houses, and I'll admit, it's only been twenty days (not working days). Still, I'm going stir crazy. I'd give anything to crawl out of my own skin. I haven't heard from anyone. Even a rejection would be welcome at this point. Can someone please tell me the average wait so I can settled down for a while?


Lunatic said...

Only if your lips move while you're litening to the words.


writtenwyrdd said...

I voted no because for me it isn't the same thing. I can't listen to an audio book and absorb anything because I'll just tune it out, have to back up, then forget to listen yet again. Reading absorbs me; audio books do not.

Anonymous said...

To me it's a definitive 'No'

I don't think that you are 'reading' when you go to a Reading either (not a palm reading, but the one where an author reads a section of their book). It's a performance.

It's not just that the reader uses different inflections, it just isn't me. My imaginings are never as complete with audio books--maybe because I don't have control over the speed at which I 'read', or that I get other visual stimuli as I listen that I don't get when I read, or maybe I'm just better at tuning out the world with a book.

writtenwyrdd said...

I meant to further say that there's nothing inherently wrong with audio vs written books, but listening isn't reading. The experience is different.

Kristi said...

I was going to point out the difference between braille and listening to an audiobook but Nathan did a fabulous job of that in his comment.

There is one member of my book club who frequently listens to the audiobooks due to her lengthy commute, but reads them occasionally as well. She feels she misses some of the subtle nuances when she listens rather than reads, although she always knows the correct pronunciation for names when we're not sure because she is "told" the correct way in the audio version. I think it's a little more like a movie in that the voices and tone are literally "given" to you, rather than you making your own inferences. However, whether people are reading or listening, I'm just happy they love books enough to do either. :)

B. Nagel said...

Don't get me wrong, I think audiobooks are really great. But interacting with the physical text is a huge part of the reading experience.

For an extreme example, take a look at poetry. An audio book of poems by e.e. cummings or William Carlos Williams does not allow the audience to see the concrete forms of bullets or wheelbarrows.

Jen P said...

@anon 11:43 regards expected wait time.

Suggest you check out some of Nathan's FAQs (posted in a list on the right hand side of his blog front page) as there's a whole range of answers - Is there a best time to query? Is there a time not to query? - I got a response in nine minutes - did the agent even read my query? - this links to another blog posting on response times - depending on agent, timing, whether you queried, sent an unsolicited submission of a few pages or met their submission guidelines after request for a partial etc - and may vary according to every factor under the sun. Good luck.

jeff said...

In "On Writing," when Stephen King advises budding authors to read as much as they can, he talks about all the ways you can work it in.

Including audiobooks.

reader said...

I'm quite literally stunned that people think that listening to an audio book is the same as reading.

"Listening" to a book gives you a hurdle to overcome: the audio narrator's interpretation of the words. It separates you from the author's words. "Reading" is supposed to be participatory, you are meant to work it out within you as you go along, not listen to how some other guy is working it out.

Hell, no, it's not the same thing.

Kimber An said...

It's not a good idea to disrespect audiobook readers. If not for them, many books would not get bought at all. Besides poor or no eyesight, there are readers who only have time to read while driving in their cars and such.

This is like a baker complaining if a customer buys a cookie instead of a cake from him! Hello? He paid you money - kiss his feet and beg him to come again!

Good grief.

MeganRebekah said...

I think the problem here is that no one has outlined a set definition of reading. People are using different meanings of the word to form their opinions.

If you define reading as an experience in which you absorb a story, then yes audiobooks would qualify as reading.

If you're defining reading as the actual process of your eyes sending images of words to your brain, to process their meaning, then no audiobooks don't qualify.

Anonymous said...

I agree that listening provides a different experience from reading. That said I think as writers we can learn things from both reading and listening. Yes, we can't see punctuation or spelling when we listen, but we can get a feel for story arc, conflict, dialogue, etc. I usually listen to books during the day (while I have to get things done around the house) and read in the evenings. I enjoy, and learn from, both.

Anonymous said...

If listening to an audiobook counts as reading, then phone sex must count as the real thing.

Mary Jo

Gumbo Writers said...

I think listening to an audiobook definitely counts as reading. Consider the time before TV, radio and the internet. What did people to for entertainment? Often they would read aloud to a group of people. I would argue listening to someone read aloud is very similar to listening to an audiobook. In both instances the listener is actively "participating" in the reading in a sense.

Some even argue this form of reading is a "lost art". See an interesting editorial from the New York Times:

L.H. Parker said...

Yes. I work at a library and at our district, and many of the surrounding districts, the adult and teen summer reading programs apply for both books and audio books. We tell our patrons that if they listen to an audio book while on their car trip, it counts as reading (for everyone sitting in the car) and they can mark off the hours to get a prize.

Ink said...

Kimber An,

I don't think those who are saying listening to an audiobook is not reading are being disrespectful. Nor have I really heard anyone say that it's a less valid way of experiencing the story, just that it's different.

Tim said...

As much as I'd like to count all those audiobooks that I've listened to as "books I've read," I can't.

It's not READING.

My 3-year-old triplets look at books all the time, they absorb the pictures, they even understand the story, but they don't actually read the words. Therefore they haven't actually read the book.

It's different with braille, though. As Nathan aptly pointed out, a person reading braille is literally reading the words, they just happen to be in a different language. But that person is still doing the reading.

Now, I wouldn't say that listening to an audiobook is on an equal interaction level as watching a movie adaptation of a novel, but I don't think you can call either one of those activities "reading," no matter how much more or less you get from your listening to an audiobook, it just isn't the same thing as digesting the words with your own eyes. Totally different physical processes going on.

Ink said...


I think that IS the question. By asking whether audiobook listening is reading or not, the question is really asking what is reading? It's sort of the implied question riding shotgun. And the answers are interesting because they show how different people experience and define the process.

My best,

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love a book in my hands. I love to let my imagination fly with words. BUT I also love to hear a story, and I will listen to audiobooks to fall asleep just like a little kid. I find that hearing the words can make me "see" author word choices in fresh ways.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

P.S. I should have added that if the reader of an audiobook has a style that bothers me, it can destroy the book for me, so that is an issue.

Deb said...

Love the blog, new to posting ... but for what it's worth: vision impaired folks who rely on audiobooks to enjoy literature, escape into unknown worlds and acquire knowledge might argue that "reading" does not require words to go into one eye and out the other.

Anonymous said...

Jen P

Thanks for the response to my question. I already have an agent. He submitted my manuscript to six houses...I was wondering whether there was an average wait time a writer can expect to endure before the publishing house gives any kind of response (offer or reject).

Do you know of any posting on that? I've searched everywhere!

Eric said...

Step one: Read Shakespeare. Step two see Shakespeare performed. That first step took a little more gray matter, didn't it?

Being read to removes a good deal of what little the reader brings to the table, where, for the most part, the meal is already all laid out.

Laura Martone said...

I agree with Dawn and McLean - listening to an audiobook is an experience, but it's not the same as reading the book yourself. If it were, then listening to an old-time radio program (like a Sam Spade mystery) would be equivalent to reading the book/play on one's own.

Now, I have nothing against audiobooks - the hubby and I have listened to many a James Lee Burke mystery while on our long road trips. But it's simply not the same as reading his books on my own... for two important reasons: 1) Someone else is, in fact, doing the work for you - i.e., telling you the story (ofte using a variety of voices). 2) Audiobooks often are abridged versions of the real books. Otherwise, they'd be 16 hours long like Matthew Pearl's THE POE SHADOW!

Good question though!

Leona said...

Have we forgotten the difference between audio and visual? You may be enjoying a book by listening to it, but you are not performing the act of reading.

Listening to a book will give you the story, may be enjoyable, but you are the listener, using your audio skills. It does not improve your reading ability.

Readin the words and seeing the visual representation of the story is, obviously, visual

That doesn't make one right or wrong, or better. Besides, story telling started out as verbal speech.

Either way, your getting a story. Hopefully, it's a good one.

Fawn Neun said...

I'm pretty sure my kids' reading teacher wouldn't buy it, anymore than my husband's 6th grade teacher bought the story about his favorite part of "Tale of Two Cities" being the beginning when the guillotine fell. ;)

Bane of Anubis said...

Definitely - in some ways, an audiobook is even more critical for judging writing quality - particularly for MG, YA b/c these are books that are more frequently read aloud. For more literary fiction, the visual metric may be more important, but I feel like I've learned more about writing via audiobooks.

Myra said...

Listening to the cadence of a story being told well can teach a writer a lot about pacing and drawing out suspense. I've read all the Harry Potters at least twice, and listened to the the audio versions as well - excellent. They forced me to slow down and listen to every description - things I might have rushed over in a second or third reading because I already knew them.

Firefly said...

Absolutely -- 100% -- yes!! It's not about seeing words on a page, it's about absorbing the content. In fact, reading may be a lot more about listening that seeing.

Emilie said...

If you don't think an audio book is a book, do you consider the blind illiterate?
I've done some recordings for the blind, including the Georgia Driver's Manual (think about THAT) and I have to say that I think Audio books are books, just as much as e-books are

Sophie Playle said...

I'd say it wasn't technically reading, but if I had listened to an audiobook I would say that I had 'read' that book. So, yes!

ryan field said...

I've never actually listened to an audio book. But I voted yes.

Anonymous said...

I would say yes because saying no would probably piss off a lot of visually impaired people who choose this option over braille.

Kate said...

This topic is something I have considered far more than the average reader. I am dyslexic and my reading skills have always trailed far behind me thinking skills. I didn’t come to a place where I could confidently call myself literate until I was in my twenties. Fortunately, I was introduced to audio books very early and have listened to everything from college textbooks, to classic literature, to popular best sellers in audio version. In my lifetime I have probably listed to at least 20 or 30 times as many books as I have read.

Listening because I am unable to read does make it harder for me to claim I have “read” all the books I have heard. But I have heard them, which has to count for something. While brail books exist, most people with visual impairments listen to their literature. I can’t find any justification in tell a blind person who loves listening to audio books that they haven’t read anything. So why should a sighted person be chastised either?

I am now at a place in my life where I can read, and spend a lot of time doing it. Still I listen to twice as many books as I read – mainly because it takes less time. I read pretty slow, but also I’ve found it’s a lot easier to multi-task will listening than it is to multi-task while reading.

I actually think it’s sad that so few literate people do listen to books. Think of all the time you waist driving in cars, cleaning your house, working in your yard, etc when you could easily have an audio book chirping away in your ears.

ClothDragon said...

Depends on why you need to read. If you need to know the information, I'd say sure. If reading is an assignment for a class to get you comfortable with the written word -- no.

I have a friend who had to have audio textbooks in college and I wouldn't have held her need against her as long as she could absorb the material enough to pass the tests, but for my 6 year old learning-to-read daughter? Listening is no where near the same as reading.

I almost never listen to audio books though. My free time for it would be in the car, but when I read I sink into the story so much that people have trouble getting my attention. I'd be afraid to try listening and driving to see which one got the most thought.

Sarah Jensen said...

To me, only if you can no longer read. My mother-in-law lost her site a few years ago, and that's her only option.

If I'm riding in a car, I don't mind listening to someone else read to me.

But for me, it doesn't count as me reading it. I won't let my nine-year-old get away with counting books read to him in school, or he'd let someone always read it for him. Less work. But where do you gain your skills if you don't do the work yourself?

I want to raise literate children. That comes through reading the words and gaining an understanding. Not through listening.

However, the little ones follow along as I read to them. :)

educlaytion said...

I am an audiobook junkie. I still read about one NF and one novel at a time, but when I'm in the car there's always an audiobook going. I don't love to read for reading's sake. I want the stories, the info, the knowledge. Sometimes I feel obligated to read certain books I could care less about and will fall asleep through unless they are spoken on CD. If you're a fan, I recommend, kind of a Netflix for books on CD.

Joseph L. Selby said...

There is the issue with audiobook abridgment but they abridge books so as long as you're up front about that, I don't see why it shouldn't count. In fact, I think it can bring a lot to the experience. I still can't read Outlander without hearing the narrator's voice as I was first exposed to the book through its audiobook.

Marsha Sigman said...

I don't think its reading and I don't think if you listened to an audio book that you have 'read' the book. You listened to it and maybe you got the essence of the story or whatever the author intended but you didn't read it.

The person that read it to you is putting their own inflection and spin on the story and dialogue that would be different if you were reading it. Besides the fact that when you listen to an audio book your full attention is not on it like it would be if you were reading. I can retell a book verbatim. I have forced my husband to sit while I fill him in on every detail of a story. He could then retell it to anyone else but I don't think he would claim that he had read it. He might.....but it wouldn't be true.

And being blind and reading braille is not a choice. One sense has been taken away and the brain will process reading braille just as it would if they were seeing the words. Not the same as listening! I am sure its very enjoyable and I have nothing against it at all but it just isn't reading.

no, your OTHER right said...

does reading a play count as experiencing the play? My vote is that it is a different experience but no less valid.

amber polo said...

Never abridgments!
I read 2 audiobooks a week. I don't know how to drive, walk, or clean a kitchen without a book in my ear.
Of course the narrator makes a difference. I think I can tell when it enhances or detracts from the book.
Curse of the Blue Tattoo and The Help are enhanced.

Anonymous said...

Story started aurally.....the written word came long after.

Ben-M said...

I think a written narrative is by convention, at least, far more formal than one spoken. Though certainly it's a close thing, I don't think most of us speak and hear with the same formality of the written word, and as such we've not learned to process information the same way when hearing it as when reading it.

The additional aspect of being able to dictate one's own pace when reading as opposed to being dictated to via an audio book makes the resulting experience of a good book - particularly the more thought provoking types - considerably different in either media.

Though in most respects I think it's a close thing, I voted no, and was then delighted to see how close opinions are on the matter.

Lily said...

Yes! Why? For many reasons. Two years ago my first (and only) audio book for kids was published. It is now being read aloud to children at school, at home, in the car, at events. To kids with dyslexia, book-allergies or book-phobia. To the visually incapacitated or blind, the elderly and even the too-busy-to-read-but-not-to-listen ones. So, is the message getting through? Absolutely. And especially because it is for kids, because if they can't discover the thrill of well told tales, they miss a basic link there for later - when the pleasure of reading is not only found in a book, but in the process of understanding and enjoying the content of a story.

Michael Pickett said...

I will abstain from voting on this one because I can't decide. I have listened to one audiobook in my life and I still have a hard time saying that I read the book. I usually have to clarify that I listened to the audiobook. So, maybe the audiobook experience is slightly different, but very similar to reading.

marye.ulrich said...

Yes, audiobooks count as reading. The book is the same, it is just the method of delivery. Imagine a person who is blind, or has a learning disability, is older, or....

What measurable outcomes do you want? Could they answer questions for a quiz or a book report? Could they tell someone else the story?

In court decisions under IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) it has been decided that on the state standardized tests, books, questions... readers or tape recordings are allowed to be used EXCEPT for the "test of reading skills" part of the test. That makes sense because "reading" is what the test is trying to measure.

bryngreenwood said...

Damn. As soon as I clicked one response I promptly changed my mind. I dunno.

Leona said...

I find this all fascinating. I don't think anyone who says "it's not reading" is denying the validity of books on tape (or CD) my husband and I listen to books on tape almost every night. We are also avid readers.

When I am listening to a story I am not reading it. I am enjoying the experience of being told a story. I enjoy stories or I wouldn't read or listen to them.

Having an impairment that makes reading hard to impossible, makes the listening experience that much more enjoyable and meaningful.

If I'm listening to music am I reading it? No, I'm enjoying the creation of an artist as played by the musician. Does it mean I can't appreciate the music simply because I'm not reading it? No.

I wonder if Nathan meant this to become a discussion of whether or not listening to a book is valid?

There's no question it's valid. Just a different way to enjoy the story.

Leona said...

PS I think reading in braille is still reading. Its a tactile version but still requires the putting together of letters to form the correct words and not having someone else do it for you...

Kathie said...

I'm not going to vote because I can't vote yes or no without qualifying my answer. Yes, it counts as reading *if* you are not teaching or attending grade school. Yes, it counts if you are visually impaired (or for that matter, have an auditory deficiency and then that would even out the score because that means you have to *listen* harder, right?). No if you're an editor (come on, that was obvious, right?), proofreader or beta reader. And, um, why would anyone be "counting" other than to record your minutes on that fantastic chart complete with gold, green, blue and silver star stickers? So there. Count that. :P

Sarcastically yours,

Ben said...

Interesting comments on both sides. Alas, I suspect that this will become a mainly semantic debate owing to the phrasing of Nathan's question. While the experience of listening to an audiobook cannot be identical to the experience of reading the same book, since the former is narrated by a third party, I would argue it can certainly be equivalent.

I'm going to put aside the example of people with visual impairments or conditions that make reading difficult or impossible. Not only have others expounded upon this point at length, but it's not as pertinent to Nathan's question--in order to compare the two experiences, listening and reading, and judge them equivalent or not, we must start with a person equally capable of both. If that is not the case, then obviously someone more capable of listening to a book than reading it will judge the former experience superior to the latter.

Those who claim listening to an audiobook can't be equivalent to reading the same book argue that the presence of the narrator changes the meaning of the book, acting as a filter through which the text passes before it reaches our ears. Yet any book's text passes through innumerable filters before reaching our eyes. Consider two editions of the same book, with the exact same text, yet bound differently. A hardcover book may be read differently than a paperback book. The size of the text may make one's eyes skip ahead or crawl along slowly.

Furthermore, by the same logic, does this mean that translated books do not count as reading material? After all, those books have been filtered by a third party as well, just a narrator instead of a translator. And that translator has to make judgement calls when rendering idioms or concepts that don't translate directly. As anyone who has ever plodded through ancient tracts or even something in Old English, like Beowulf, can testify, the translation makes all the difference. In fact, a translated book is probably more filtered from the original than an unabridged audiobook could ever be.

The other objection is that a narrator can't capture the nuance of the written word--particularly punctuation (Rick Daley mentioned this). This is backwards. We, as a species, are wired for spoken language. Prior to the invention of the written word, oration was the only form of storytelling, through which we preserved our history and our culture. Punctuation exists as a way of transcribing oral elocution, not the other way around. Hence, a good narrator will be able to pronounce a book as it is written. And that's the rub--an audiobook's experience hinges upon the skill of its narrator. A poor narrator can ruin an audiobook, while a good narrator can make it come alive.

I've begun listening to audiobooks while I bike to work this summer, instead of listening to music as I usually do. I find some books easier to understand orally--Victorian writing, for instance, with its very formal language. Yes, it's easy to be distracted by an audiobook. Then again, it's also easy to be distracted by a regular book. Both require concentration and perseverance.

Listening to an audiobook isn't technically reading, no. Yet while one's mileage may vary, I maintain that listening to an audiobook is equivalent to reading the same book, assuming one devotes an equivalent amount of concentration. Those who listen to books because they think it's "quick and easy" compared to reading are fooling themselves, because they're missing the point--any form of reading requires effort. However, it is possible to listen to an audiobook and come away with a solid understanding of the story, a grasp of its themes. A good book, or a good audiobook, it doesn't matter--both can move me.

Jen C said...

I don't have anything against audio books, but if you're listening to one then I'm afraid you're listening, not reading. Saying that listening is reading is kinda like saying that if you smell the book then you're reading it. It's two completely different senses. But perhaps I'm being too slavish to the three question form...

PS Welcome back Nathan!

PPS I'm a little quiet lately because I've finished the first draft of my book and I'm like SO obsessed with editing it. I think I forgot to eat and breathe yesterday I've been so caught up with it.

PPPS I hate Blogger. Why won't you let me post?!?! (A million dollars says it lets me post this time just to be a pain...)

Vacuum Queen said...

I think it counts as taking in a story....kinda like a movie. And I totally do it just to hear the story so I won't be in the dark, but I don't count it as reading.

Reading makes me fall asleep because it requires sitting my tired self down. Audiobooks, not so much.

jaymi said...

if you are listening to a tv show, doesn't that count as reading the script?

Hell no it doesn't.

rosepddle said...

On the glorious day that I become a published author, there is no way I'd turn my nose up to people who bought my book in the audio version over the print. I'm going to be happy with however my story is enjoyed!
I enjoy books both ways. When I have a long drive, audio books work very well. In my office at work, they help me pass the day. But when I curl up in bed, or on a long flight, nothing beats a nice print book.

Taffy said...

We listen to books on tape as a family but my children have to READ a book in order to learn the nuances of words and word structure.
I personally would rather READ a book. I love the feel of the pages in my hands and knowing how far I am into a book or how close to the end.
I also LISTEN to audiobooks while driving.

Jennifer said...

I vote yes.

I have a child who struggles with reading for some reason or another, but she's an amazing listener. She loves good literature and absorbs what I read to her and what she hears in an audiobook.

Okay, yeah, it's not *reading*, but she is taking in wonderful stories by great writers.

T.Wolfe said...

I am of two thoughts on this question. On one hand do you have an impairment that cannot allow you to read? I.E. Are you blind?

If so, then yes this would count as reading.

If no, then no it does not count as reading. You are not really exercising your brain you are just tuning into a pictureless tv. The same as listening to a radio.

Victoria Dixon said...

To assume that an audiobook doesn't count is to call the basis of all literature into question: what is the storyteller but an early audiobook? Would we discount Beowulf as literature if it was delivered in the traditional manner with a drum accompaniement?
Whether the story is taken in by the eyes or the ears, it is still consumed by the brain!

Jen C said...

I don't think anyone was saying that audio books are not a legitimate form of absorbing a story or turning up their nose at them(but I haven't read all the comments so I could be wrong).

The question wasn't about the legitimacy of audiobooks, from what I understood. It was asking whether listening to one is reading. Or maybe I can't read, myself, and I have the question all wrong.

Ali Katz said...

I count listening as reading because some of us, with old eyes, have to conserve our sight for work. After a day in front of a computer, curling up with a book means falling asleep in fifteen minutes.

Audio books are definitely a different experience from reading. They're being tucked in bed to Grimm's Fairtales. They're sitting around a fire listening to the old story teller. They're total immersion.

I download my books to my iPod and listen with my ear buds. The world fades, especially with the right reader. The Anansi Boys, read by Lenny Henry took me away for 10 hours as completely as any book I've ever held in my hands.

I do miss curling around a heavy, hardbound book in my arms, but there's a lot to be said for curling up and simply drifting away.

MzzLily said...

No. That is being read to - not reading. It's a good way to enjoy a book if you spend time commuting. But when you read, you set the pace. The emphasis you give parts affects what your brain invisions. It's just not the same!

Anonymous said...

Aaaaand, Victoria Dixon wins. Thanx to everyone else for playing.

anniegirl1138 said...

Since I get motion sick, it's the only way I can "read" on a plane or in a car and therefore, it counts.

Gwen said...

I think that the brain relies pretty heavily on Broca's area (left, frontal lobe) for comprehension of language, regardless of format. So really, your brain is pretty much doing the same thing (taking syllables and creating meaning) whether you read it or it's read to you. So I tend to think of listening to a book as 'reading' just as much as actually reading it. I find listening to a book much more annoying than reading it, though. I read much faster in my head! I think that's the main difference for me.

joelle said...

I've only recently (in the last year) started listening to audio books and I have learned soooooooooooooooo much about writing, but you've got a zillion comments here, so I won't take the time to write about it. If you don't want to count it as "reading" then definitely count it as part of your education (as well as lots of fun).

Solvang Sherrie said...

To me, an audiobook is the equivalent of sitting in Mom's lap and listening to her read the book. My kids love when I read to them, and they love to listen to audiobooks on long car trips. Either way, it counts as reading the book. It's not like Cliff Notes or watching the movie. You're still getting the book, the whole book and nothing but the book!

HL said...

I'm a children's librarian and we certainly count audiobooks as reading for our summer reading program. Many kids come into the library who are struggling with reading and books--giving them the opportunity to listen to audiobooks, often alongside with the print, enhances their reading ability. I have one young man who has a strong reading disability. He plows through all the audiobooks I can recommend though and is always first in line for new ones in the series he has read.

Unless the assignment is meant to be physically read, where a student is specifically working on reading then why not count listening? Listening students may pay more attention and might even have a better idea of how to read aloud, having heard others bring the words to life.

And one final point--I do the audiobook selection for kids and teens. Our shelves right now, particularly the new books and Playaways, are really picked clean as people grab audiobooks for the summer.

lotusgirl said...

Whoa! I'm vote 666. Yikes. Does that make my opinion evil?

kdjameson said...

When I asked my mother to read me another story, it didn't mean I couldn't read it myself. I wanted the experience of being read to, which I maintain is different from reading.

A favorite memory is being read "Stuart Little" and "Charlotte's Web" in elementary school with my head on my desk.

Listening to an audio book is, to me, the same as being read to. Not reading. It's a qualitatively different experience.

Jen P said...

@Anon 12:36 (Off topic on wait times) No, I don't know, but in my inexperienced opinion, if you have an agent with whom you have a good relationship, surely you should be able to ask them if they are submitting on your behalf? They will know better than anything general you get from the Internet.

And if for whatever reason you don't want to ask, why not focus on writing your next project for distraction. All the best.

plottinghorse said...

Yes, technically the listener has experienced the work. BUT it is not indepth OR careful reading.
Listening is second-rate reading!

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Listening is a reading experience. (When people write they are always advised read it out loud. Physically hearing the words that have been written often bring about changes and improvements.
If the link is essential for us as writers how can we say it is not as valid reading experience.)
Writing is the effort to capture the oral story telling tradition.

Anonymous said...

I'd say no, it doesn't count as reading. Despite the fact that I learn the story, and all the words of the book (if unabridged), it's not my reading experience. I'm being talked to: there's an extra agent involved whose speech, voice, rhythm, speed (etc) I must pay attention to and get accustomed to, their voice interferes with my imagination. So no, for me an audiobook means a way weaker experience.


Two Flights Down said...

I thought about this one a while and decided to vote, "no."

I think reading involves more than just knowing a plot or absorbing a story. I think it needs more work than that.

When an author writes, regardless of what they're writing about, their own experiences and thoughts will inevitably influence how they are going to write.

The awesome thing about reading, to me, is that when I read a book, my thoughts and experiences are influencing how I interpret the text, and the experience of reading that book alone will influence how I take the next book.

Writing is an art. Giving written text meaning, is also an art.

When you are listening to an audiobook, there is a third party that is disrupting the link between the author, the text, and you. You are no longer left with only your own experiences to interpret the text--somebody else is giving it their mood and their pace with their voice.

Therefore, you are not reading--you are listening to somebody else read.

Still, I do think reading to children is important, but if the teacher assigns a story for a child to read as homework, it's probably best that they read it themselves, rather than having a parent read it to them.

Jen said...

I'm surprised it's so evenly split. To me reading is a verb, it's something you do. Listening to an audiobook is a different thing entirely. You might be able to absorb a book as well each way, depending on who you are and how you listen or read, but they can't be the same thing even by definition. Apparently my Vulcan semantics are getting in the way of seeing the debate.

Glen Akin said...

I think the question is ambiguous, but I chose no. Listening to someone read is different from you reading the book in your hands. Different, in that the book is/isn't in your hands (dissimilar experiences accompany both as well).

But then if the question is more to do absorbing the story of a book and not physically reading that book then yes it's very possible - in fact, in some cases, better - to sink into the world of a book and take in everything while listening to an audiobook.

Author Guy said...

Part of the work of reading is interpreting the little blobs of ink. The same story in spoken form comes to the listener already interpreted, by the one reading it.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I actually remember books differently if I listen to them rather than read them.

Lydia Sharp said...

I went back and forth on this, and said "no" on a technicality.

Reading is much more involved than listening. I'm sure there's some kind of colorful scan available somewhere to prove that brain activity is higher when you read rather than when you listen, but I'm just going on common sense here.

I feel it's the difference between watching someone paint a beautiful picture and painting one yourself. Even if the end result is identical, the process is different. Would you dare to say that you painted a picture that you had simply watched someone else paint? Hardly. Are you going to enjoy that painting any less because someone else painted it? Maybe. But not likely. The sense of accomplishment isn't there, but the picture is beautiful, just the same.

Ego said...

Yes. Suppose that while you were sick someone read 'War and Peace' to you at your bedside.

Now suppose that next week someone asks you "Have you ever read 'War and Peace'?"

You're hardly going to say "No", are you?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The answer really depends on the context. For the visually impaired and for young children the answer is 'absolutely yes'. However, how does someone become a strong reader if they don't read. How can a student be a better writer if they don't read (same goes for a writer). Seeing words and sentences take shape on the page and letting our mind absorb them helps us all improve our writing skills (of course you still have to practice writing, too).

I must admit my answer, though, is based on me being a visual person. My mind tends to drift when I listen to a book so I've learned years ago not to bother with them.

Chase March said...

The brilliant science fiction writer, Orson Scott Card, believes that the audio book presentations of his work are indeed the "definitive editions."

"Ender's Game" is a classic that I did not read. I listened to it and I agree with the comments made in the afterward by the author. The audio book feels natural and it is the best way to experience the book.

In listening, we still experience the fullness of the literature and the piece of work. Therefore, I feel confident in discussing a work and saying that I have read it, even if I have only listened to the audio book.

Mary Nelson said...

I'm surprised there's so little mention of the art of imagination, something an author evokes through what s/he has written. The fact that a book may be read silently or aurally does not change the fact that the author means to create a dynamic relationship with a reader, one in which the reader takes part in the imaginative work. So I voted "Yes", because the reader must re-create and interpret character, setting, and so forth as the experience of the story moves forward for fiction, and knit the logic and illustrations of a non-fiction work together into what the author hoped was a coherent whole. It is the dynamic interaction between author and reader that constitutes "reading".

Crystal said...

In answer to Genella's question, yes, they do have romance novels in braille. 

Now to this question.  I put yes, reading an audio book is exactly the same as reading it in text.  When I had my sight I used to read books and remember
that experience.  Now with my sight gone, I read audio books, and nothing is lost experience wise when you listen to the book.  The only difference in
audio and text, is that you can turn the pages in a text book, otherwise, there exactly the same. 

And to the people who say "why not just read a braille book" to us blind you have any idea how many volumes a brailled book is?  I have some
books in braille that are 200 pages, and those are 4 or 5 volumes of text.  My church hymn book is 8 volumes, my other church books in braille on paper
are 10 volumes.  In short, it's far too much storage!  Audio books are far more portable. 

But in short, yes reading an audio book is the same as reading a text book. 


Fadz said...

The first form of reading is listening.

Ancient tribes gather around the fire as the hunters spin a tale of their valor, of their grand adventures felling the great beasts of their time.

Infants and toddlers lie still under the cover of warm blanket, enraptured by the cadence and the weight of nursery rhymes, of fairy tales, told by their protective elders.

Once they learn the alphabets, once they've mastered reading, they whisper stories for their own ears, within and without.

I'm re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia on my iPhone. By which I mean listening to the audiobook. And I still get the same effect, of a movie playing in my head, as I do when reading.

Blabbering. I know.

I vote Hell Yeah!

Holly Bodger said...

I am going on vacation this summer. I decided to fly to save myself the pain of a 14 hour drive. Ultimately, I will get to the same destination as someone who drove but that doesn't mean I can say I drove.

Listening is not reading but it is still absorbing and it is a vital medium for books, journals, newspapers etc... that can't be ignored. It has opened the market to people who don't have time to or don't like to read.

Brenda said...

I voted no because:

- Paging back to check a plot point or a physical description is a major hassle in an audio book.

- Footnotes either can’t be ignored or aren’t read

- Spelling counts - especially the funky spelling in SciFi novels. ‘Teklace’ does not mean ‘without technology’.

Writing is an art form. Material written for oral presentation uses different words and sentence structures to take advantage of how we listen.

Also, I note that audio books are appreciated in part because they allow the listener to multitask. I think this says more about our lifestyles than it does about appreciation of literature. Part of the joy of reading with eyes (or fingers) is not doing anything else while reading.

J. M. Strother said...

You bet it does.

jef said...

...its all about STORY, right?

Marjorie said...

I just want to share this... because some of the commenters here do go to my blog and others might like this.

At my blog (marjorie-digest), I just posted some photos of an art reception I went to last night. You can see me with Jerry, Edie Beale's "Marble Faun," and Albert Maysles!

How wonderful it was to see them together again, almost 35 years after that legendary documentary was made.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Two questions:

If someone recounts an experience, is it yours?

If someone feeds you, are you eating?

mvparcels said...

I think it does. For people with cataracts that cannot see much, it is a joy to listen to audio books. My grandmother cannot really see anymore, even with large print, and she has enjoyed books her whole life. The audio books provide her entertainment and topics to discuss with other people her age.

Katrina said...

No I don't think its the same.

Reading a book is a total self absorbed experience. Its relaxation at its best.

However because we are in a world that somehow requires us to multi- task, most of us will be doing something else while we listen to a book. Driving, balancing our checkbook, cooking, etc. Its simply not the same experience.

It is disheartening to me that so few people actually sit down with a book and actually read the words on the page. So many people are into instant gratification rather than anticipation. Sad but true.

Jess said...

I chose yes because you are absorbing the knowledge of the book. If I listened to an audiobook, I would put it on my "books read" list. That's beyond the point though, as I don't particularly like audiobooks. Hm. . .

Denise said...

I absolutely believe it's reading. There are many people, either through illiteracy or vision handicaps that are unable to pick up a book and read. For others who have a passel of children or 60 hour work week jobs with long commutes are unable to relax in the recliner with a good novel. For these people, the escape one would find in a book is found through another reading said book to them.

Until I screamed, "Enough" last year, I worked 60 hours a week, and had a commute of one hour each way. Were I not able to take advantage of audiobooks, I think that I would have gone insane. Audiobooks were, and continue to be when I work out, my escapist therapy.

And then there's the part of me whose trying to break into the world of audiobook narrating...

Miranda said...

I was once a huge book snob. Audiobooks were beneath me because you didn't get the full experience of reading. Then I met my dyslexic husband. Reading a book is incredibly hard for him, so the only way for him to truly enjoy a book is if it's in audio form. Since then I've grown to love the audio book. They're great for exercise and really long car rides.

Lisa said...

Hi Katrina- I agree with you that reading is relaxation at its best; but, it struck an off chord with me to read that you think “so few people actually sit down with a book.” I think people are still reading. Although I left the publishing industry for mommyhood, I still feel very attached to it, and I believe in its longevity. At any rate, it may make you feel better to know that Amazon’s revenue stream is massive and not showing signs of declining. In 2008, a half million Kindles sold (which attributed to the 18% surge in profits in their fourth quarter) and overall revenue reached 6.7 billion. I think about half of that number equates to books, audiobooks, and other media. And, that’s just Amazon. Feel better? :-)

Ink said...

Great discussion. And I also find the language people are using to be sort of interesting, particularly in defense of audiobooks. "But what about people who can't read? They can listen to audiobooks!" Which is totally true and valid... but the very defense highlights the difference. Listening to an audiobook is something you can do if you can't read...

I also think it's sort of interesting that so many people seemed to take the question as a knock on audiobooks, and have defended their value. And they certainly have value. Oral storytelling preceded written stories, and so the written versions are sort of like young second cousins of the original form.

I think in the end I lean towards the different but equal stance. They're both wonderful and equally valid forms of experiencing stories, but they offer different absorption processes. Interpretation for one, and audience for the other.

In the end, of course, it's always going to be the story that matters.

Stephanie Faris said...

If a friend sits in the passenger seat of the car and reads a book out loud, does that mean only she has read the book and now I haven't? Do I then have to go out and get the book and read it again? Do my eyes actually have to have read the words?

I think audiobooks are redefining the way we think of reading. Without audiobooks, I'd probably read only a book or two a year. I absorb just as much from hearing the books as reading them myself.

Anonymous said...

Ben made a very good point about the filter a translation provides. Sometimes, voice gets lost, and it's so important for understanding a book, isn't it?

Now, how would you feel if somebody said you couldn't claim to have read War and Peace unless you've read it in Russian? (Or Shakespeare in the Klingon original?) It sounds awfully snobbish to my ears.

People read for all kinds of reasons, to follow a story, to enjoy creative language, to dissect the techniques used in writing. Maybe, you lose out on punctuation and paragraphing if you listen to an audio book, so you actually have to put the nose to the page if that's what you are reading for, but for most other purposes, the audio book will do. Unabridged.

Can you cross a book off the list of 1001 Books to Read if you listened to the audio? I vote yes.

Anonymous said...

What if it is a graphic novel with pictures?

What if the graphic novel is on a Kindle that reads the text to you?

What if the pictures are are shown so fast that they appear to be moving?

It all depends on your definition of reading. The world is not black or white it is a lot of grays.

Anonymous said...

No, listening to an audio book is not reading anymore than listening to music is playing an instrument.

An illiterate person can listen to a book but cannot read.

Inez Kelley said...

If audiobooks don't count, then why does a blind person say he has READ such and such a title.

And yes, that is how they define it. They then have to explain to many that audiobooks are easier, lighter and less bulky than braille and faster.

Reading is a story that engages the mind with words, not the eyes.

Anonymous said...

I suffer from migraines and blurred vision so I love audio books. If someone asked me...did you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is it wrong for me to say, YES? Or do I have to qualify that and say...I listened to it? Should I quit book club because I didn't read with my eyes? Or can I still make a worthy contribution? I feel that the audio book does qualify as reading, but I am glad to know how many people deem it lesser! Also, I would like to say that it would be a far greater shame if people weren't indulging themselves on books period!!! It's hardly sad that people buy audio books. That is just silly to me.

Anonymous said...

It’s a proven fact that listening vs. reading does not activate/use the same processes in the brain.

Many a student knows the difference between reading on a subject and hearing a lecture.

For me, there is no doubt that listening is not the same as reading. Reading is more personal, and I 'hear' the book in my own voice, when I hear any voice at all.

When I listen to someone else read, I occasionally get hung up on how he's said a word or stressed a point. The reader controls the delivery, and therefore, stands between the author and me.

However, some people are auditory and others visual. Auditory learners may not enjoy the process of reading for themselves.

My brother was also dyslexic, and he can't stand to read, but he loves to learn. For people like him, audio books are a Godsend.

Cyndi said...

I still consider braille reading. The words are still being read, with fingers instead of eyes, but it involves the same process of interpretation.

Audiobooks I consider being read to. But that doesn't mean it's a lesser experience, just a different one.

Kate said...

I find this debate so fascinating, I’ve decided to way in again. I feel safe in assuming that I am the only severely dyslexic person who regularly “reads” this blog, and as such I have a much more intimate relationship with the wonderful world of audio books. I voted “yes” and when speaking in the past tense, I do consider reading and listening exactly the same thing. If someone asked me, “have you read any good books lately?” I’m not going to ignore the many books I’ve listened to when making a recommendation.

But the physical act of listening is a very different experience than that of reading. I do know how to read, but I’m sure I read in a very different way than most of the other would be writers that follow this blog. I often get really caught up on the letters, and have a hard time fully processing what I’m looking at. While reading a story, I am able to grasp the general concept, but I often miss the subtler nuances of the story. Listening is completely different. When listening to a story, my eyes are completely free. I don’t have to look at the words on the page, so it’s easier to visualize the events in my head.

A few listening haters have commented that listening to the book equates to watching the movie. I tend to find this kind of offensive, but in a twisted way they are right. When I listen to a book, I normally feel like I am watching it. The “movie” the author created is magically unfolding in my mind. But when I read a book, well them I’m just staring at a piece of paper. The experience is never as rich or as meaningful.

I can still recall not only the plot points of stories I listened to 20 years ago, but also the exact way I felt while I was listening to them. Audio books have touched me so deeply they have become a part of who I am and how I see the world. The only thing I remember about reading as a kid is feeling pissed off and deflated.

So maybe listening and reading aren’t the same thing. But at least for me, listening is infinitely better.

Harry Connolly said...

Five nights a week, I sit on the couch and read to my wife and son. Is my son "reading" right then? I say he's not. He's being read to. It may be close to the act of reading, but it's not the same thing.

Eric said...

49 to 50.

We certainly put that topic to bed, didn't we!

Becca Cooper said...

I said yes. The story is still getting into your brain. It's just traveling through your ears rather than your eyes. Blind people read with their fingers, don't they? (Or listen to an audiobook, I'd bet. =D)

Reesha said...

This is a case for semantics!

Example 1:
"Have you read that book?"
"Yes, I listened to it in my car."

Example 2:
"I enjoyed listening to that book more than I did reading it."

Example 3:
"Who cares? I watched the movie."

In Example 1, polite conversation, having listened to an audio book counts as 'reading' it because the person is asking whether or not you know the contents.

In Example 2, the topic of concern is the experience of reading it, thus, a distinction is needed.

In Example 3, the person should be whacked upside the head and tied to a chair with only a glass of water and a book.

Note: I've had to do this to myself several times after watching the Harry Potter movies before reading the books.

Eva Ulian said...

How many lives have we got to read all the books we would like to read? Being at the shorter end of the candle I'm quite happy to be read to- reminds me of the days at school when the teacher read out loud David Copperfield, Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Three Men in a Tub, The Water Babies, Lorna Doone... Sigh... Life was wonderful then.

Nancy said...

I used to 'read' books on tape (before CDs) while driving 58 miles each way to work. Sometimes I got off shift at 9-1-1 in a snowstorm at 12:30 at night and the books helped keep me awake. I count this as 'reading a book' as your mind still has to consider the plot, the characters, the highs and the lows.

Raleigh, NC

Rini said...

Does it count for /what/?

For a child's summer reading program? Usually not.

For the improvement of your spelling ability? Absolutely not. When you see the word written, your subconscious makes a note of how it is spelled. When you hear it spoken, you don't get that benefit.

For purposes of "Yes, I read that book - wasn't it great?" Of course! You got the story.

For purposes of improving your writing? Probably. You get the grammar and structure of the story.

It all depends on what you want it to "count" for.

Heather Rose Chase said...

No. Reading a book and listening to a book being read to you are two different things. They engage different areas of the brain.

BOTH are very satisfying and serve the same purpose of enlightening and/or entertaining, but they are not the same thing.

But my question would be "count for what?"... Acquiring the knowledge presented in a book? Sure. Why not. For my able-minded 2nd grader's homework? No, he has to read the words himself, not listen to them if he wants to get the exercise correct and earn a passing grade.

B.J. Anderson said...

It is SO not reading, lol! But that's ok.

Joanna Penn said...

I vote yes! Recently, I have been listening to podcast novels including the great Scott Sigler, JC Hutchins, Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine. I have listened to them perform their books and I absolutely feel that I have "read" them. I remember them more vividly than books that I have skim read, the audio resonates in my mind so much more. The brain processes information and a book can enter through my eyes or my ears. Thanks, Joanna

lstaylor said...

Here's the thing. I voted yes even though *personally* I don't like audiobooks very much (my attention wanders because I have the chance to focus on other things with my eyes, and if I close my eyes, I fall asleep).

I work at a library whose sole purpose is to produce (if not acquire), under Canadian copyright law, textbooks in alternate formats for anyone with a print impairment (blindness, dyslexia, visual impairment, etc). And for them, when we produce an audio version of a book, listening is the only way they can access that book. That *is* their definition of reading: listening. Just as a blind reader running her fingers over braille is also reading. So maybe it's not *my* preferred method of reading, but it is still reading for someone out there.

terri said...

I listened to the entire Harry Potter series on audio and it was a brilliant experience. The same reader did all of the books so the character voices and tones were consistent all the way through. Hearing the dialogue in a proper British accent made the stories new and alive to me - I highly recommend it to anyone.

The same goes for John Grisham books. A reader with a proper southern accent gives life, depth, and breadth to a Grisham novel that the printed page cannot.

Finally, on abridged works. There is one particular political thriller author who has excellent ideas that are poorly executed. His editor needs to cut words by the pound. Paragraph after paragraph of extraneous description that bog down the action and adventure.

I can't finish the books in print. I love them in abridged audio. Stripped down to the essential action, the stories are fantastic!

So, YES, audio is reading.

karen wester newton said...

Phfft! Of course! Who even cares what the format is? It's the BOOK that matters.

Marsha Sigman said...

Definition of To Listen:
1: to pay attention to sound
2: to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration

Definition of To Read:
1 a (1): to receive or take in the sense of (as letters or symbols) especially by sight or touch
1 a: to perform the act of reading words : read something

Audiobooks are not bad, they are great but you are not reading. You are listening. Technically they aren't books either, they are tapes/cd's.

Ulysses said...

As of this point, it looks evenly split. Interesting.

I think we've got a continuum of ways to experience a written story. On the one end is reading, where the reader's imagination has to do all the work in turning the words into an experience. In the middle, there's audiobooks where the reader's voice inflections guide the listener's interpretation of the material. There's also audio plays ("The Shadow knows..."), where the listener's imagination has to do less work because the actors voices mean the listener doesn't have to imagine what the characters sound like and the narrator's voice can convey tension in tone as well as word choice and sentence structure. Then on the other far end is video/movie work. Here, the audience doesn't have to do much work at all. Everything is right there on the screen, and all they have to do is interpret the actor's work to extrapolate emotion and meaning.

I don't consider audiobooks reading because they are a less private experience and require less concentration and imagination than reading. However, I prefer not to read in the car during my commute, and audiobooks are certainly a valid and entertaining way to experience a story without resulting in a traffic catastrophe.

Splatter said...

I was sort of torn on this - I mean, if you're a teacher reading to your class, YOU are the one reading. Your kids are listening. Yes, they're getting the story and learning to enjoy books... but they aren't reading themselves. If you don't know how to read, you can't listen to an audio book and then claim you've learned.

I'm not saying that you aren't getting a similar experience, that the content you've heard is all that different from what someone else read... but if I look at it from a technical aspect... no, you're listening, not reading. The person whose voice you're listening to? They did the reading.

docmon said...

I voted for this as "reading," but actually I'm rather torn over it myself. I find myself agreeing with comments posted here from both sides of the argument.

When I listen to an audiobook, I'm not technically reading, as reading is interpreting letters on a page. But I'm absorbing the story of a book - what else would you call it? I'm at a loss.

Until "listening" to a book becomes a commonplace phrase in our language, and equal to reading in meaning, people (read: me) will continue to say they've read a book, even if they've listened to the audiobook.

Thank you for this poll, Nathan. Isn't it interesting that the results (as of Thurs, about noon) are nearly split even?

Anonymous said...

I think we came to a consensus...
Unless you are dyslexic, have ADD, are prone to migraines, are blind or you have no fingers...listening to audio books is NOT reading. The aforementioned exceptions get a free're reading. The rest of you are lazy, illiterate, too busy, uptight and invalid. Sweet! Alienation rocks!

Carl said...

I voted no, but that's not a statement against audiobooks. I just don't think it is reading.

I even believe that some books are better listened to than read, especially when read by the author. Two examples that come to mind are Steven Colbert and David Sedaris. Both have a style that is much better listened to than read.

jliann said...

No, they're not the same. I don't know why so many people mentioned braille as the comparison. Clearly, braille is much closer to reading than an audiobook is.

For one thing, you are still absorbing braille mentally, internally, and the words are going through your own mental filter.

Listening, on the other hand, involves someone ELSE doing the filtering, deciding when to pause, when to stop, when to raise and lower pitch.

I vehemently disagree with the way some audiobook readers phrase their sentences. But when I read, I can pharse them in the way that I like. There is a 'customizable' factor to reading that will never happen with an audiobook. I'm sorry, but it's true.

KayKayBe said...

I know I'm late here, but...From what research I've seen, listening has many of the same benefits as reading- children's brains develop in many of the same areas by listening to books as reading them- including vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, and it increases their writing skills.
The two modes are not the same, but there's a reason you're supposed to read to children for half an hour a day- even when they're babies. TV does NOT give these same benefits, but audiobooks do.

Jennifer said...

At my library - yes. Kids can listen to audiobooks for summer reading. My mom is a dyslexia/reading therapist and often uses audiobooks with kids, plus I've noticed that kids will listen to a book they've already read, or go read a book after they've listened to it.

Anonymous said...

If an author does his/her job right, then the reader gets lost in the story and stops reading the individual words. There is a point where the story is more than the words, it's akin to transubstantiation.

As a writer, I love the words, but when I'm just reading for entertainment, I love to get lost in the story.

I love audiobooks when I drive. And I let myself get caught up in the story. As a writer, sometimes, if I really love the story, I'll buy the hard copy of the book as well, to see how the writer handled its puctuation, its formatting. Sometimes I just need to see the words.

And I've come to find some genre's don't work for me in audio. I can't "read" mystery or a thriller when I drive. If I miss something I can't go back to look at where the clues were as easily. That may just be me.

Finally, some performers/readers just don't do the text justice. Some help. I do believe the actor can help, but if the words are good, they should sweep us away be they be on the page or in the voice. They are, after all, just words.

Marguerite said...

My car is never without an audiobook, and they're often on at home as well. I read plenty in print, too. And am a bit bewildered that so many think the audio is a lesser experience than the 'transformative power' of print. To mention just one favourite: the unabridged recording of The Time Traveler's Wife, read by William Hope and Laurel Lefkow, is brilliant. Loved the print book, love the audiobook.

As someone located outside the US, my biggest problem with audiobooks is one related to authors/publishers/agents, ie. rights, in relation to digital downloads in particular. There are plenty of audiobooks I'd pay for, but they aren't available to my geographic area (eg. on Audible, Amazon which uses Audible, Barnes and Noble and more). Some are available on CD, but in the age of the iPod, a download is cheaper, faster, involves no postage or packaging and doesn't have to be subject to the tyranny of distance.

When a recording exists, I can't understand why authors/agents/publishers don't make it available to non US markets, so we can pay you money to enjoy these stories. These aren't necessarily niche books, either: major best sellers, too. Why not tap into this royalty stream?

I'd so appreciate an explanation of this anomaly. It's really frustrating to be pressing your nose to the glass of the US audiobook closed shop and not be able to buy and listen.

Elyse said...

I'm a former special education teacher with mixed feelings on this one. There are some people who genuinely get more out of material when it is presented in an auditory fashion rather than a visual one. Most people will retain more information in a visual format, so I was inclined to say know - but there are others for whom listening to a book is actually more engaging and intellectually stimulating than visually reading a book.

Stephanie said...

I would say yes. I enjoy audio books and at one time relied on them heavily. Unabridged books allow full access to the text the same way reading it would. To say that I pick up something different orally rather than visually is obvious. I pick up something different on each visual reading, too.

I have worked with the visually impaired community and used to Brailled books. I've also shelved A LOT of audiobooks that are in rotation in the state for them. It's a geat resource. As is the newspaper service, etc.

I'm also reminded of an 'article' on NPR several years ago by a man who was blind. He had lost his sight as an adult and learned to live almost seamlessly - including using a text reader, so he didn't read Braille. Technically, this meant he was illiterate because he could not read the words printed for him in his 'language'. His point, if I remember correctly, was that perhaps technology was outpacing our definitions and our perceptions.

Perhaps there's a place for audiobooks and text-to-speech readers so that everyone has access to all the books they want to read. Because, I think that's really the point - bringing the joy of story and language to as many people as possible including those who have disabilities and other challenges.

mnemosyne's afterthought said...

No. Reading is a physical act that involves the eyes.

I hold a book in my hand and my eyes scan the pages and my brain takes in the words and in its mysterious way, converts all those sentences to story that I understand.

Listening is not reading, as it involves the ears. But I still enjoy the story and take in the meaning of the words. Also, we are "read to" when listening to an audiobook. We ourselves are not reading.

Sigh. I guess you can tell that the semantics are important to me.


What is interesting to me is the that it seems that a lot of folks here equate a text with its delivery system. And conflate that with their experience of absorbing the story.

A text is an object separate of its delivery system. We have these ways in which to interact with the text:

Book/electronic book/computer monitor: Eyes

Record/tape/mp3: Ears

Braille: Fingers

We interact with each of these delivery systems using a primary sense: Seeing/Hearing/Touching.

So, to listen to an audiobook is not to be actively reading a book. Rather, it is to be *read to* by (hopefully) a person whose voice we enjoy.

Daniel said...

I'm a little late on this one, but I thought I would chime in because it comes up between my friends and I often: They love audio books. I don't.

I say it is very different depending on your goals: If all you want is to ingest a story, then fine, listen to your heart's content, but understand that you are really just taking in the concepts and situations. If you want to learn about writing and the amazingly powerful use of language, you had better read it as reading allows you to focus more specifically on the choice of words and the reasons for those choices. Reading it yourself also allows you to create the cadence without someone else's imagination infringing upon your own.

I would choose to read it myself every single time. But then... that is just me.

Jay said...

WOW! I'm surprised so many people said NO. Of COURSE it's the same as reading long as it's unabridged. What's the difference? In the end, you've heard every word of the book, you know the entire story, etc. I'd say half the books I read are audiobooks, and I never say "oh I listened to a book last week that..." I always said "yeah I've READ that," even though it was an audiobook. Honestly it doesn't make sense to me that ANYone would say no to this question.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for necroing, but I feel obliged to comment.
As many people have already stated, it really depends on how you define "reading." If, by reading, you simply mean the analysis, interpretation, and understanding of something, then listening to an audio book does count as reading. However, if you define reading as the mental conversion of visual symbols into ideas, then no, listening to an audiobook wouldn't be reading.

For instance, if someone says, "During our conversation, I read her body language, tone of voice, and emphasis on certain words to determine what kind of person she is," then obviously it's the former definition that comes into play.

I am shocked that people have suggested that listening can never be the same as reading; on the contrary, active listening is merely another form of reading. Reading a book while daydreaming about something else doesn't count as reading since you're not converting the words into ideas; likewise, listening to an audiobook while having your mind on something else would not count as reading, either. But if you actually pay attention to the message behind the words while listening, then that counts as reading. For the debaters out there, the people who speak like rapidy-firing machine guns require one to tune in on their words with greater concentration than when reading.

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