Do audiobooks count as reading?

Sometimes I find it easier to listen than read but it still feels like cheating

I love a challenge to motivate me and so for the last few years I have had a Goodreads account annual challenge. In 2020 over half the books I read on there were manually added as they were audiobooks that I finished and don’t register automatically. It’s pretty obvious I have wanted to escape. And frankly be soothed by wonderful narrators like Stephen Fry.

In fact the audiobooks have had a unique place in my life during the pandemic. Spending so much time either inside (and trying not to hear youtube all the time – my son is obsessed) or walking around my neighbourhood, I have wanted things that are easy for me to do. And often I could not concentrate long enough to read, either because my anxious brain has been on overdrive or my fatigue has made concentration harder. Remember when I used to complain about not having a room of one’s own. The irony has deepened in the last year. The age of the headphones in our house.

I have read some amazing books in 2020. But I have also needed to forget myself in a book. Recently I listened again to The Discovery of Witches, having just watched the Sky series and being sure they missed important parts! It may be the familiarity of these books that helps bring some small measure of certainty. Phoebe Reads a Mystery was another favourite. Often mysteries in particular follow a formula to some extent, driving towards a usually satisfying conclusion. Offering an odd sort of stability to these odd times.

Part of me (probably the part that studied English,) thinks I am cheating on “real” books. But I find that I remember in much more depth what has happened in a book when I listen to it. Most of these books I had read the book first. I have a terrible habit of skipping over names when I read. And speed reading means I may miss the finer points. I probably am more of an aural learner, always finding lectures a good place to learn at University. I just wished it had occurred to me all that time ago that I could listen to books. Particularly those texts I found so arduous such as Paradise Lost (still haven’t finished it) and Shakespeare. For some reason though there is still this snobbery that reading a book is superior to listening to it. Odd when both these were written to read aloud.

In the Bored and Brilliant project which I tried earlier this year, Manoush Zomorodi explains how reading online all the time has changed our ability to concentrate and take in information. It may be that our brain takes in information differently from physical texts than scrolling. One reason is that you are even more likely to skim read online, apparently. So in comparison, it may be that I take much more in when I am listening to audiobooks.

There is something to be said that there was clearly at time in relative recent history where storytellers would learn swathes of texts or poems and recite them. In China, there would be a tradition of relaying a story and a complex commentary. Feats of memory we cannot imagine now. This though does suggest that there is something about how our memory is fired up when listening to a story.

I have set a challenge again for 2021 but I think it’s time I cut myself some slack and count listening as reading.

Do you prefer audiobooks, ebooks or the real thing?

3 thoughts on “Do audiobooks count as reading?

  1. I prefer reading ‘real’ books. I also prefer them to kindles as I like being able to flick back to previous chapters to see what was said before on a certain subject. I’ve never really tried audio books, but I do enjoy listening to podcasts so I guess that can be similar.

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    1. I do understand the appeal of real books.I love libraries and library books but I do find the kindle convenient in a small house! Have to say (when I am not brain-foggy and not reading much) I do actually agree you read a bit differently with electronic device- more scanning somehow.

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