Can I Really Say I “Read” An Audiobook?

img_7913Up until the last few years, I never listened to audiobooks. There are a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with snobbery: I retain more when I read vs. listen, my mind wanders more when I listen, it’s harder to go back and re-read passages, I can’t highlight, etc.

But the bigger reason, for me, is that listening to audiobooks seemed kind of passive to me. I don’t love TV, primarily because I know that my brain isn’t doing much if I’m just consuming a show. I worried that audiobooks had that same passivity.

It’s silly, because if I think about it, listening to audiobooks is actually harder work for me than reading a book the traditional way. It requires me to direct my concentration in a way that’s much more automatic for me in traditional reading.

I decided to look it up, to see how audiobooks are consumed by the brain. Rather than wondering and worrying about it, I looked to the science. Here’s a good article on it, but the bottom line is that your brain sees them essentially the same way.

I’m not the only one asking this question. When I did an internet search about audiobooks vs. traditional reading, apparently many people struggle with this issue.

I keep a list of how many books I read each year, and two or three of them for the past two years have been audiobooks. I’ve actually struggled with whether or not to “count” them.

What’s the point of reading a book? For me, it’s about enjoyment. In some cases, it’s about learning. It’s also to synthesize information and be able to discuss it meaningfully with others. I can do all that with audiobooks.

I recently reread On Writing, by Stephen King. (Great book, incidentally, even if you’re not a writer.) He reads tons of books, and casually mentioned that he also reads audiobooks. If it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. Once I gave myself permission to look at audiobooks as reading, I started seeing chunks in my day where I could be reading: doing yard work, in the car, cleaning up the kitchen… the list goes on.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you stand on audiobooks vs. traditional books?

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