A different perspective from an audiobook novice

Audiobooks - a personal perspective

Recently I listened to my first ever audiobook - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I quickly followed it up by Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling and even as I type this I am listening to Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.

I know the merits of audiobooks are often discussed on book blogs, but having now listened to my first audiobooks, there are a few observations that I would like to make about the experience.

The debate about audiobooks usually seems to centre around the question of whether listening to an audiobook counts as reading. I have certainly counted these audiobooks on my list of books that I have read this year, and reviewed them as I would a normal book. But I have to admit that from a personal perspective, the experience of listening to an audiobook was very different to the experience of reading a book.

What I liked about the experience of listening to the audiobook is that it is a nice alternative to watching television. The story also comes that little more alive, at least, the Harry Potter books did, as narrated by Stephen Fry. It also gave me a new perspective of the books, particularly Pride and Prejudice. When I read Pride and Prejudice I am extremely focused on the beautiful language and the tension between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. When listening to the audiobook though, I was really able to appreciate the comedy of Austen's story. I laughed the whole way through, and I certainly don't laugh out loud when I read the books.

Was it reading though? It didn't feel like it to me. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed listening to the stories as you can tell. I am especially enjoying listening to the Harry Potter series on audiobook and I will keep listening to them. But it just wasn't the same for me. As much as I love listening to the story be told to me, I love the actual act of reading better.

Perhaps this whole debate is artificial? Reading is the act of reading words on the page and listening to an audiobook is just that. That's not to say that the book you have listened to doesn't count as a story that you have experienced, you just haven't read that story. Is there anything wrong with that? I know people tend to have very strong opinions on this subject, but now having listened to and enjoyed audiobooks myself, I can't help but wonder if the question of audiobooks as reading isn't a little bit silly - reading is reading, and listening to an audioboko is listening to an audiobook. They are just two different methods of experiencing a story, and therefore the question of whether of whether listening to an audiobooks counts as reading is mute?

What do you think - am I totally off the mark here or is there something in these thoughts? If you are not too audiobooked out, I would love to know what you think. 

16 comments

  1. I guess for me, listening to an audio book is reading. I consider it so anyway. I mean, is a blind person reading when they read using braille? That is touching and using the eyes. Interesting thoughts.

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  2. I believe that audiobooks first on old fashioned cassettes then CDs are just another way of enjoying a good book, especially when it is not convenient to read. Many years ago I subscribed to a series in the Uk of classics on tape which I listened to while ironing. I also encouraged my children to listen to tapes after lights out at bedtime, better than reading under the covers with a torch as I used to have to do as a child!
    So enjoy, you know they are never going to actually replace your love of books Becky.

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  3. I don't have much experience with audiobooks. Most of what I listened to was poetry, which I think is much better heard than read.

    My biggest problem with audiobooks is that I tend to sometimes zone out while listening, and lose some parts of the story that way. Also, the speed of reading is not determined by me, sometimes I like to take my time in a part of the story, and with a traditional book I can do that.

    To me, listening to an audiobook is not really reading, but it does count as a book "read". I invest time, enjoy it, and gain something in the end, just like a paper book.

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  4. I think it's the same thing. The only difference for me is that I can't skip the boring parts :p. It's how I "read" on road trips. It's also a great way to "read" epic poetry, when the actual reading of it seems impossible.

    I consider it just an ancient-Greek sort of way of experiencing a story. No less valid.

    http://deadwhiteguyslit.blogspot.com

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  5. I consider listening to books reading. After all when My kids were small and during summer reading programs the library let us count books that were read to them as books read and isn't that essentially what audiobooks are, just someone reading us a story.

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  6. I think any way you experience a story is good.

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  7. I have never listened to an audiobook (aside from those my parents used to listen to on car trips) but I have to think the experience would feel different from reading, to me. I always have a certain "voice" in my head when I'm reading, and someone else's voice would be so different. Plus it would not have the same rhythm my reading eye does, to pause at certain places, read a line again, go through certain parts of a book slowly and others quicker. I think this is why I'm almost afraid to listen to audios- I'd feel not in control!

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  8. I can not remember when I did not love reading. I had tried out a few audiobooks many years ago. One was an Anne Rice vampire novel read by Tim Curry. Though I'm a Curry fan, I couldn't get past his trying a southern delta accent. (I'm a native Atlantan)
    But lately I've been making a long drive from Atlanta to Asheville and the XM book radio has been wonderful company. All are not equal, of course, and sometimes a reader can make the difference. But I've learned to appreciate and enjoy the ones that are well done.

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  9. Seems like we are all pretty much on the same page - Heather said it best: Any way we experience a story is good. Adiobooks count as a book read, and they are just a different way of experiencing a story.

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  10. This is a conversation I have frequently as I am a huge fan of books and my boyfriend is a huge fan of audiobooks. He has been trying to get me to switch over for years, but I'm hesitant. While I agree with you that both forms are just different ways of sharing a story, I prefer the written word. I think a huge part of that preference stems from the fact that I'm an English major and I just love having the words in front of me. But I still totally get why some people like hearing the story spoken aloud. In fact, I can see some stories almost being more enjoyable that way. But I totally agree with you: the two forms are really different but that doesn't make one better than the other.

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  11. I was thinking about this yesterday and I had just decided that I was going to post somthing similar on my blog this morning - great minds think alike!!
    I think audiobooks totally count as reading, although I do think it's more like listening to a film without the images than actually reading a book.
    I am a recent convert (I started with Fry's Harry Potter and loved them), and I think they're ideal for listening to on the beach, when you don't want to get sand on your book or even at night when you're too tired to actually read, you can fall asleep listening to your fave book!
    Great discussion! I'd love for you to pop over to my blog and read my latest audiobook review!

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  12. I definitely consider listening to audiobooks to be reading. You are still "ingesting" the story.

    Before the written word, all communication was oral, stories and messages and everything was passed on by word of mouth.

    As children, we listen to our parents read... I think that audiobooks bring us back to that, a little.

    I do think that listening to someone else read a story and reading it yourself are two completely different experiences, and a reader can make or break a story. I personally love audiobooks, now, although I didn't always. It took me a long time to get used to not reading.

    I don't listen to as many as I'd like, because I'm very picky about them, but I enjoy them very much, and definitely count it as a book read. ;)

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  13. Hi Becky

    I really enjoyed this post. I have been listening to audio books for a couple of years now. I love them. I "read" just as many paper books as I used to if not more. I don't think audiobooks are a substitute for reading. What they have meant for me is that I can enjoy stories at times when I would not be able to read such as while driving or exercising or simply doing the dishes :)

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