I had an interesting conversation the other day; a young man in the library asked me if I had read a certain book that he held out to me, I replied that I hadn’t but I’d read the print copy. As you’ve probably guessed by now the young man was showing me an audiobook. So is ‘listening’ to an audiobook just as good as holding a print copy in your hands?
I suppose the answer to that question must come from your own personal definition of reading. If reading is understanding the content of the story or the theme, then audiobooks certainly succeed. Understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections are at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books whether they read them alone, are read to or listen to them. Audiobooks also play a large role in bringing reading to the visually impaired and help them enter that other world all readers know and love, and I for one would never say a visually impaired reader was not a true reader just because they listened to audiobooks.
Which brings me to the crux of the matter why is there even room for the “Which is better: listening to an audiobook or reading a print book” debate. It’s inane, banal and pointless, and as long as books are being absorbed in one form or another surely it is a plus for all concerned. The debate is based on the premise that, as a reader you can’t do both and that you have to fall onto one side of the debate or the other, pretty much like the eBook debate (but we all know my feelings on that subject).
When it comes to listening to audiobooks or reading books, it’s not actually an issue of personal preference for me. It’s not even a matter of choice rather a matter of common sense and deciding if I want to get home in one piece. I cannot choose to read a book while I’m driving; the choice here is whether to listen to an audiobook or the radio; if it’s the audiobook careful choice has to be made as to content, I want something interesting but not too engaging that I lose focus on driving. There are many circumstances in my everyday life (and probably yours too) where by using common sense my choices are a) listen or not, and b) listen to what? There is no option to read with my eyes.
If this debate had been brought up back in the heyday of dramatised books on the radio, and at the advent of the wonderful A Book at Bedtime show that BBC Radio 4 has featured on weeknights since 1949, it would not have even been given notice, or credence. It was the norm to read your print book, listen to your radio dramatisations and then the Book at Bedtime before retiring for the night. I’ve even had classroom discussions about a particular book on the BBC with my English Literature teacher, who had set it as homework knowing certain members of the class would be more likely to ‘read’ the book this way, rather than having to hold it in their hands.
So stop the debate or argument, whatever you want to dress it up as. Please. For it really is neither of these things. And if you insist on still travelling down this misguided path, find a visually impaired person; ask your obtuse question of them, then come away from that conversation being thankful you have an extra sense with which you can receive information.