Does Listening to an Audiobook Still Count as Reading?

photo credit: the bbp via photopin cc

There isn’t a time in my life that I can recall not having books around me to pick up and escape. While most kids probably enjoyed staying home sick from school to watch TV, I enjoyed it because my mom kept plastic bins full of books in my closet, and when I’d stay home sick, she’d put those two bins up on the bed with me so that I could read. Before we went to sleep every night, she read to us. (Meanwhile, my dad made up crazy stories which probably contributed to my love of creative writing, as well. He sometimes also used hand puppets and silly voices to tell those stories, which is possibly why I am amused to review books using a homemade dinosaur puppet on this site.)

Book stores, book fairs, RIF days (Reading is Fun..damental, aka free book day!), library programs, book order forms, you name it and I was bleeding my parents dry doing it. I basically never got in trouble in school unless it was for reading when I was supposed to be paying attention (or not doing my homework because I’d been lost in a book). For a period of time, I wanted to be a “book keeper” when I grew up because I thought this meant someone who collected and shared books. Aka… a librarian. (Now that I know what a book keeper actually does, I would NEVER want to do that. Ever.) I don’t even know if I played at recess until 3rd or 4th grade. I just took out a book and read. It reminds me of this great and totally true thing that one of my college friends said:

“I used to love to play outside and read. And then I kept reading and stopped playing outside, which is how I got to be what I am today: an out-of-shape English major.” 

For someone who is also as into technology as I am, it surprises a lot of people to find out that I’m a total reading purist. I don’t own a Kindle or a Nook. I understand why people do and I understand (to a degree, anyway) why people think that people like me are ridiculous and silly because we’re so anti-eReaders. I just don’t believe that you can get the same satisfaction from swiping a screen as you can from turning a page, regardless of what fancy animation is involved. I enjoy the heft of a book, the thunk of a hardcover when it snaps shut, trying to read without creasing the spine of a paperback or trade size. Anyone who knows me knows how fond I am of my bookshelves. I love being able to see my books and grab one quickly to leaf through its pages. I like to notice the detail of a book, including what kind of paper it uses, fonts, binding, and, of course, smell. There is nothing on this planet like the smell of a book. The older and mustier, the better — something I determined while working in my college library for a summer, completing an entire collection shift. People I know well have called all of these reasons something to the effect of “bullshit,” to which I say… stop being such a damn bully.

I’ve also never done audiobooks (we’re nearly 500 words in and I’m just getting to audiobooks. Whatever. It’s my blog and I’ll stray off-topic if I want to). Oh, I tried once. When I was in grad school, I was the ultimate champ at micromanaging and multi-tasking. I had to be. I was teaching full time and working a part time job, and commuting 50 miles each way twice a week for class, plus getting ready to move (a detail that later necessitated a commute from Central PA to Northern VA and back one night a week for class for a grand total of 332 miles every Wednesday evening for a semester). I tried an audiobook for one of my required novels so that I could read while doing other things. It didn’t really take, and I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t really enjoy the book or if I was just doing too many other things to pay attention.

Me, passed out on my Robber Raccoon book. Based on the house, I was no more than just over 3 years old in this picture.

Me, passed out on my Robber Raccoon book. Based on the house, I was no more than just over 3 years old in this picture.

Up until recently, when I’d hear people talking about listening to audiobooks, I’ll admit that I always thought that it was a little like cheating. In my mind, it wasn’t really “reading,” per se. So yes, I was kind of a snob about it. And I do believe that reading — actually reading — is its own worthy experience. But if there’s one thing book lovers learn as they grow older, it’s that reading time dwindles to make way for life’s other obligations. I love music, but find that my brain sometimes needs something else, so I’ve taken to listening to podcasts. Mostly ones from NPR and/or about books. Two of my absolute favorites are Dear Book Nerd, hosted by Rita Meade, and the Book Riot – The Podcast, hosted by Jeff O’Neal and Rebecca Schinsky. Both podcasts are through Book Riot.

In these podcasts, as well as others that I enjoy, the hosts are regularly mentioning books they’ve read via audiobook. They’ve even held discussions about whether or not listening to an audiobook still counts as reading. As I respect these people and view them as intelligent readers, I noticed my perception of audiobooks starting to change. After all, they were talking about how many more books they read with audiobooks than if they were to just read in the traditional sense. Ah, a problem near and dear to my own heart.

Not only is a time a factor for me, but there’s also my dreadfully slow reading speeds. You would think that someone who has two degrees in English, works as an editor, and has been reading since she could hold a book would be a fast reader. You’d be wrong. The average adult reads around 300 words per minute. I read around 220 or so. There’s a pattern to my life here, I think. I’m a slow reader, slow eater, slow runner.

Anyway, I started to wonder if audiobooks would allow me to boost my own reading while doing other things. I’ve always lamented the fact that I couldn’t read and knit at the same time. Now maybe I can finish my blanket AND a book at the same time. When I made this decision, I pretty much sprinted (read: drove through the ice and then walked quickly but cautiously) the 7 blocks to the public library, high hurdled over a heaping snow pile (read: walked around it. I’m not quite 5’3. I don’t high hurdle over anything. Except maybe ants), and approached the desk with a big smile to ask for a library card.

The audiobooks at the library left a lot to be desired, and the cases were grubby-looking. The librarian was so nice and friendly, though, that I ended up checking out the audiobook of something I’ve already read just to have something. I had other plans, anyway. The library here grants access to this system called OverDrive Media, which allows patrons to “check out” audiobooks and download them to the OverDrive console to listen to on their computers, phones, Mp3 players, etc. I finally just got it set up and downloaded my first book this afternoon (a Christopher Moore book — an author I’ve been meaning to read for at least 5 years now).

So I’m about to take my first true foray into reading an audiobook. I have no plans to stop reading the pile of actual books that I’ve amassed and will continue to amass (and the book I’m reading right now, S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst is SO GOOD and must be actually, physically read — more about that in a future post), but I’m ready to let it change my mind about what it means to read. Especially if it means I get to consume more books. After all, it should be about the fact that we’re reading at all instead of how we’re doing it, right?

photo credit: the bbp via photopin cc

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