Do we cheat if we listen to a book?

My first successful attempt to substitute written books with their voice-recorded editions happened three years ago after my cornea transplant surgery. In preparation for three long weeks without reading, I downloaded about twenty audiobooks from the library, including The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice.

Photo by Tomoko Uji on Unsplash

Far from being converted, I was still certain I would keep using this format. It didn’t happen. I realized I liked audiobooks mostly because I didn’t have any other choice. The books I selected were good, and that helped as well. But once I was able to read again, I never returned to listening to the books.

I recently came across an article in Psychology Today about why listening wasn’t the same as reading. The biggest difference is in engagement, the author explains: reading is something you do; listening is something that happens to you, someone else does it for you. If you’re not actively taking in written information, you’re not going to make progress with the book; listening, on the other hand, makes progress with or without our participation.

I think that the presence of that someone, that ‘third person’, prevented me from establishing the intimate connection with the story. I loved The Vampire Chronicles and the enchanting, dark and seductive world of Anne Rice, but my mental images were less vivid and my inner engagement less strong than I knew they could’ve been.

Do we really read a book if we listen to it? Probably yes, with some differences, especially when it comes to fiction. The distinctions between printed/electronic books and audiobooks are certainly less prominent in fiction than in nonfiction. There are some formats, however, that cannot be voice recorded, such as graphic novels and comics. Audiobooks are convenient, I agree, but to me, reading is a tad more deeper, more personal and more complete experience than listening.

What about you? Do you listen to the audiobooks? Do you find it different from reading the books, either printed or electronic?

Note: I used the lovely image above to make a new header — I’m refreshing my website.

About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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6 Responses to Do we cheat if we listen to a book?

  1. You just clarified what I FEEL about audiobooks. As a reader I feel the story and the characters’ emotions more deeply when I’m reading as opposed to listening. Doing vs something happing to my brain . . . yeah, makes sense!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the audiobook narrator intrudes into the special relationship between the writer and the reader. Listening is another way of experiencing a book, different from reading it. Closer than a movie, but not the same.


    • jfkaufmann says:

      You’re absolutely right! Reading and listening are two fundamentally different mediums,
      and while listening to a book may sometimes enhance the experience, it may also ruin it. To me, the narrator often feels like a third wheel in the intimate relationship between a book and its reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. JP McLean says:

    Love the refreshed header! Very bright and airy. Regarding audio books, I’ve tried a few times to get into them, but just can’t. My mind wanders and I’m constantly having to “rewind” to catch something I missed. Even with podcasts and VLOGS, I tend to go right to the transcripts rather than wade through the recordings.

    Liked by 1 person

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