I have an ongoing debate with my wife…when I listen to a book, did I ‘read’ it? When book discussions come up and I comment that I’ve read something, she is quick to correct me: “You mean you listened to it, right, babe?” Thanks very much for clarifying that, dear. Several discussions on this topic have not moved us any closer to agreement. To her, listening is not the same as reading.
Although I must concede that listening is not reading, the end result of both activities is very similar for many. Sure, you can’t underline an audiobook. But think about it: when was the last time you actually went back and read all those highlights?
True, you can’t flip back a few pages in an audiobook and re-familiarize yourself with that character who’s come back into the plot. You can click back a couple of tracks if necessary and re-listen to a section or two. Let’s face it, in either case that’s not something that we usually need to do.
“I can read faster than I can listen,” you say? Ever tried the 2X or 3X speeds on your iPod?
“I can’t follow audiobooks, reading is way easier.” With practice, following audiobooks is easier than reading for many people.
The truth is that listening sometimes unnecessarily gets a bad rap. It’s true, some books are better in print or “e” format. But the opposite is true as well. Some books are better as audiobooks. I commuted for about five years from North San Diego county to Irvine – about 1.5 hours one way. During that time I became an audiobookoholic. I devoured audiobooks (mostly classics because that’s what was available from my local library) and became particularly fond of the Russians. Let me tell you that the average person has a much better shot at getting through the audio versions of Crime and Punishment and War and Peace – go Simon Vance! Just keeping the names straight is a deal breaker for some readers, but the narrator glides through them and provides character voices to keep everything manageable. Just sit back and enjoy.
Full disclosure: After listening to many of these audiobooks, I bought paper copies and made notes in them. I didn’t, however, feel a need to read them… because I already had. I just wanted to be able to quote a section or two or re-read a chapter because I couldn’t help myself.
My opinion is that in the near future, reading and listening may become completely ubiquitous as our desire for content begins to transcend the reading context. Enhanced books will eventually give audio a more prominent and deserved position in the format hierarchy. Whether or not this post will help me convince my wife that listening is the same as reading remains to be seen.
Cory Verner is the President and co-founder of christianaudio.