Reading Versus Listening to Audio Books

As a commuter, I have reluctantly fallen in love with audio books. There is something that is wonderful about being read out loud to by people who are so good at reading aloud that they get paid to do it. In fact, some of my favorite books I’ve “read” in the last year have been audio books.

Stephen King vigorously encouraged aspiring writers to listen to audio books in On Writing. Pat Conroy in his preface to The Prince of Tides audiobook even said that he thought the reader, Dan John Miller, understood the book better than he did as the author. However, there seems to be a remaining stigma about listening to books rather than reading them.

At book club, a girl will sheepishly admit that she “didn’t read the book she just listened to the audiotape” or when I talk about reading Infinite Jest (which admittedly might not have been the best choice for my monthly Audibles pick given the complexity/footnotes/lack of ability to flip pages) my mother said “you aren’t reading it you are listening to it.”

I view them as comparable experiences. In many ways, I think I enjoy the beautiful sounds of good writing when I hear it out loud. I will admit that listening does not require the complete concentration that reading does, but in a busy world that doesn’t seem less valuable.

Is it just me? Am I making the stigma up? What do you think about the hardcopy book (or ebook) versus audio book?


11 thoughts on “Reading Versus Listening to Audio Books

  1. I really like audiobooks because I’m so busy. Sometimes I do worry that if an audiobook has a good narrator I will enjoy it more than in print and vice versa. There are times when I feel like it’s “cheating” but they can be so addicting.

  2. My book club *LOVES* audiobooks, and we frequently have a healthy mix of readers and listeners, and it’s fun to see what a listener picked up on that a reader didn’t, and vice versa. Some books are even better on audio, like World War Z.

  3. I think that stigma isn’t quite what it used to be, but I agree with you that it is there depending on who you talk to. It took me a while to feel like listening to an audio book was just as good as reading it, but now I really like it and sometimes it’s the only way I’m able to finish books.

  4. You know that I am addicted to listening to audiobooks at night. The one thing that I do miss when I read books is the ability to get caught up init. You cant listen faster and faster turning pages as quickly as possible like you can when you read. Also, I agree with your Infinite Jest point (although my experience was with Game of Thrones)… it sucks not to easily go back and re-read a point.

    1. I’ve tried listening at night, but I always fall asleep and can’t figure out what is going on. Also, I can’t even imagine listening to Game of Thrones – you would need to carry around a character list with you!

  5. I was about to comment that I have never listened to an audiobook, when I realised that I have! When I was a kid I had some of the Secret Seven books on tape, and I also had Return to Oz photo book/tape combo – I loved listening to those and can’t believe I had forgotten them.

    I will have to ask my friends to recommend some good narrators to me know, I suddenly want audio books.

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