Does it matter whether you listen to a book or read the text with your own eyes?
Is listening cheating?
Absolutely! Certainly not! Who cares?
That sums up reader responses to the questions posed in a recent Bookmark. Many thanks to all who shared their views.
“You asked for an opinion on audiobooks and that is the only way I find time to read, so yes, in my mind they are the only way to go!” said Karin Trosine.
Micah Haber said no. “Taking a book in auditorially is no longer a book; it is instead listening to a script on the radio, with possible detrimental effects when taken in public. As for my rule of when to listen to audiobooks: not even once.”
For Pam Shubat, audiobooks changed reading for the better. “I am guilty of speed reading through text, skipping over descriptions of scenes, emotions, environment or whatever else is slowing down my race to take in the plot. When I switched to audio in order to avoid neck and back strain from sitting with a book, a whole new appreciation of books opened up. I was no longer able to scan a page to take in the plot line. Instead, I listened to stories unfold as the author intended.”
An audiobook user since 1999, Mark Luther said, “I have generally found that a good book listened to will be a good book read. However, not all good written books are also audio (try listening to ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ — impossible to follow). I have also found that listening to nonfiction is difficult while driving a car, but a fiction book is easier to follow while driving.
“I cannot tell you how many times I had to pull my car off the road listening to great passages — whether it’s the gut-busting humor of Carl Hiaasen, or the profound storytelling in Michener’s ‘Alaska.’ ”
Middle-school librarian Carol Youssif needs to give a lot of informed recommendations, so she maximizes her reading time with audiobooks while she’s out running errands. “I don’t think audiobooks are cheating. I think they are a new form of getting the most out of a story. True, we are not decoding written text, but we are following a story line with characters and places, and we need to pay enough attention to not overlook content. Many books have fabulous narrators; some alter their voices to appear to be the different characters. Some have sound effects, which enrich the story even more. I find myself looking forward to listening for as long as I can when a book is well read.”
Defenders cited audiobooks’ value to children with reading difficulties and book club members with vision problems. “If we had had a rule about reading the book, our book club would have had to drop a dear pal when her cataracts would no longer allow her to read books,” said Barbara Aslakson. “There was no difference in her ability to take active part in the discussion. The brain absorbs both ways. What really is the problem?”
But they don’t fit in Lynn Abrahamsen’s system. “I have a filtering system about which books I want to savor — which I get in hardcover, either from the library or bookstore, books I want to read quickly to see what all of the hype is about, and those I know I will want to keep and loan to a friend or family member.
“So far, I have resisted the pull to audio, merely because I’m already plugged in so many other ways. While I am a tried-and-true multitasker, I want my entertainment to be in my physical control, and not invading my mental space while I may be otherwise occupied.”
Steve Adkins of Lakeville supports audiobooks, but he has limits. “Agreed that hearing and reading qualify as ‘having read the book.’ Watching the movie does not!”
Maureen McCarthy is a team leader for the Star Tribune.