A tentative stab at “Is listening reading?”

This week’s community podcast is themed from the forum thread for “One book a week in 2008”. (I’ve only read 12 so far — I think I’m behind?) There was a bit of discussion there about whether listening to a book was the same as reading it. Of course, it comes down to definitions. If the aim is to take possession of a story, then for sure, reading, listening, Braille or graphic novels all work as methods for an author to communicate with other folks. As snobby as some book groups may be about “those who listen” as compared to “those who read”, there’s usually little difference at the end of the day in the speed of the book-discussion going off on a huge and permanent tangent.

Books expand one’s vocabulary — visual has the advantage of teaching the brain spelling, while audio conveys a version of the pronunciation. (Please do not try to pronounce “isthmus” as I do, though, it just ain’t right.)

Paper books are traditionally more sensual than audiobooks, they allow for cosying under blankets, torchlit exploration, the physical response of scent and touch bibliophiles get walking into an old library or second-hand book shop and running their hand over book spines. However, audiobooks have had a recent boost in this area, thanks to the ol’ iPod, which gets owners in a sleek, elegant design froth in no time flat. Steampunking an iPod would seem to be the ultimate win.

Audiobooks suffer much more from “out of sight, out of mind” — I don’t rifle my hard drive of a Sunday afternoon trying to decide what to listen to, in the same way that I peruse my bookshelves. And there’s the unspoken horror of obsolescence (you have a generation 1 iPod, darlink, how retro!) in the hardware and format (MP3s have been going strong since at least 1991, but … how much longer will they last? And how good will they sound shifted into whatever replaces them?) Plus, literacy isn’t grokking the story of Don Quixote … it’s being able to understand how to complete an accident report form or fill in a bank account application.

I’m a firm both-ist. Losing either format would cut down on the richness of my world. Have been thinking about this for a while, and there’s a bit of a waffle in this ‘ere podcast. It hardly even begins to get into the nuances … what about (dubious) learning preferences for visual, audio or kinetic (wonder if that last is the act of LibriVoxing a book — certainly reading the text aloud is a pretty amazing method of consuming it.) I tried not to produce an Audiobook Party Political Broadcast, or the preface of a book (simultaneous publication in paper and MP3, please). Dunno how successful I was. Rest assured, the other people contributing sound great!



  • I have written something about how listening to a monotone recording really feels like reading.

    In my opinion, listening to audiobooks is just as sensual as reading from paper. It’s just not the same senses.

    Reading an e-book from a screen might be a notch lower on the sensual scale, though. Check my article on “p-books” for a little fun around this topic…

    PS: sec. 8 done – onto sec. 9

  • i always find this a fascinating discussion. There has been some fMRI work on this and indeed, for most people, the evidence is that “reading” text and listening to audiotext does not fire the same brain areas.

    but what i’ve always found interesting is that some people think this results in a different value of the experience – ie reading = more valuable; listening = less value… further ie, you should read, and listening is cheating.

    which, of course, is just silly.

    and anyway, i’ve always said that what LV does is get people to record texts, which is a far deeper connection to the text than either “just” reading or listening.

  • I would saw that they should both equally viewed as “reading”. In the sense that they both are obtaining and understanding information. As long as you can take in the information and understand it, then what makes one better than another? I personally have read and “read” books simultaneously, chapter for chapter, and I found I could recall information from various chapters just the same regardless of the medium that the information was served. And any nay-sayers of this are simply being intolerant ableists!

    Nice dropping of grok by the way, I’m currently “reading” SiaSL right now! Thanks for MCing Chessmen!

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