The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Case Against Audiobooks

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageI’ve had some variation on this conversation several times recently.  I’ll be talking to someone I just met, and the fact that I am an avid, passionate reader comes up.  The person will ask me what kinds of books I read, and I’ll tell them.  Then, I’ll ask them the same question.  They hesitate.  “Oh, well,” they finally respond, “mostly I listen to a lot of audiobooks.”

Yeah.  That resounding silence you hear?  That’s my response.

Listen up: I hereby decree, in my power as CC2K’s Book Editor, that listening to audiobooks does not count as reading, in the same way that reading Cliff’s Notes does not count.  It is like cheating.  And if you ignore my decree, the Book Gods will smite you down with their wrath.  (Cue lightning bolts, plagues of bookworms, and whatever else the Book Gods may have up their sleeves.)

Okay, maybe not.

Honestly, I can see why audiobooks are popular.  I live in Washington, DC, a city filled with A-type personalities and chronic overachievers.  Listening to an audiobook—as opposed to reading a traditional bound copy—allows you to do multiple things at once.  You can listen while you’re getting ready for work in the morning.  You can listen while you’re driving your car.  You can listen while you’re making dinner at night.  It gives you a way of gaining familiarity with a certain text—be it Harry Potter or A Brief History of Time—without actually investing the time or energy in actually reading the book.  And in such a results-oriented culture, time can be a precious commodity.

But for me, part of the pleasure of reading is that you must devote time to it exclusively.  As an editor, I can proof a given document with the radio on in the background—and I often do.  And while I’m cruising the internet, I usually have the TV on.  I even tend to write with music playing.  But when I read—really read, just for the sheer joy of it—I like silence.  If I read on the train on my way to or from work, I tune out everything going on in the background—even going as far as to miss my stop a few times.  When I read at home, an ill-timed phone call can actually make me frustrated and angry.  Reading is my time, the only time when I fully immerse myself in one activity.  And honestly, in our hyper-connected world, that’s not only nice, but necessary.

Furthermore, if you’re not as sentimental about reading as I am (and I suspect most people aren’t), let’s look at the practical aspects.  Most people are not auditory learners; instead, they retain significantly more information when they read something than when they simply hear it.  So if you’re looking to be edified by a given text, why deny yourself the opportunity to remember as much of it as you can?  I am a movie trivia whiz not because I’ve watched so many movies, but because I have read so much about movies.  (And yes, I am a geek, but that’s another story.)

And yes, I know that I cannot really decree anything, and I know that the Book Gods will not really smite those errant audiobook listeners.  But do me a favor, okay: do not say you’ve read a book when you’ve only listened to the audiobook.  When I got lazy back in my school days and only read the Cliff’s Notes for a given text, I never claimed I actually read the book.  And to me, an audiobook is exactly the same thing.


Selected Book Releases, July 27- August 2

July 28

Dying for Mercy by Mary Jane Clark

Don’t Know Much About Literature by Kenneth C. Davis

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

The Lost Throne by Chris Kuzneski

Henry’s Sisters by Cathy Lamb

Tasting Fear by Shannon McKenna

Unconditionally Single by Mary B. Morrison

Iron Elves: The Light of Burning Shadows by Chris Evans

Hot Pursuit by Suzanne Brockmann

Gears of War: Jacinto’s Remnant by Karen Traviss