Is listening to audio books “a kind fo second-rate reading”?

December 3rd, 2011

The Times has a piece on people who choose to listen to audiobooks.

Many books have been the kind that I used to read in college — serious, often demanding — but that I seldom find the time to sit down with these days. And yet, when I’m doing something else that would otherwise be tedious, audio versions of these books have become my ideal companions. But through it all, I keep getting the sense that other people think I’m settling for a kind of second-rate reading. I’m not exactly sure why this should be. Maybe they suspect I’m not working hard enough — devoting my undivided attention to serious books. Maybe absorbing literature in this way is like having the waiter cut up my food.

It may actually be a factor of how people absorb information:

 It may, in fact, be a matter of how we each best absorb difficult material. When I was in college I always got more out of lectures than out of the reading, and now I work in a trade, journalism, that is largely about listening to the spoken voice. And this, in turn, led me to wonder whether I’m wired in some way to listen rather than read.

And so I did what reporters are trained to do. I consulted an expert, in this case Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gardner is celebrated for his theory of multiple intelligences, which holds that there are many different kinds of smarts and learning. In his work, Gardner has parsed linguistic intelligence from logical-mathematical and musical intelligence, and has also described other kinds of intelligence linked to interpersonal relationships and the body.

The truth, it seems, is that the way we read, and our reasons for loving or disliking audiobooks, are deeply personal. They are expressions of self, so tied to who we are. If you belittle the way I read, you’re belittling me.

Over the last 2 years I have probably listened to close to 100 audio books. I absolutely love it. I used to listen on my iPod, but now I have an app on my Droid. I can add bookmarks with notes. I frequently buy the book on Kindle, and then highlight the sections I bookmarked. I often end up buying two versions of the same book!

Though, this only works for me for nonfiction. I’ve tried fiction, and I find my mind wandering too much.

People frequently tell me that “it is not reading.” I disagree.