Culture Literature

Do Audiobooks Count as Reading?

You are eight years old. Teeth have been brushed. Pyjamas are on. As you crawl into bed, someone you admire opens a colourful picture book. You hear about Alice’s experience with a mad hatter—or perhaps about a spoiled girl and three bears. These worlds are explored nightly with a day’s anticipation from the storyteller to yourself. Bedtime stories are just one of many popularised customs. Yet, over the world and throughout time, oral tradition exists and thrives. It may arguably be the inspiration for audiobooks, which have sparked debate since their beginnings. Audiobooks are essentially recordings of a person vocalising a text. Popular apps like Audible and Spotify have hundreds of thousands of audiobooks in their catalogues. However, this approach to reading seems to be under scrutiny by many. Do audiobooks count as reading? A better question should be posed. Does it not continue to explore the connection between a storyteller and their listener?

Literature is an art. It is storytelling through the manipulation of words. It allows humans to feel, experience, and learn novelties within their control. Literature’s original form is often regarded as textual, with auditory retellings considered a development of physical works. However, there are multiple instances where literature originates in the oral tradition and is later written down, a famous example being Homer’s The Iliad. This is severely underlooked, even in official definitions, and undermines the long history of literature being told orally. In addition, the specific definition of ‘reading’ is vague and unhelpful. There is reading in the sense of ‘reading a book in your hands’ or simply ‘consuming a story’. A ‘book’ could be the text itself or the concrete object. The established language adds layers of complications to the debate.

Stories have been historically shared through either physical text or listening to someone relay a story, and we should avoid placing one on a pedestal over the other. I am not suggesting that these two manifestations of reading are similar experiences. Instead, audiences should recognise the visual and the aural forms and cherish both as positive, valid methods. Of course, individuals are bound to have a preference. Nonetheless, to claim that flicking through a book is most genuine is to ignore the act of auditive traditions— audiobooks included. Ultimately, how a person indulges in a piece of literature is up to them. People’s daily lives are vastly different. Elements such as access, lifestyle, and disabilities all influence what form of reading is ideal for a person. Disregarding audiobooks as appropriate and artistic forms of literature is ignorant. Experiencing a story through the paper in your hands or earphones in your ears, while different experiences, does not change the impact a book’s contents deliver on a person.

While my sister listens to extraordinary adventures on her way to work, I distance myself from busy studying by grounding myself on the page. We laugh and cry all the same, returning at the end of the day with new feelings and excitement as we ask each other, “What did you read today?”

Image AudioBooks” by basykes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.