For book nerds, this is perhaps a subject on which no one will ever fully agree. Do audio books “count” as reading if one is not actually doing the reading, but is instead being read to? In my humblest of book nerd opinions, I unequivocally say that audio books do, in fact, “count.” Here is why:
1. Opportunities for Voracious Consumption
Full disclosure: I am a huge proponent of audio books. As the heading may (rather obviously) suggest, I consume them voraciously. So, I will admit that I am perhaps a bit biased when it comes to this topic.
First, until the hot mess that is the year 2020, I had a commute to and from work that lasted more than an hour each way. Sometimes I conducted business-related calls, sometimes I listened to news, and sometimes I listened to music. But 10-15 hours per week is a LOT of time. And at the end of a long day, I am frequently just not in the mood to make phone calls or digest current events. But an audio book? Hell, yes. An audio book about teenage vampires that has absolutely no relation to my life or intense job? Yes, yes, all of the yes.
Second, I am an avid runner. While I thoroughly enjoy running with music, or without anything but the sounds of nature, I also really enjoy listening to a great book while running through forest trails. It is an amazing way to multi-task: squeeze in some cardio while educating yourself with some well-chosen historical fiction (or non-fiction, or whatever). (It is worth noting that my hobby of running while listening to audio books was especially critical when my child was younger. It was a very small window of “me” time during a period when – as all parents know – there isn’t much “me” time to be had. It was perhaps one of the few ways I could get in any reading that did not involve rhyming, Dr. Seuss, or the ABCs.)
And third, if you haven’t tried it, listening to audio books while doing housework is a bit like the proverbial spoon full of sugar. It really does make chores far more pleasant.
So, yes. I consume quite a few audio books. And at the end of the day, have I not digested and lived the story just like anyone who physically picked up the book to read it? Have I not imagined the world, lived with the characters, learned the lessons, or expanded my horizons? There have been times that I have literally cried or laughed out loud while running, driving, or doing the dishes. Just as I would have if I had been reading the text.
2. Today’s “Product of the Times, Tech Geek” Kiddos
Like many other parents, I read to my son a lot when he was little (I still read to him, in fact, though he is now in middle school). And like many other kids, he loves it. My kiddo – who could inspire a post of his own when it comes to books, reading and development – has some unique characteristics, one of which is that he started reading at a VERY early age. As in, age 2. And we did not “teach” him how to do so. He just started doing it. Or, rather, we didn’t think we were teaching him. Several years later, when he was slightly more articulate and mature, I asked him if he could describe to me how he learned to read. His answer astounded me. When I would read to him as a toddler, he would “follow the words with his eyes” and “memorize the shape of them.” Later, he could recognize the “shape” of the word – even in a completely different context – and read it based on his recall of the overall look of the word.
All kids learn differently, so I realize this may be a bit of a unique situation. But my point is this: while I was reading TO HIM (similar to the experience of an audio book), he was using the experience to teach himself.
Now before you point out this this is totally different than an audio book because my son had the book open in front of him while it was being read, I will just say that my point is this: being read to – whether by a parent or an audio book reader, and whether the book is in front of you or not – is an exceptional opportunity to not only experience the book, but also to learn and grow your mind. Which is a key part of the reading experience.
Years later and now a preteen, my son is very much a “product of the times, tech geek” kiddo. If asked, he will tell you that he would rather play a video game or watch YouTube than pick up a book. But if I turn on an audio book (or start reading one out loud to him myself), it’s amazing to watch as he slowly stops paying attention to whatever screen is in front of him and starts paying sole attention to the book. Which makes me think that it doesn’t matter whether the audio book “counts.” He’s experiencing a story and not watching a screen, so it’s a win either way.
3. And Finally, the Real Reason
The real reason why I consider an audio book to “count” as reading? It’s simple. So simple, in fact, that this will be the shortest section of the post.
To me, reading is about the STORY. Perhaps it is real or fictional, perhaps it is based on history or involves teenage vampires. Either way, a story is being told by the author. And the story is the whole purpose. Stories have been used as ways to spread knowledge to new generations. To report injustices, celebrate victories, and pass secrets. To spend time together over a campfire, teach new skills, and share new experiences with the reader (or listener). They are a vehicle for imparting insight, opinions, and wisdom. Stories are, at their most basic, an opportunity for the author and “reader” to connect. Which is why, at the end of the day, I think it doesn’t matter whether you get the story from an audio book, a physical book or a Shakespearean bard – what matters is that the story is told, no matter how it is consumed. If the story is consumed, it “counts.”
What are your thoughts? Please weigh in with your comments below!
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