A love of reading shouldn’t have parameters or rules as to what type of reading “counts.” Personally, I have found an immensely rewarding common ground in my reading life with both audiobooks and reading. Hint: It’s just more fun to love both! Here is a list of ways to view audiobooks vs reading in some major categories. Hopefully, we can transition this fight from the dreaded comments section and into a big comfy chair where your headphones sit along side your bookmarks and everyone loves each other. Are you ready? Make like Community and “feast your ear tongues on these memory pops.”
Audiobooks vs Reading: Comprehension
Reading a physical book and listening to the audiobook are two different paths that lead to the same destination. Each creates differing experiences and memories, but neither is better or worse than the other.
There’s a fair amount of research on the subject of comprehension in audiobooks vs reading. The most helpful and positive of these that I came across was that of Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, of the University of Texas, Austin and Austin NPR’s Two Guys on Your Head. On reading: “When you read something, you are looking at symbols on a page, and your brain is busy filling in all the blanks. Like the sounds of the voices, the scene, the inflection, the deeper meaning, the plot, etc.” On audiobooks: “Because you can’t go back and reread something, you’re much more likely to do a better job of trying to extract the gist of what someone meant when you’re hearing them than when you’re reading.” Conveniently, if you click the Two Guys link, you can either read or listen to their comments. Aces.
Audiobooks can be great for kids too. Let’s be real, we all start out listening to stories read to us by teachers, parents, librarians, and in some scary cases, Teddy Ruxpin. Is this Operation or story time?! Anyway, Scholastic lists the reasons why audio is a solid option for young kids, including how “following along visually can enhance word-recognition ability, while listening alone can expand vocabulary.”
Audiobooks vs Reading: Emotional response
Drs. Markman and Duke use the example of laughter and comedy to show how audiobooks can sometimes elicit a more emotional response to the content. “It’s a more social experience” to hear the vocal nuances, sarcasm, etc that comes from hearing another human speak.
If you haven’t fully committed to that audio life yet, memoirs are the gateway to being open to enjoying audiobooks in my opinion. Look up your favorite celebrity, actor, or musician and see if they have a memoir. Most of the time, they will narrate their own audiobook. If that comedy example is tickling your ear canals, any book by an SNL alum is a great place to start. Also, if you can’t afford Springsteen on Broadway tickets like me, I imagine Bruce’s audiobook, Born to Run, is similar to a nosebleed seat.
According to the aforementioned good doctors, physically reading a book can be a more personal experience because your inner voice is responsible for creating everything that’s not on the page from only the words on the page. I recently finished reading the paperback edition of Uprooted by Naomi Novik and I can’t even envision the story without my imagination and inner voice creating that world in my head. It’s a personal choice for everyone and as you become more versed in both reading worlds, you’ll know which edition is right for you.
You can argue back and forth about the personal vs the social reading experience, but I know that when Richard Armitage’s beautiful voice is reading me a story in my ears and my ears only, that shit is personal. Also, [insert plea for him to record versions of North and South, The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings here].
The clear-cut winner in this category is the audiobook. You can totally operate machinery while listening! Whether it’s household chores, your workout of choice, or your daily commute be it driving or headphones on mass transit, there’s no question that audiobooks help busy readers read more. When I’m multitasking, I find that audiobooks work best when the task doesn’t require you to pay too much attention to anything else. Staring out the window on the train, audiobooks baby. Matching animated candy or jelly, I’m listening you beautiful book. Reading your social media news feed, no good—somebody’s baby gender reveal video just caused me to miss a major plot point.
On the other hand, this is not to say, like others, I don’t have a physical book on my person at all times for planes, trains, and the waiting room that is LIFE.
Public vs private
Social media posts aside, if you’re currently on the day of the week where you place yourself in actual society, audiobooks vs reading are very different in the public sphere. Audiobooks allow you to be anonymous. You can be listening to romance, sci-fi, non-fiction, self-help, literally anything and no one will know. The only judgment here comes from the older generations lamenting the fall of society due to having to see you with headphones on in public. Maybe you’re listening to the stellar audio version of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, narrated by the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s not Hamilton, but bop your head just to mess with them.
Unless you’re still into the middle school practice of paper bag covers on your books, reading a physical book in public requires you to let the world know what you’re reading. That public and prominent book display could be the ticket to finding your newest book friend or maybe you’ll just feel the cold, clammy eyes of judgment sticking to the back of your head. If you’re like me, just let your freak flag fly…or don’t, just do you okay. We will get through this…with ebooks.
Audiobooks Vs Reading: Pronunciation
You know when you read a book and fall in love with the main character? You scour the internet for more content and find an interview with the author. She begins to talk about your beloved and that’s when you realize you’ve been saying the character’s name wrong in your head the whole time. Doh!
Something similar happens with audiobooks, only in the opposite direction. You found the perfect book with the perfect narrator. Peas and carrots, these two. You know and love this character’s beautiful sounding name and exactly where to roll those luscious R’s. Off to social media to see who else is gushing. But when you see it in print for the first time, you’re like “who’s that?” *Shrug emoji*
These are the pros and cons to both kinds of reading. In other words, both of these scenarios will lead you to embarrassing moments at book club or by the water cooler.
A concise definition of the term #OwnVoices, which was coined by author Corinne Duyvis, is, in her words: “diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” Just as it’s valuable and rewarding to pick up #ownvoices books, it’s equally gratifying to listen to them. For example, you can read Elaine Castillo’s America Is Not The Heart, a novel about three generations of Filipino immigrants OR listen to the audio version narrated by actor Donnabella Mortel.
It’s also really cool when the author reads their own work. Author knows best right? I find this is especially compelling with poetry, like Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down, or Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.
Reading diversely is such an important goal. Books are going to save the world okay! There’s really no downside on this one. Just think of it as diversifying your ear portfolio.
Audiobooks vs Reading: Sharing
Pretty much all sharing of things we find cool or interesting takes place over social media or socially through texting apps. This is even how my mom shares stuff with me, so don’t @ me on this point. Even so, this is still pretty analog across the board, as in typed out. People love quotes! My notes app is filled with book quotes that I have either typed out from the page or transcribed from the audio, but there are apps like Audible that allow you to share short clips of audiobooks, too.
So share a clip, share a screenshot, share an ear bud, choose love, choose life! And you can still achieve that perfect #bookstagram shot with audiobooks. I mean look at the pretty here. Sharing is caring.
I can’t imagine my reading life without an abundant mixture of both audiobooks and reading. So, let’s brush away that line in the sand and stop pitting these two against each other. As Doctor Who once said, “What a magnificent goal, a worthy aspiration, to want to learn as much as you possibly can about everything.”
I want to know what you think about audiobooks vs reading!
What was the audiobook that got you hooked? What was the audiobook you had the most connection with? Which book will you only ever read and why? Let’s discuss.