Anyone who has done the Goodreads reading challenge has probably asked themselves at some point, “What counts as a book?” Single issue comics? Picture books? A novella? Audiobooks? If you read two books issued in one volume, how do you count that? It was when I was adding audiobooks to my TBR that I came across one book that shook my entire book classification system: a CD of a radio program. If I listened to the radio program, I never would have thought to add it to my Goodreads count, but if I read the published scripts of the program, that would be added to the tally.
I think we should all be able to agree at this point that listening to audiobooks is not cheating and does, in fact, count as reading the book. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, and they make the 25 minute walk to and from work go by a lot quicker, but lately there’s been some competition for my commute attention. It started with one Book Riot podcast, and then another, and soon other unrelated podcasts followed. I love the ones I listen to, but I was starting to stress that they were cutting into my reading time. As I looked at this CD of a radio program, though, I started to question this whole system. Welcome to Night Vale is one of my favourite pieces of media, and it tells an ongoing story that has me completely hooked. So why is it that I value reading a book over listening to that story? What makes reading a book a better use of my time?
The reason that I love books is because I love stories, but books aren’t the only way to deliver a good story. There are TV shows that stuck with me for years, have shaped my personality and worldview permanently, but those don’t get recorded in the same way that even a forgettable, unremarkable read does. Then, of course, there’s the huge amount of time I spend reading online. I’ve probably learned more from tumblr than I have from nonfiction books, but those posts would only “count” if they were compiled in an ebook format, even if the content was identical. And that’s not even counting fanfic, some of which is novel-length–and some is more carefully edited and plotted than the average book I pick up.
So what does that Goodreads count mean? Does it mean that I turned away from valuable learning experiences from other media in favour of a book that counted towards that total? Does it mean that I prioritize the packaging of a story or information over its impact? I’m not sure what to think. Books are always my first love, but every time I have to choose between the icon for audiobooks or podcasts, I play out this conversation with myself, and I haven’t yet come to a conclusion.