Is Listening to an Audio Book Still Reading?


Somebody asked the question on Twitter recently, is listening to an audio book still reading? I appreciated the question. My first response is an emphatic, yes. But the question itself raises other questions around accesibility and literacy that are, I think, worth asking. But perhaps later.
For now, think of your favourite book. Book lovers are lovers of books—not just the stories they discover, but lovers of the books they hold in their hands—the ones they take to bed, the ones they take on the bus, and the ones they read at every opportunity. Many people have an intense, physical relationship with their favourite books, something which I’ve always envied.
I remember spending time in libraries as a kid. They were quiet places where you never wanted to fool around. Sometimes I never got further than staring at the shelves—those rows upon rows of books. And sometimes I would get dizzy from looking at the endless spines until I finally pulled one down to leaf through its pages.
I’ve been totally blind since the age of ten, but I still have a similar experience inside a library today. I stand at a shelf and run my hand over the books, and I recapture that early sense of wonder at the endless stories and wealth of information that would take more than a lifetime to absorb. But my experience doesn’t end there. All of these books, all of this information is so much paper that I can’t access without the help of technology or another person.
Which brings me back to my opening question. Is listening to an audio book still reading?
Again, I would answer with an emphatic, yes. But I would add something else. Books are no more defined by their physicality than I am defined by my blindness. A recorded book is still a book; a Kindle book is still a book.
According to a friend of mine, as technologies go, a book is difficult to beat. They are affordable, easily stashed in a bag or coat pocket, and they always work. On the other hand, a book is more than just its physical pages. How do I know? Because a book continues to occupy your inner landscape long after you’ve read it, and long after you’ve returned it to the library or lost it in a move. Does how it get there matter?
One of the first books I read as a newly blinded ten-year-old was on an old open reel tape recorder. That was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These days, I download audio books from Audible and talking books from the CNIB Library. I get books from the Internet, and I download books to my IPad from Kindle. Suffice it to say that I’m operating on a number of electronic platforms.
As an instructor at a university, I use all of these formats in the classroom. And in every class I make sure somebody reads out loud from whatever we are studying. Ask yourself this, is being read to still reading?
People read audio books for many reasons. they read them while they drive, while they cook, or while they walk. I read audio books because I have to, and that has become one of the ways I define myself—as a reader. And reading is reading, however you manage it.