Are Audio-books cheating?

Last week, Lucy messaged me about audio-books. Would it be cheating to use the hours of weekly drive-time to listen to some books for this blog? It’s a question I’ve often wondered myself, as I enjoy listening to audio-books but I’m not entirely certain I can count that as reading. My first thought was that I wouldn’t tell a visually impaired person that they were cheating by listening to audio-books, but I do think that listening to a book is a different experience to reading from the page. It’s certainly easier. You’re processing less information, and are more likely to get the gist of a difficult text if you have a trained actor enunciating with passion and vigour. In fact, both of my children have enjoyed listening to Dickens on audio-book or read by me, when they were as young as 8 years old, but there’s no way they would have managed reading the text themselves at the time.

Listening to a book might make the meaning more accessible but I think you lose something of the architecture of the prose, and the opportunity to reread those lines that stop you in your tracks. I enjoy listening to audio-books, but I think that less of a novel stays with me when I listen than when I read.

It reminds me of the difference between running outside and on a treadmill. Nothing beats the fresh air and scenery of pounding the streets or a muddy track in all weathers, but uneven ground and topography makes running outdoors harder than the treadmill experience with its regulated speed, flat moving belt that you just have to keep up with rather than propel yourself along.

audiobbooks to reading are like treadmills to running

The dreadmill might not be as beneficial or exhilarating as outdoor running but it definitely has its uses. Dark nights, heavy rain and icy conditions make it far more enticing an option. Likewise, listening to an audiobook might not give you the same intensity of engagement with a book as reading the text would, but it’s a great way of using time spent driving, running or knitting footballers, especially if you’ve got a Dickens challenge that you’re not making much headway with!

While I’m happy to listen to Dickens on audio, I’d think it was cheating if I to chose the audio version of a book over the text just because I was daunted by its difficulty. I’d know I was taking the easy option and I’d hate that. If I was listening at the same time as following the text in order to glean more from it, (‘Finnegans Wake’, I’m looking at you) that’d be ok as it would be an aid to understanding rather than an avoidance tactic. I think that says more about me being anally retentive than anything else, though.

So, are audio-books cheating? No – as long as you’re not evading the challenge of a tough read. They’re a wonderful way to enjoy books, whether you’re whiling away the hours stuck in traffic and trying not to punch someone or trying to stay sane while pedaling laboriously on your noncycle, or if you’ve just never quite grown out of having a bedtime story

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