I am very interested in debates about whether one can claim to have read a book if one has listened to it as an (unabridged) audiobook. Personally, I feel that yes, listening to the unabridged audiobook is a way of “reading” a book. Is it different? Well, yes. I think the experience of having a story read to me is different from reading it myself–although I do not know enough about how our brains work, I would wager that we probably use different parts of our brains and different cognitive processes when listening vs. reading with our eyes. However, I think it is an equally worthwhile experience and that one is not necessarily lesser than the other.
In this op-ed from The New York Times, T.R. Luhrmann argues that the rising popularity of audiobooks indicates a return to an appreciation for storytelling:
We tend to regard reading with our eyes as more serious, more highbrow, than hearing a book read out loud. Listening to a written text harkens back to childhood, when we couldn’t read it ourselves, or a time when our parents left off reading the chapter out loud in the middle, a nudge that we’d use our school-taught skills to finish it off by ourselves.
I listen the way I read books as a child, as if I were there watching. The author becomes more transparent, the characters more real. Listening to “Bring Up the Bodies,” I don’t think, what is the author, Hilary Mantel, up to? I feel the threat of death damp on my skin. And when I have listened to a book in a particular place — the ferns beneath the oak trees — I remember the book when I come back to that place, as if my hands in the soil were digging up the words.