Is Listening to Audio Books Really the Same as Reading?


We’re back to the usual question in a recent piece in Forbes: does listening count as reading? As I mentioned in this blog’s inaugural post, one goal of bringing together journalism about audiobooks is to move beyond a set of questions about audiobooks lazily recycled every time a journalist brings up the topic.

Olga Khazan is covering familiar ground here, but she deserves credit for going into greater depth than other accounts. Her piece marshals together some interesting evidence about the listening vs reading debate. For example, she cites William Irwin’s 2009 essay “Reading Audio Books,” scholarly studies of listening comprehension from the 1970s and 80s, and psychologists Dan Willingham and Arthur Graesser.

Khazan still ends up with the predictable ambivalence about whether reading or listening is superior. The answer? It depends. Sometimes reading is better, sometimes listening is better. But both are pretty good.

Too bad the piece doesn’t take on William Irwin’s comment about how audiobooks have been “woefully unaddressed by the academic community.” No more! Audiobook studies are beginning to take off: Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies.

Read Khazan’s piece here: “Is Listening to Audio Books Really the Same as Reading?”

The Art of Listening


Like many listeners, Shawn Sensiba became an audiobook convert as a result of a long commute. Sometimes he regretted when the trip came to an end before the book.

Sensiba tackles the issue raised by most journalists: does listening to an audiobook count as reading? For Sensiba, they are simply different experiences. But you still need to pay close attention to the words either way. In addition, listening to books that he’d already read formed a major part of the author’s “heavy listening phase.”

Some of the author’s favorites: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance (read by Michael Kramer), Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country (read by Michael York), the Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale, and anything read by Frank Muller (including Moby Dick!).

You’ll find Sensiba’s blog entry here: “The Art of Listening.”