Are audiobooks considered reading?
The busy American lifestyle often limits the time one has to pick up a book, which can devastate someone who loves reading. Audiobooks offer a solution, giving people access to amazing (and not so amazing) titles that they can enjoy during their commute while running errands or traveling. Some people suffer from motion sickness if they look down and read. They don’t enjoy the luxury of reading a book when on a long train, plane or car ride. So, audiobooks are a blessing.
I belong to a lot of avid reading groups on Facebook. As I read posts, I often see people defending using audiobooks. While I have encountered no one who would purport that listening to an audiobook is not “real reading,” I suppose the argument must exist, or else there wouldn’t be posts about it. Ironic because the origin of the word read does not involve or restrict the activity to the written word. Yeah, you can not ask a literary critic about a word and things not get geeky.
Ready? Okay. “Read” stems from the Germanic and Old English word “rede,” which means to “advise, counsel” or “interpret.” So, comprehension is at the crux of reading and not looking at and decoding symbols on a page (or screen). Understanding and interpreting the information or narrative is the most important part of reading something, and to disconnect it from reading diminishes it and alienates anyone unable to decipher words (for whatever reason) from them. Claiming that someone only accomplishes reading through the written word is ignores connections between literary and oral traditions at the foundations of civilizations. It also confines the definition of reading—and the credibility and/or authority it affords—within Eurocentric, Colonization parameters. Now, here comes the cultural critic and social justice advocate.
European colonialists exploited written text to subjugate peoples across the globe. One way they injected supremacist notions that justified their empire-building was to discount the validity of oral tradition, relegating cultures relying primarily on oral transmissions to conquered status and their people candidates for cultural genocide. Colonists developed social allergies to oral transmissions, vestiges of which still exist. Hence the “audiobooks are not real reading” claims.
While I have a strong connection to the written word as a writer, I appreciate the value of oral transmission as a storyteller and Muslim. Read is the first word revealed in the Quran. God told Muhammad, an illiterate man, “Read, in the name of your Lord who created (Quran 96:1). Translators use “read” and “recite” interchangeably for the Arabic word “Iqra” because of intrinsic links between reading and reciting to conveying the message and by extension other information. Quranic revelation is an oral transmission written during the time of the Prophet. To this day, the recitation—either from memory or while looking at the written text—remains the primary interaction between Muslims and Islamic revelation, keeping oral tradition alive despite Eurocentric suppression.
Through my Muslim identity, I maintain a connection to oral transmission. As an educator, I know how important listening to someone else’s reading can be. Before they could decode words for themselves, I read to my children to tap into their listening and critical thinking skills and imaginations. Reading to them helps boost their comprehension and retention of the information. Not only children can benefit from listening to books and articles. Listening to audiobooks can help adults retain, comprehend and critically think about a writer’s message.
Google recently added a new audio reading feature to Google Assistant. I checked it out by reading the article about it. Does that mean that I didn’t read the article despite comprehending and retaining the information?
I am not suggesting that people abandon written words, but limiting reading to it hinders the conveyance of ideas and the sharing of stories with no basis. Societies have resisted the advent of manuscript writing, printing and mass print production. People may attempt to stem the tide of technological uses to disseminate literature (audiobooks, ebooks, etc.), but it will be futile. A broader understanding of links between reading and communication will lead to a better appreciation for the breadth of acquiring information and knowledge, one that reacquaints the word “read” with its origins—to interpret—and recognizes the multifaceted ways we convey words.
Enjoy an audio reading of the beginning of Sweet Love, Bitter Fruit (Brothers in Law Book 2).