Friday, August 28, 2009

Can you "read" an audiobook?

I listen to audiobooks during my work commute, and if I finish them (which isn't always the case - I just returned Scat by Carl Hiaassen after only 3 discs, mainly because Ed Asner's slurry gravelly narration was making me sleepy - I'll have to try the print version), I review them for Goodreads or this blog or both.

Mind you, it's not the audiobook I'm reviewing (although I might comment on the narration if it's noteworthy) - it's the book. Whether I use my eyes to scan the print on a page or my ears to hear a voice reading printed words aloud, I have ingested and digested the book's contents. The narrator might enhance - or, more seldom, diminish - that experience, but it's all about the story and the language, not how they are imparted.

So is that reading? Not according to most dictionaries I consulted. Typical is's entry - no one part of the definition is quite right, although if you combine #4 ("to apprehend the meaning of (signs, characters, etc.) otherwise than with the eyes, as by means of the fingers: to read Braille") with #20 ("to hear and understand (a transmitted radio message or the person transmitting it); receive: I read you loud and clear"), you come close.

People need to be able to read written language, no question. But as a librarian and book addict, I feel that a good book's content transcends its format. Charlotte's Web will have great and lasting meaning for kids (and adults) whether they scan the printed pages or hear the words spoken aloud.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a wonderful post by Mary Burkey on the Audiobooker blog on "Why One English Teacher Values the Audiobook."

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