My earliest encounter with anything closely resembling audiobooks were these little stories my parents used to play for us kids in the car. They came on cassette tapes with a couple episodes each of dramatized adventures among friends in a small, close-knit town, always tied together by the end with a lesson in kindness or honesty or some other virtue. I might have been the only one of my siblings to love them, but I remember preferring those recorded stories to anything that might come on the radio.
And now, twenty years later, I still prefer audiobooks to the radio. Although I could never replace paper books entirely, audiobooks are wonderful for their own reasons and necessary to the reading rotation of any book lover, in my opinion. And in response to those book snobs who might say listening to audiobooks isn’t “actually reading,” a group of neuroscientists conducted a recent study1 which demonstrated that, whether we listen to a narrative or read it, our brains process the information in a similar way and result in the same comprehension. Audiobooks, therefore, are comparably stimulating to the intellect as books of text, and sometimes, the audible reading experience can be even more special.
Listening to a book is not only just as good as reading it. Sometimes, perhaps even often, it’s better.Farhad Manjoo
Being Read to
There’s something so enjoyable about being read to, basking in the fruits of someone else’s mental labor, listening to the melody of the written word, while allowing your eyes to wander or simply closing them altogether. It reminds me of elementary school, when our teacher would spend the last half hour of the day reading to us from some book or another. It was the perfect way to unwind after a long day of learning, to get lost in a story without having to do the work of reading the words ourselves.
This is why audiobooks can be perfect for people who struggle to read, whether they’re out of practice and can’t seem to focus, or simply don’t like reading very much. It can be easier to pay attention when you only have to listen to a story being told, instead of staring at a page of carefully-arranged symbols, interpreting them in your mind, and imagining the story from the resulting words and sentences. Sometimes that mental labor feels like too much. Even seasoned, book-obsessed readers have days on which they feel this way; I can attest to that. And besides, it’s just wonderful to listen to a book when it’s read by someone with a lilting, theatrical voice, one which brings the story to more vivid life than reading in your head might. It can make for a much more lively and dynamic reading experience.
Now for some people, listening to books might be among their only options for reading. People have all sorts of limitations and ailments that might make reading paper books the “old-fashioned way” difficult or downright impossible even. Having audiobooks as an option – and now, even more audiobook choices than ever – broadens literary possibilities and makes reading accessible to a much wider range of the population.
I personally know someone rather young who has an eye condition that makes it difficult for her to read. She’s not legally blind, but reading text puts too much of a strain on her eyes, and she can’t voraciously read books the way she used to. I personally suffer from severe headaches and sometimes, even when I want to get lost in a book, reading text is not an option, because I’d be in too much pain. And then there are people who cannot see at all. Without audiobooks, their only options for reading would be Braille books, which are extremely expensive, or to enlist someone to read all their books to them, which might not always be possible. Now, thanks to audiobooks, no matter the health conditions or physical ailments someone may have, they can still access a wide variety of affordable literature and read whenever and wherever they’d like, just as it should be.
Another reason audiobooks are wonderful is that you can do things while you’re reading. We’re all horribly busy, it seems, with endless to-do lists and countless responsibilities. There are dishes to wash, errands to run, laundry to fold, and bathrooms to clean. We have to exercise and cook for ourselves (in some cases, for other people, too). Not to mention the hobbies we may want to nurture: painting, knitting, crafting, and so on. There are a million things every day that occupy so much of our time, things that before, might have taken time away from reading. Now, thanks to audiobooks, however, we can do these things at the same time.
I love being able to listen to books while I drive to and from work. For those who commute by train or bus, perhaps reading has always been an option, but for those who drive to work or school or wherever else, audiobooks are the only (safe) option. I love listening to them while I run or hike, too, not being forced to choose between my physical wellbeing and intellectual stimulation. Audiobooks are a perfect way to read more in spite of busy-ness, and I’m increasingly grateful for that.
Most book-lovers will probably agree that nothing is the same as holding a stack of bound pages in your hands. The smell of those pages bring comfort, the turning of each one satisfaction. But sometimes, we forget to grab our book off the nightstand. Or, we leave it in our work bag. Or, whatever the case may be, sometimes we just don’t have our books with us when we want them. We likely always have our phones, however. Thanks to modern technology, we can now bring entire libraries with us wherever we go. That convenience is unbeatable.
There are many reasons to love audiobooks; they’re such a unique way to experience literature. Although I’ll never replace paper books altogether, I’ll always enjoy audiobooks alongside them. I’m thankful for the technological progress that’s allowed for such a thing as audiobooks to exist and to be as conveniently accessed as they are today. There are lots of free and affordable ways to enjoy them (consider your local library, smartphone apps like Overdrive and Loyal Books, even YouTube). I highly recommend checking out audiobooks if you haven’t already, especially for those who want to read more but may struggle to do so for one reason or another.
1Deniz, Fatma et al. “The Representation of Semantic Information Across Human Cerebral Cortex During Listening Versus Reading Is Invariant to Stimulus Modality.” The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience vol. 39, 39 (2019): 7722-7736. DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0675-19.2019