Some years ago a friend recommended me the A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones). And since I was kind of interested in watching the show, I downloaded the first book on my Kindle.
Four weeks later, I had finished the five published books.
I tried to dedicate every second of my existence to read these huge 600 to 1000 pages novels. (Which proved to be difficult considering I had a part-time job and was coursing the last year of my bachelor’s degree).
But I read them during my lunch breaks, school breaks and commutes. I had my Kindle ready to fast-draw it like an Old West cowboy every time I encountered the smallest delay.
I lived and breathed Game of Thrones for a month and became a big fan.
Then I met this girl who said she was a big fan too, though she had listened to the audiobooks -at work- instead of reading them.
To me that was like saying she didn’t care enough about this series to actually read the books. In my mind I had made a big effort to absorb all those words from a page and interpret them. And I had given away my free time in exchange of an awesome story.
But this girl had listened to the audiobooks… while working. She wasn’t even spending her precious free time to read them. She just put on her headphones and had a narrator read the books for her while she did other things. I compared her to a child listening to a bedtime story.
The thing is, I hadn’t actually listened to an audiobook before. (That big of a snob I was. Criticizing without any basis). And some time afterwards I found a free trial to download an audiobook on my phone, so I thought “Well, I could use a distraction while running in the park“.
Guys, I really liked it.
I started with a novel that hadn’t convinced me to read it, but looked interesting enough to listen to it while exercising: Divergent, by Veronica Roth. It turned out great because I no longer had to think about how long it was until I finished my running session, I could distract my mind with a story. And it really wasn’t that difficult to focus on two things at a time, since my legs already knew the trail around the park.
I wondered if the girl who listened to Game of Thrones had felt the same way. Maybe she had a repetitive job that didn’t require engaging her mind, just like my running routine. Could she be absorbing and interpreting the words the same way I did while reading? I really felt like I had read Divergent when I finished listening to it. I had imagined the characters and scenarios in my mind, as if I had read the words.
So what’s the difference between reading and listening to a book? If I picture the same images and my comprehension of the words is the same, do audiobooks count as reading?
Or going back to the bedtime story. If a boy is in bed while his mom reads him Harry Potter, is it the same as if the boy read it himself? Assuming he is paying attention, he will absorb exactly the same words as the mom who read it. If someone asks him someday “Did you ever read Harry Potter?“, he will probably say he did.
I feel bad that I ever thought that this girl who listened to Game of Thrones hadn’t actually read it, because I no longer think that it is a disrespect to listen to a book instead of reading it. It’s possible to appreciate it just the same if you’re invested in it.
Sure, some people might half-listen to audiobooks while checking their Facebook. But not every audiobook listener does it. (Besides, I’ve caught myself half-reading books without retaining any meaning when I’m distracted).
So, I would say reading a book and listening to the audiobook are practically the same thing.
If I could go back in time and tell myself to stop being so snobbish about books… I wouldn’t.
I’d rather go back in time and never read Game of Thrones. I’m pretty sure that sixth book will never come out.
What do you guys think? 😛