If you’ve logged onto Book Twitter in the past couple days, you’ll have noticed the resurrection of a tired debate: Does reading an audiobook “count” as “real” reading? To the credit of the people I actually follow on Twitter, I’ve only seen people saying that, yes, audiobooks are books and reading one/listening to one (whatever terminology you prefer to describe the activity) counts as reading a book.
To me, it’s blatantly obvious that listening to an audiobook isn’t fundamentally different from reading a physical book or an e-book (you know, directing your eyes at words on a page or a screen), but I’ve been pondering why some people are so adamant that audiobooks are basically fake books. After some reflection, I can’t help but wonder if this is part of a different debate that Krysta and I sometimes raise on the blog: When people think of “reading,” are they thinking about “reading skills?”
Basically, Krysta and I have been positing for a while that the value of English classes (or, “reading things while you are in school”) is about learning content and about learning to analyze and interpret a text. The primary point, then, is that you understand what the text is saying, you understand the context of the text in history or in some type of discourse/discussion, and you can make reasonable judgments or interpretations of the text based on what you know about it and about literature in general.
Without fail, however, some people disagree with us (which is cool; feel free to disagree in our comments!) and suggest that the point of reading in school is basically to build reading skills—to know what words mean when you see them on a page, to understand what certain sentence structures say when you see them on a page, to be able to gradually work your way up to being able to read more complex things on a page, etc. It’s about having a “reading grade level” that is appropriate (or better than expected!) for your age because you can direct your eyes at a page and know what the words there say. But if reading is about “reading skills” and not really about understanding the content and argument of a text and being able to talk intelligently about it…then reading something on a page is actually different from having someone read something to you, whether it’s a person who is physically with you or an audiobook doing the reading. It’s a different skill.
However, because I think reading is most importantly about content and discussion, the question of the manner in which someone came to be familiar with that content is irrelevant to me. No one is better because they read the word “themselves.” Whether you prefer paper books, e-books, or audiobooks, you are a reader (and therefore, obviously, awesome).