This year, I joined nearly 6.5 million people in setting up a reading challenge through Goodreads. I’ve set a goal of 50 books to finish by the end of 2022 (Goodreads reports that 49 was the average for this year). To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I love to read, but these days at nightfall, the time of day that I have always set aside for reading, I am falling asleep.
To my surprise, I finished the challenge just before Thanksgiving, because I found a way to experience the books during other periods of my day, such as running, gardening, driving, tidying up, or sitting in the bleachers.
This argument is not only insufferable, made, and I’m only assuming, by insufferable people, but it is also the worst kind of ableism.
The secret of my success: audiobooks.
Except for some reason, there are people who think I haven’t been successful at all, because audiobooks don’t «count.»
One of my friends reports that she continually argues with one of her parents, who insists that audiobooks are «shortcuts» and could possibly lead to a more impoverished society. Another friend says that one of her immediate family members pointedly asks her if she is «reading» or «listening» every time she mentions a book, and clearly disapproves when she sees the audiobooks on my friend’s «read» list on Goodreads.
You might think this was limited to family feuds, except I see similar arguments online, like Facebook commenters wringing their hands over whether their audiobooks count towards their reading challenge and Reddit posts claiming which is «like arguing that a little boy whose mother reads a book to him did read it, which is absurd.»
The idea that audiobooks don’t «count» angers me, as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being. The argument, as far as I can tell, is that listening to a book is cheating because it means passively consuming a book. This argument is not only insufferable, made, and I’m only assuming, by insufferable people, it’s also the worst kind of ableism because it hides behind virtue and some pseudo-intellectual idea that listening isn’t «smart» enough.
Instead of bullshit, here are some facts. First, audiobooks are exploding. In its 2022 Consumer Survey, the Audio Publishers Association found that 45% of all Americans age 18 and older have listened to an audiobook. Plus, 61% of parents say their kids listen to them, up from 35% in 2020. Should they tell them their book experience isn’t so rich?
Second, audiobooks make books more accessible. They not only help people who are blind or have low vision (which is how audiobooks started) and people who have processing problems or learning disabilities that make it difficult to read words on a page, but also make books more accessible to the masses of book lovers who are easily distracted when reading or too busy.
I would argue that many listening experiences enrich the books themselves, especially when the authors read their own work. That’s why I read mine for the audio version of my book on honesty. And even when you’re not the author (there’s often a professional storyteller for the fiction), the right voices bring it to life. Voices can represent cultures, accents, intonations in a way that you can’t do in your own head.
Some of the most divine experiences I had devouring books this year happened because I was listening to them, allowing me to run or walk extra miles during heat waves and snowfalls. Writer dani shapiro narrating his novel “Signal Fires”. me too founder tarana burke reading his memoir «Unbound». british actors Imogen Church Y theo solomon reading Rosie Walsh«The love of my life» from «The love of my life». The voices made my brain come alive.
Either way, listening and reading engage the audience in the very act of absorbing a story. We read to escape, to improve ourselves, to generate empathy. All of these things happen in equal measure when you listen to a book instead of holding it in your hands. In fact, research has found that the effect of narrative on your brain – that feeling of being drawn in, even ecstatic – is the same no matter how you consume the story.
This passionate defense of audiobooks makes me wonder why I need to do it. Maybe it’s George Costanza’s fault. In a classic episode of «Seinfeld,» George, a character who always takes the easy way out, deliberately fails an eye exam to qualify to receive an audiotape for a textbook he can only get from Reading for the Blind if you can’t. watch.
This idea that listening to books is cheating still goes around, especially when people share their reading lists and brag about their reading challenges, which is when “counting” takes on an even more literal meaning.
I embarked on a reading challenge for the simple reason that I wanted to get more involved with books, including buying them, borrowing them, listening to them, and putting them in my little free library. While my list is public because I like to share my recommendations with friends, I’m not interested in beating anyone.
Still, if you are, you do, my friend. But the notion that there are cultural gatekeepers who can say «what counts» feels… medieval. And I mean this literally, since during the Middle Ages, less than 20% of the population could read. The ruling class wanted it that way.
Listen, I’m a record geek, with journals full of lists of books I’ve read, not to mention 25 years of records. So I understand that desire to leave it for posterity, to say: “This is my data! Here are my books! I also have the instinct to seek collective answers to those «Does it count?» Questions that plague us, like, «Does it count as quality time with my kids if I was upset with them all the time?»
Getting reassurance from others is a very human drive. There are certainly novels and self-help books on why we do this. You should listen to them.