Is listening to audiobooks cheating?

audiobooksI didn’t always listen to audiobooks.  I’m very much a visual person, who needs a map in my hand.  When it comes to books, I like to hold them.  I like being able to skip back and forth when I’m confused.  I even like being able to read the ending before I reach it, so that I can focus on the process rather than worry about how it ends.  Bottom line?  I like to see the written word on the page in front of me.

Then, several years ago, a bookseller at my local Indie held out an unabridged CD that she highly recommended, and I considered taking the leap.  Up to that point, most books, my own included, were abridged – likely to minimize the cost of making an unabridged version at a time when the audience of listeners was small.  Then costs came down, narrating audiobooks became a business for would-be actors, the audience grew, and abridged versions were ditched.

And still, I didn’t listen to audiobooks.  Believe it or not, I’ve never, to this day, listened to one of my own books on tape.  I already know the story, right?

That day, though, when my Indie bookseller suggested listening to a book, something clicked.  Bluetooth made listening in a car very easy, and, at that time, I was spending five hours each weekend driving back and forth to the lake to join my husband.  Making the most of car time was an incentive.  But there was more.  I have this … thing about keeping my mind agile against the ravages of age.  I’ve always done crossword puzzles.  And writing books is surely a mental challenge.  But suddenly I wondered if I could train my mind to listen.  Listening meant focusing on every word, staying ever-present, not wandering off.  It required mental discipline.  I saw that as a new challenge.

What began as a mental exercise turned into a joy.  I lost my audio virginity with that first bookseller recommendation, Lianne Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, which I loved.  Other books followed, like Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, Jojo Moyes One Plus One, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Frederick Backman’s A Man Called Ove, and most recently, Judas, by Amos Oz.

I used to listen only summers, driving back and forth to the lake.  But that’s changed.  Now I listen whenever I’m in my car for more than 10 minutes.  I’ve become a true advocate of the audiobook format.

Recently, though, while I was pushing the merits of this, a friend commented that listening to a book was cheating, that it wasn’t really reading, that it was more like theater and can’t be considered the same as using one’s eyes and turning a page.

She was right in a sense.  A good reader (or multiple readers, as some books now have) adds an element to the reading that might not otherwise be there.  Books that come to mind are One Plus One and A Gentleman in Moscow, both of which were standouts for me because of the skill of the narration.  More generally speaking, I’m able to finish books that friends of mine are not, simply because the reader makes them enjoyable.  Is this wrong?  Is listening to a book cheating?  Is it really reading?

When we read to a child at bedtime, is it really reading?  Yes!  It’s using an author’s words to draw a child into a story, is it not?

I see audiobooks the same way.  Actually, even more so, if you consider the fact that when I listen to one, I hear every word.  Oh, it took me a while.  That first time, I had to pull back my wandering mind time and again.  I had to do it less with the second book, and less with the third.  Okay.  I’ve listened to a few audiobooks that are bad.  I returned one to Audible that, though highly reviewed, was not my style at all.  I stopped listening to another that, while beautifully written, was so intense, so frustrating, so politically infuriating that I simply couldn’t bear it.  On the whole, though, I’ve read more books because I’ve listened to them, than I would have otherwise.

Is this wrong?   Cheating?  Or is it simply my wanting to go back to a childhood where there was no one to read me books? So maybe, just maybe, there’s an emotional benefit for me, a pampering, if you will.

And then, consider this.  For those of you who say you don’t spend enough time in cars to listen, what about walking?  We all need exercise.  Walking costs nothing, we can do it most anywhere, and, wearing a set of ear pods, we can listen to books and enhance our minds while our bodies get healthier.  We can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.  How can this be wrong?

Your thoughts here?


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  1. Karen on November 11, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I’ve listened to one audiobook, Calling Me Home by Judy Kibler and I loved it. I had volunteered to work an 8 hour shift on a Saturday doing a mind numbing task. We are allowed to Wear earbuds, so I dove into the world of audiobooks. It was a huge success and 8 hours were over in the blink of an eye!

    It has been over a year and I haven’t listened to another book. Like you, I love to hold the book, turn the pages, but the cost of the book is probably why I haven’t listened to another one. I also love to knit, crochet, and quilt. Audiobooks would be the perfect way to combine my hobbies! I need to research audiobooks at the library!

  2. Sue on November 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I have macular degeneration, consequently I MUST use my kindle fire to read, I am able to increase the font. Awhile back I went thru an issue with my one good eye where I could not see well enough to read at all. My hub enrolled me in audible. I am not a huge fan of audible books, but because of my sight issue I used it for about 2 months. I love to read, I was brought up reading and if i had to give it up ,I would be heart broken- my eyes are much better now, but, I still have the option of audible if I need it–The person who says audible is cheating needs to have eyesight diminished and see how she/he handles it— I bet passing judgments would cease.–I enjoy your books, btw–Thank You

    • Barbara Delinsky on November 12, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      You are entirely right about those who are vision-impaired, Sue. Audiobooks are a Godsend to them. I’m sure my friend would agree.

  3. Sally on November 11, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I love to read and want the feel of an actual book. But for long car trips I think Audible books would be a good way to break up the boredom. Haven’t tried it yet but I am planning to on my next long auto ride.

  4. Ruth on November 11, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Audio books are brilliant for listening to in the car. I have always been an avid reader, but my son was slow to start reading and even when he started reading didn’t embrace it to the extent that he would willingly pick up a book and read. I started putting audio books on in the car and now we have listened to an amazing variety and quantity of books and my son has become a book lover. He still prefers to listen than read but now does both and listens and reads independently of me.

  5. Jeanine Cronin on November 12, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Because of my slightly declining eyesight, I read book on my Nook so that I can increase the size of the type. I love to listen to audio books, both while riding in the car and while walking on the treadmill. They actually make walking on the treadmill enjoyable!

  6. Jaye McCormick on November 15, 2017 at 5:57 am

    I am an avid audio reader. I always have a book on my phone and when I get in the car it starts up. I get more cleaning done while listening than without a book going. Also love to knit and listen. This way I read more because I can listen to a book instead of sitting and reading.

  7. Eileen Keane on November 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I’ve always had a problem listening to the spoken word. I zone out at plays, in movies and at church. When I watch TV, I rewind the DVR because I lose parts of the conversation.
    I don’t know if audibles are in my wheelhouse.

  8. Vicki on December 10, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    I went through a period of listening to audiobooks when my children were young. I prefer to read, but there are times in your life when it’s great to just listen. One story sticks out in my memory, it was a Tess Gerritsen novel, The Bone Garden, it was too gory to have read out loud. But I continued to plod through it. I suppose reading something gory is easy to stomach than to hear someone telling the story.

  9. Kristen Snow-White on December 15, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    An audible can be invaluable when you’re at home, trying to do chores or at the gym attempting to spend 30 min. on the treadmill.

    My most listened to audio-book is “1984” with 5 listens. Every time, I catch something new. Second most listened to is “13 Hours” with 3 listens, thus far. My favorite audio-book2, in no particular order, are; “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, “The Hunger Games,” & “Catching Fire,” by Suzanne Collins. My interest was lost in the third book, it seemed like the Author was “trying too hard” to make a Trilogy. As a reading glasses wearer, trying to read Green’s book “The Fault…” is an exercise in futility. The minute my eyes fill with tears, my glasses fog up. Makes continuity literally impossible!

    Reading a good book, in my opinion, is second only to the thought of writing a good book. I’ve started it hundreds of times, it even has — I’m told — a catchy title. Significant fear stands in my way of “Searching For…” and never finding “…the Perfect Buzz” ~kc

  10. dub on April 11, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    When I was a Kid I always had a book to read. I don’t have the time or patience to read books anymore, but putting on an audiobook in the car or on my headphones at work is really nice.

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