Do you "read" an audio book?
September 8, 2004 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm new to audio books. After I've listened to a book, can I say that I've "read" the book? What's the common parlance? Or must I draw a distinction between the books I've read and those I've heard? Why or why not? (And what about Braille? Are blind people said to have "read" books?)
posted by jdroth to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
 
If it's the unabridged audio I think you're entitled. Abridged not so much: they can often be wildly different from the complete text.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:15 AM on September 8, 2004


Some friends and I are having a heated argument about semantics, and we're having a tough time deciding what is reading and what is not.

Is the act of reading necessarily more passive than the act of listening? Is "reading" a book via audio different than reading via sight? Is it better? Worse? How is it different?
posted by jdroth at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2004


Well, it's all semantic nuance isn't it? Here's my opinion for what it's worth. I'm a voracious reader. I read when I eat, I read when I'm waking up, when I'm going to bed, pretty much all the time I can. I'd like to be able to read during my commute [like I did in Seattle when I took the bus] but I can't, not the normal way anyhow, so I listen to books on tape. If they're unabridged, I think of them as "books I've read" to the point that I put them on my booklist. Basically I got the information that the author presented, all the same words. [think of those stupid "this movie has been modified to fit your TV" blurbs you see on DVDs. Do you think you've "seen the movie" if you see it on DVD? Do you make a distinction between watching a movie in the theater versus on TV?] Sometimes the books are just someone reading them, sometimes they've got all the voices and multiple people in them and whatnot. I still think I've "read" them, but this doesn't mean I wouldn't read the book in paper format -- assuming I've liked it -- and have a different experience.

I feel that listening to a book on tape/CD is more passive because I'm not using my eyes, flat out. I interact with my world a lot using my eyes and I think of them as more primary, to me, than my ears. When I'm reading a printed book, I'm both using my eyes to scan the text and also visualizing what is happening in the book somehow in my mind. To me, that's a weird double-engagement that doesn't come as readily when I listen to books, but it may also be because I do MUCH more reading print than listening to books.

I know that blind people who read Braille call it reading just like anyone else. Drop this guy an email for more in-depth discussion of reading and blind people. Or check out the FAQ at the National Library for the Blind.

Also, I won't touch the better/worse aspect with a ten foot pole except to say that contextually, the two types of reading that I do [and I sort of add on-screen reading as an almost third kind of reading since it's so different from reading print to me] are really different feeling. We bust ass in my library to help people who have visual disabilities or dyslexia feel like they're not removed from the world of reading by offering books in other mediums [braille, books on tape/CD, access to the National Library for the Blind]. And yet, I see your dilemma somewhat, since if you say that listening to a book on tape is "reading" then why isn't listening to someone read a story on NPR also "reading" in that way, or how is that the same or different from reading a street sign, or a menu?
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2004


IMO, listening to a book is inherently, and notably, different from reading it, even in an unabridged version. When listening, you are dealing not only with the author's original intent, but also with all the coloration added by having someone else interpret and present the work for you.

I'd stick with saying you "listened" to audio books. But I'll admit that that's because the literal, logical part of me bristles at extending the meaning of "read" to "listen".
posted by jammer at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2004


I've audited about one hundred books on tape -- all but a few of them unabridged -- and my comprehension and enjoyment on most of them surpassed visual reading of them (based on the few that I've both read with eyes and audited.) I don't mind declaring that I have audited a book.
posted by kk at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2004


As kk points out, jdroth, the common parlance is "audited." Sometimes the distinction is worth making, and obviously you can make a lot of arguments about how the two processes are different, which they are -- and I'd argue that seeing a movie in the theaters and at home are different in a lot of ways as well. But the correct answer to, "Did you read X?" when in fact you audited X, is "Yes."
posted by blueshammer at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2004


Like jessamyn, I'm voracious. I'm generally reading a couple of print books at once and also listening to a couple (not LITERALLY at the same time, but I start new ones before finishing the old ones). I literally have trouble remembering sometimes whether I've read a book or listened to it. This happened a couple of years ago with "House of Mirth." I listened to it, and my wife read it. Later, when I saw her copy of it lying around, I could have sworn I read it.

Sometimes I have printed and audio copies of the same book. I will read until my eyes get tired, then lie in bed and listen, starting the recording where I left off reading.

It's pretty seamless to me, and I think of it all as reading.
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on September 8, 2004


I'm with jammer.
posted by rushmc at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2004


I would feel unbearably pedantic if someone asked me "Have you read X?" and I responded "No, but I audited it." But that's just me. (Plus I think most people wouldn't have the faintest idea what that meant. I certainly wouldn't have before reading this thread.)
posted by languagehat at 5:41 PM on September 8, 2004


If you have only heard a book read, you absolutely, positively, have not read it.
posted by bingo at 11:18 PM on September 9, 2004


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