Audiobooks: Reading or Cheating

Syringa Garcia, Co-Editor 2021-2022

There are many debates that have arisen with time, many to the credit of technological advancements. Some seem less important than others or only apply to specific social groups, so to a lot of people they go unnoticed. As an avid reader, this is one I see a lot when I’m busy scouring the internet: do audiobooks count as reading?

Reading, according to the dictionary, is defined as “[to] look at and comprehend the meaning of (written or printed matter) by mentally interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed.” So, therefore, by definition, you have to be interpreting the print itself for it to really count as reading, not listening to the words being read to you. However, humans are complicated, we can’t live our lives using dictionary definitions to determine our morals and beliefs. In reality, there are always so many different sides to a story.

Audiobooks are fantastic for so many different reasons. Beginning with my experience: I personally have always felt that listening to audiobooks was cheating (at least for me). But I listen to audiobooks all the time. It’s useful when I’m reading books with long chapters. Every time I reach a new chapter I feel accomplished. With long-chaptered books it just feels like I’m not making any progress, it’s extremely discouraging and can make it difficult for me to find the motivation to continue reading it. This has happened to me mainly with the Harry Potter series, but with the use of audiobooks I’ve been managing to make my way through them.

Let’s also take a second to consider this argument scientifically. Reading and listening to audiobooks, according to Matthew Traxler, a psychologist at the University of California, engage different pathways in the brain. One relies more on visual aspects of the brain and the other audio. However, intaking the information is only a small part of what the brain has to do while reading. Reading also involves needing to comprehend the plot, characters, and messages written into the book.

For something like a book club, especially when it comes to adults, who can rarely find a moment to just sit down and read, audiobooks would work really well. It’s agreed among psychologists that other than the way of transferring the information into your brain, there are no real differences between reading and listening to a book.

Here’s something else to take into account: some people have difficulty reading. 

Whether it’s dyslexia or something more casual, maybe someone’s just a slow reader. I don’t have the same struggles as either type of person illustrated in this example. However, it can be concluded that if someone has such difficulty reading, it may be a headache to get through a long novel without any additional help. If there is another option rather than simply reading the words written on the page, without consequence, clearly at least a few people that have difficulty reading would choose the second option.

To put oneself in the shoes of a person that might find reading difficult, consider this: in this scenario you need to cook a meal. Also imagine, in this scenario, you have a broken hand encased in a cast (imagine your whole hand covered in duct tape if you can’t imagine the former).  Now things are looking a bit more difficult. Yes, mixing the ingredients together and putting the food in the oven doesn’t really seem like too daunting of a task still, but what about cutting the vegetables and meat? You could always take your time, meticulously slicing the knife slowly through the food, struggling to hold the knife and ingredients still simultaneously, and get the right angle you need to make the precise cuts. It’d take a while, but you could certainly do it. Or, you could buy pre-cut ingredients. There’s a very good chance you’d choose that option. And would that be considered cheating? In the end, you’d still be cooking the food, but the vegetables would already be cut.

Isn’t that similar to reading using an audiobook though? As previously mentioned, the work of actually breaking down and decoding the letters into audible language is done for the person, but it’s still their mind that is comprehending and putting together the meaning of the story and vocabulary. For this reason, reading using an audiobook is something that a lot of people consider to be valid and agree that it shouldn’t be criticized, that it is still considered reading.

However, does any of this justify audiobooks as a form of reading? Audiobook listeners aren’t really reading the words directly off the page. They aren’t putting in the full work of actually looking at the text and decoding it into understandable language. Listening to audiobooks instead of reading from the actual book itself is also getting uncomfortably close to something more along the lines of listening to a friend tell a story about how their boyfriend ate the taco they made for themselves.  It’s a story that’s being listened to audibly, which is exactly how I would describe audiobooks.

So, in the end, can audiobooks be considered a valid form of reading? Does it just depend on the situation? There’s a reason that this is such a big argument among readers. There doesn’t seem to be a real clear answer, and whether audiobooks count as reading may never have an answer everyone agrees on.