Reading Books or Listening to Audio Books?

What's your favourite book format?
I’m a reader, I love curling up with a great book and have ever since I was a child. It’s one of my favourite ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, and my vision of reading has always been cracking open a new novel and diving in. Because of this, I was a late convert to the e-book craze and actual books are still my preference. I did get a Kobo as a gift a couple of years ago and like it, but mostly for travel…no more hauling heavy books along in my suitcase is a lifesaver! At home, though, I’ll always choose a real book to hold and flip the pages. This could also be because I cannot for the life of me get ebooks from the library to load onto my Kobo. I don’t consider myself totally inept at computers but when it comes to that process…ugh, if I have to try that again I might throw my computer out a window. And I’m definitely not quitting on the library anytime soon. My free library membership means I haven’t spent a dime on books in years. Basically, if you’re not a library member, then I’m not sure we can be friends anymore 😉

Are Audio Books Cheating?

This brings me to audio books and my internal debate about whether or not to count them as actual reading. I always set an annual reading challenge for myself on Goodreads, so I need to be able to keep track. Before this year, I had never actually listened to an audio book, and that’s not because I just don’t like listening to things. I constantly have headphones in listening to music or one of a bunch of podcasts I keep up on, but audio books were another story. To me, they feel like cheating. I think that one of biggest benefits of reading books is seeing the words on the page and having to interpret them with your brain. Doing so puts those words in your head, and you’ll remember what they mean, how to spell them, and what proper grammar looks like. You can be reading complete garbage, but just the mere act of reading those garbage words stimulates your brain and makes you smarter. Audio books take this away from you.

However, after some rather heated debates on the subject, I’ve been convinced to give them a chance, and I have to admit that I don’t hate it. I did make a deal with myself, though, and the only way I’m allowed to count audio books is if they teach me something. This means that I’ll be listening to plenty of personal finance and business books but no fiction novels I would read for fun. So far this year I’ve listened to ‘#Girlboss‘ by Sophia Amoruso (just ok) and ‘Flash Boys‘ by Michael Lewis (really enjoyed it) and am starting to get won over. The one issue I have now is that I’m falling behind on my podcasts because audio books are LONG…like 10+ hours long! That’s a lot of valuable listening time I’m now devoting to ‘reading.’ The one big issue I am having with audio books is the distraction factor. For real books, it’s easy to just not flip the page if your mind has wandered but what are the chances you are really going to pull out your phone and hit rewind? For me, not good at all…I’ll just catch back up at some point. And this happens to me ALL the time! I’ll be at the dog park and get distracted by a super cute puppy or check a Twitter notification on my phone and go down some sort of rabbit hole. Focusing on one thing is obviously not my forte 🙂

What does the science say? 

Daniel Willingham is a psychology professor who has researched and written books about reading, and he tackles the very question of whether or not listening to audio books is cheating in a blog post here. He argues that reading and listening to books are ‘mostly’ the same thing. There are two processes involved in reading; decoding (figuring out the words) and language processing (figuring out the story). The comprehension part of books doesn’t matter how you get the information as reading and listening comprehension are highly correlated (if you’re good at comprehending the written word you’ll be almost as equally good at understanding the spoken word), but decoding is unique to reading. Most adults who have grown up reading have already developed a high level of decoding capability, so you’re not likely to make significant gains in this department anymore. That’s where the ‘mostly’ the same comes into play…avid readers will absorb ‘mostly’ the same benefits with either method but if you’re a developing reader then building up your ‘decoding’ skills is important.

I feel like this kind of proves both sides of my internal debate. On the one hand, you lose out on the decoding aspect of reading but on the other, you don’t really need that as much anyways. I guess I’ll settle with my previous decision to read whatever I want and only listen to ‘smart’ books.

What do you guys think? Are you pro audio book or loyal only to the written word?

And just because we’re talking about books I thought I would share a few of my favourite reads with you, and please feel free to share your favourites in the comments…I’m always on the hunt for a new great read!

The Art of Racing in the Rain‘ by Garth Stein

I Let You Go‘ by Claire Mackintosh

Pride & Prejudice‘ by Jane Austen

The Language of Flowers‘ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Martian‘ by Andy Weir

The Brother’s K‘ by David James Duncan
What's your favourite book format?

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  1. Hey, I wrote a post about how to borrow ebooks from the library – on a Kobo, and from EPL, so it should all apply! Though the best advice is to get a librarian to walk you through it. I had the wrong edition of Adobe Digital Editions or something, the librarian figured it out right away. These days I tend to use the Overdrive app on my phone, which is way simpler, with the obvious disadvantage of having to read on your phone.

    https://reading-in-bed.com/2015/10/11/october-is-ebook-appreciation-month-1-how-to-borrow-ebooks-from-the-library/

  2. Thanks for sharing your post, I'm going to try following your steps and see if I can get it to work this time! If not, to the library I go. I also have Overdrive and Hoopla on my phone and use them for audiobooks (now that I'm a partial convert), and you are right…much simpler. I just can't handle reading on my phone for much for than a quick article.
    Thanks for the comment!

  3. I have never listen to an audio book although I do love podcasts. I love to read and choose to do so in e-book form since I read so much I use my iPad to save room in my home 🙂 Great post thanks

  4. Serial was the first podcast I really got hooked on, the first season is really good. I also really like The Black Tapes Podcast (which is fiction), Invisibilia, Budgets & Cents and Planet Money.

  5. Perfectly put. This is the EXACT reason I was contemplating this whole issue last night. I do agree, nothing beats turning the page and the smell of a new book…or even an old one. BUT, I find I have very little time where I am doing nothing to actually sit and focus on a book. Taking my walks or driving are my best bets to be doing something for a chunk of time and therefore the best opportunity to absorb. Playaway tapes are THE BEST but the titles are limited. Books on CD are what I use in the car. I feel like I am cheating on my podcasts but since this is all new to me it's still exciting! So far I've listened to The Old Man in the Sea (were leaving for Cuba tomorrow ;)) and Nickel and Dimed (LOVED it). Next up, The Tipping Point. I'm one chapter in and already it's good!!

  6. I really enjoyed the 'The Tipping Point' but haven't read 'Nickel and Dimed', will have to look it up. You should check and see if your library has a subscription to Hoopla, they have a good selection and you can either stream titles or download for offline use.

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