I’ve had a bit of an up-and-down history with audiobooks. As a child I listened to them often; I loved borrowing audiobooks from the library, whether they were the Home Farm Twins (anyone else remember those?), Roald Dahl books or ghost story anthologies. I loved ghost stories when I was younger, even though they scared the crap out of me.
Then I stopped listening to audiobooks and it’s only in the past couple of years I’ve started getting into them. I tried audiobooks a few years ago; before I passed my driving test I got the bus and then the train to work and had time to read on my commute, but when I gave audiobooks a try I always ended up zoning out. It’s since getting my own car that I’ve discovered I consume audiobooks best when I’m driving.
I love consuming new books as audiobooks, I’m in the middle of Joe Hill’s The Fireman and Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer at the moment and while I DNF’d Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons when I tried the physical copy I ended up enjoying the audiobook, but something else I’ve discovered I love even more is revisiting some of my favourite books as an audiobook.
Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is my favourite novel and I try to read it every year, whether via the physical copy or via the audiobook, and the audiobook in particular is so comforting to me. I ended up in hospital last summer after I fell ill in Disneyland – of all the places to fall ill! – and when I returned home I tucked myself up in bed with my painkillers and my water and listened to The Goblin Emperor while I dozed, and it was so comforting because it was also familiar.
Also, with a fantasy novel like that one, it was great to hear how the narrator pronounced some of the more difficult names.
There’s always a risk with audiobooks if you don’t like the narrator, which is why I love Audible’s samples so much so I don’t spend my monthly credit on a book I can’t bring myself to listen to, but for the most part I’ve fallen in love with having stories read to me and performed for me again.
Earlier this year I finished the Parasol Protectorate series, one of my favourite series with characters I adore, and recently I decided to revisit the series by listening to the audiobook of the first book, Soulless. Listening to this book is like being revisited by old friends; I get giddy when I hear characters who are going to become more and more important as the series progresses, and it feels like having the chance to hang out with characters I had to say goodbye to earlier this year. Alexia Tarabotti remains one of my favourite heroines, so it’s always nice to be in her company again.
As someone who’s fairly new to the recent audiobook scene, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve discovered there are people out there who think audiobooks ‘don’t count’ as reading a book. I have to say, that baffles me.
Firstly, I don’t understand why it’s the kind of opinion that needs to exist? If you’re a reader who doesn’t gel with audiobooks, which is the kind of reader I was this time last year, then don’t read audiobooks. No one’s forcing them on you. But to come out and say that they ‘don’t count’? Uhh… who made you the book police?
Not only are you telling people who rely on audiobooks, such as people who are blind or have other sight-related problems, people who are dyslexic, people who aren’t able to physically hold books, that their reading ‘doesn’t count’ –
really think about that for a moment. If you suddenly couldn’t see or were unable to comfortably open and read books, how would you consume the stories you want to consume if not via an audiobook?
– but you’re also forgetting that audiobooks are essentially our earliest forms of literature. Long before people had the written word, we had campfires and storytellers. Sure, the story might change slightly with each telling, passed from one storyteller to another, but that’s all part of the fun.
While someone who’s listened to an audiobook might not be able to say they have physically read a book, that they have held the book in their hands and read the words, to tell them audiobooks don’t count as reading at all, particularly when it might be the only thing they can access, is just a really shitty thing to do.
Audiobooks still take time. It’s still important to concentrate when listening to audiobooks to make sure no important plot revelations are missed and to make sure you enjoy the full experience of the novel. For years I’ve had people telling me how beautiful Laini Taylor’s writing style is, and having it read to me has made me appreciate just how lush and gorgeous it is.
It’s 2018 and we’re all entitled to our opinions, but as with all things I don’t think something as negative and petty as this view needs to be spread when there are already plenty of problems to go around. Let people consume stories and art however they want to consume them, whether you think it’s the ‘right way’ to do it or not, and if you don’t like it then the solution’s simple: you don’t have to do it that way.
So, do audiobooks ‘count’ as reading?
Yes. Of course they do! If they’re not for you then they’re not for you, but they do work for a lot of people and those people shouldn’t have to justify their hobbies.