Reading audiobooks isn’t cheating


Irene Yuan

The audiobook edition of “Chain of Gold” by Cassandra Clare borrowed from Sora stands next to the hardcover edition. This novel was the first audiobook I ever listened to, and it introduced me to a new form of consuming media that I had previously shunned due to misconceptions.

by Irene Yuan, Co-Managing Editor

Listen to the audio reading of the following article at the link below. 

“DAYS PAST: 1897,” a voice intoned. “Lucie Herondale was ten years old when she first met the boy in the forest.”

As the narration enveloped me, I closed my eyes and let Finty Williams’ voice immerse me into the Shadowhunter world.

It only took one novel to completely redefine my opinion on audiobooks. 

For the first 15 years of my life, I had always believed that listening to the audio version of a book was “cheating,” a lazy way to claim to have read a book without taking the time to pass your eyes over and comprehend the sentences upon sentences, pages upon pages of words. After all, reading a book is a commitment. With your hands, eyes and mind occupied, there isn’t much room to multitask. 

Despite my audiobook aversion, I eventually tried one for the first time in March of 2020, driven to desperation over pandemic e-book availability on Sora. With libraries closed and a multi-month wait time for the ebook version of the newly released “Chain of Gold” by Cassandra Clare, I opted to borrow the available audiobook instead. Upon opening the book, I was immediately daunted by the length: 21 hours, 22 minutes, 32 seconds.

For me, the end goal of reading in my free time is to unwind and get lost in another world or just to learn more about a particular topic.

As I made my way through the first hour of the novel, a few things became apparent. The most significant: a very precarious multitasking balance was necessary in order for me to properly digest the information.

I couldn’t do too little — sitting with nothing to occupy my hands with while trying to take in the words proved short-lived. I couldn’t do too much — anything that involved more than a little thinking disrupted my listening and forced me to spend the next couple of minutes rewinding and hitting fast-forward to find the exact spot I last heard. But I found my happy zone in activities such as cleaning my room and going for runs. 

And so, my previous perception of audiobook users demonstrating a lower commitment to reading shattered. While audiobooks offer more convenience in that some tasks can be done easily while listening, a novel in an audio format still provides the full experience of the content.

Audiobooks force the listener to hear every carefully-selected word. Personally, as a reader, I tend to start skimming when I’m caught up in the action and am eager to uncover what happens next. I don’t even realize how much I’m missing until I reread the novel at a later time and notice details that I didn’t process in the haste of my first read. With the steady pace of an audiobook, the same does not hold true, as the voice actor narrates every word. Plus, if I’m impatient to hear the plot quicker, I can always adjust the speed of the novel to find a good balance: ensuring satisfaction with the speed of the progression but still being able to digest the words.

Academically, I’ve been able to use this audiobook perk to my advantage, electing to complete homework readings for English classes by listening to an audio version while following along with the written text to ensure that I don’t miss the details that my eyes tend to skip over when I rely on reading alone.

“Listening to books instead of reading is cheating,” I had always thought. But I have realized that “cheating” really doesn’t matter. 

Yes, audiobooks are ostensibly easier to digest than physical books because language comprehension skills such as understanding tone do not have to be applied, as the narrator does that evaluation and application for you when they read aloud. But “taking a shortcut” by bypassing the tone analysis step is irrelevant. For me, the end goal of reading in my free time is to unwind and get lost in another world or just to learn more about a particular topic. I’m not reading cliché high school romance novels to strengthen my reading comprehension, and so that is not a factor I need to take into consideration when pitting audiobooks against ebooks.

With the unique medium of audio entertainment, there is so much more to explore in regards to how each individual story is told and how multimedia elements can be customized to the storyline. Novels such as Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Daisy Jones and the Six” feature a full-cast narration, creating an immersive listening experience. In other novels, authors narrate their own work such as Lulu Miller’s “Why Fish Don’t Exist,” adding a more personal touch to the memoir. 

At the end of the day, audio and written stories use the same words, and so, I believe that listening is just as valid as reading in consuming literature for entertainment.