Friday, September 26, 2014

Rethinking Reading

I am currently listening to an audiobook on my drive to and from work. This morning though, a thought occurred to me: when the audiobook is done, can I be said to have "read" the book? What is the depth of comprehension and retention one has in listening to a book being read compared to reading it? I've always my experience in listening has been comparable to the reading experience. However, some researchers would offer argument.

An interesting blog piece on the Fast Company website recounts a study by the University of Waterloo in Ontario. According to the piece, the study was published in Frontiers of Psychology and alleges that people listening to audiobooks may get the gist of what is being read, but tend to be forgetful of the material and easily distracted from the text. Some other pieces I've read contradict this university's study, but my bet is that this issue is one which will be revisited over time in further research.

Some writers I know have pointed to audiobooks and other media as a way of broadening the reading experience. They argue that a book can be an immersive experience combining video, audio,and graphics. They point to the changing ways in which people read due to electronic media and the internet. And the discussion broadens as how a writer should adapt expression to accommodate these diverse elements.

So, what is reading? Can we said we've read a book if we listen to an audio version? Is it enough to receive the intent of the author? Is there a degree of internalization which must be met? If that's the case, what's the criteria?


Not a profile said...

I personally find that, due to my fast reading speed, that I only get the gist of a book by reading. If I listen to it, I pick up every detail, and bet of all, get every word one at a time, in sequence. Much better than whole sentences and paragraphs jammed into my brain at once!

Not a profile said...

Not a profile is me, MorganScorpion. Must have pressed the wrong button.

Stewart Sternberg said...

A friend who writes once watched me speed read and shook his head in dismay. "I spend hours writing and there you go zipping along. Maybe you should slow down and appreciate the craft." My response: "I still internalize and appreciate what I read. I also vary my reading speed based on the content."

Charles Gramlich said...

READING a book is an immersive experience involving imagery, sound, smells, etc. You don't need to hear the book read to "hear" the book. You don't need to see a movie of the book to "see" the book. It's part of the reading experience already. I have listened to some audio books and although I do enjoy the experience it doesn't produce the same kind of impression on me as reading. I do count books I've listened to as "read" on goodreads but I definitely don't consider them to be the same experience.

Charles Gramlich said...

Morgan has an interesting take. It is precisely the opposite for me. I also can read fast, and I do when I'm reading strictly for information. However, when I'm reading fiction or poetry I deliberately slow down to enjoy the play of words and to let my internal movie and soundtrack play.