Are Audiobooks ‘Real’ Books or a Figment of Your Imagination?

I discovered audiobooks this month.

Technically, I discovered audiobooks circa 2003, back when my my classmates and I were introduced to the CD read-along versions of kids books and they were this fancy fandangled gizmo that even cheesy “journalism” TV programs were fascinated by, and also in 2009, when my Season 1 DVD of The Vampire Diaries came with The Vampire Diaries audiobook…which I proceeded to never listen to and only ever read the physical copy before finally decluttering both and sending that audiobook to the feared recycle bin.

After last month’s blog post about the attention economy and book reading, I discovered my local library had finally signed up with Libby. Libby is an app every reader, their mother, and dog’s mother, seems to be talking about. If you have a library card, Libby allows you to read magazines and ebooks and listen to audiobooks for a 14 day loan, like going to the library without having to leave your house. Neat!

There’s a subreddit called r/52book, where people share their journey to read one book a week—52 books a year—and a lot of 52bookers love raving about Libby. So I thought…Why not?

There’s a huge debate that rages on and on and on and on and on. Are audiobooks real books?

There’s certainly a difference between listening to an audiobook and reading a physical book. Listening to an audiobook generates a different set of reactions—thoughts about how hard it is to scrub hardened oatmeal off a bowl, thoughts about how comfy the couch is—and activates different parts of the body—ears, eyes—than reading a physical book, but if it helps you read more, whatever floats your boat! There are stories galore on r/52book of, for example, truck drivers who, bored of hours of endless boredom on the road, have devoured hundreds of books a year purely through audiobooks. Yummy. That’s certainly a better experience than perching The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck on top of the steering wheel before subtly crashing 100km/hr and causing a 75 car pileup, that’s for sure! I admire those who can listen to full books while driving—I prefer the wait in the car, waiting for doctor’s appointments, for example, to listen to books I’d otherwise zone out entirely while focused on driving.

I started by listening to The Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter. An interesting book, definitely, and it kept me hooked…until I was 30 per cent of the way through, my loan expired, and I couldn’t reborrow it again.

Take two. I decided to pick up My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Much like Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I had an idea this would be a book I’d love to hate. Hate to love. The blurb I’d heard from various gushing adorers made My Dark Vanessa sound like feminist Lolita, and I thought, “Now, there’s what I love. A book that I’m certain won’t get any more than two stars!” A memorable writing style and characters I’ll want to strangle with my bare hands. My cup of tea. Then I saw it was 15 hours long. No bother. I’ll take it in chunks. It’ll make the wait worthwhile..hopefully.

Take two point five? I could supplement it with that copy of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson that I requested a month ago and just came in, but now 2 people have requested it and I’ve only got a limited time before it gets thrust out of my hands forever like the sleep book and maybe I’ll never get the chance to listen to it ever again unless it’s a hypothetical January 30 2057 and the book finally returns to Libby in the off chance Libby still exists. This one was only five hours long. I wouldn’t have to break it up in numerous chunks, because only a few rare books have the honour of us raring to read it—or listen in, this case—for 15 hours straight. 15 hours! I picked up Mark Manson’s book—”picked up” in the sense that I picked up my phone, got distracted by a bunch of other things—then finally clicked play and listened to 48 minutes in one go. There. Not so hard, is it?

12 hours later and I was 62 per cent of the way through the book, and I think I’m slowly getting the hang of this audiobook thing.

There’s something about listening to audiobooks that breaks up the monotony of reading a book with physical eyes, and it certainly helps a lot of people who otherwise would never read books physically. I’ve never understood people who read in the bathtub—doesn’t the book end up soggy and destroyed from your $2 Kmart bath bomb water? Reading a physical book while eating dinner or doing the dishes leads to the same dilemma. Like truck drivers, it’s a big no-no to read physical books while driving. Sometimes, it’s not practical, despite the pathetic protestations of the holier-than-thou moanings of physical book purists. Something something smell and taste and touch of the books.

What do you think? Should audiobooks be banished to the netherworld, alongside true crime podcasts and the YouTube recommendations sidebar, never to be seen again? Are they the be-all and end-all of reading, the future of books thanks to science, in the paraphrased words of that moron Clemont in Pokémon X&Y? Or are you somewhere in the middle, preferring to read books in whatever way takes your fancy, whatever’s more convenient—whatever your indecisive mind decides is the best way to get you through the pages?

Whatever gets people reading, I’m here for it.


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