Does listening to audiobooks “count” as much as reading physical books?

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Last year I read a little over 30 books, which is way more than I had every read before. But a good contributor to this boost in reading came from starting to listen to audiobooks. Before last year, I used to have the mentality that “you can only say you’ve read a book if you actually read it.” However, after thinking about what it means to really “read” a book, I have decided otherwise. Here’s my writings on what changed my mind.

I used to feel very strongly that listening to audiobooks did not count as reading. Something about not reading through the “traditional” way of looking at words just made me feel that audiobooks don’t count. I also assumed that the amount of information you would retain would just have to be far less when listening to an audiobooks than when reading ((1) looks like there is no hard resolution here on if one is definitely more effective than the other). But in contrast to these beliefs, many of the blog posts and videos I was watching about how to read more suggested using audiobooks. This pushed me to reconsider my stance and think about why I had this mental block, and how I could maybe get rid of it to supercharge how much I was able to read.

The first question I internally debated was “is reading physical books really more “traditional” than listening to audiobooks?”. Stories were passed down orally for thousands of years before we started writing them down (at least from our knowledge). So really, listening to a story is more “traditional” than reading one. And more than that, who cares!? Just because we have usually associated someone being “well-read” with the idea that they have actually physically read a lot of literature doesn’t mean it will continue to be this way. In reality, this block is more personal than externally truthful. The end goal is the same, to consume the information presented in the text. And this brings me to my second question of consideration: what’s the point of reading anyway?

People read for different reasons, but barring many of the more emotional reasons to read, the core essence of the act of reading is to get the ideas that someone put down somewhere into your mind. And it doesn’t really matter how this ends up happening. Whether it was through a book, or youtube video, or lecture, or an audiobook, why does it matter? What matters is how well you were able to grasp that information. If you can grasp it through the use of an audiobook, then fantastic! Use that tool to your disposal. But can we really grasp the information as effectively from an audiobook as we can from a physical book? Well, that was the third question I asked myself.

I think… it’s personal. The studies and posts I linked below are just some quick sources I read over to see if there was any consensus on the matter. And from what I can tell, it doesn’t swing any one way in particular. Really, it’s up to what works for you. Personally, I like to use audiobooks for fiction. I find listening to an audiobook really frees up my visual capabilities for better visualizing the scene, instead of using it for actually reading the book. On the other hand, I like using physical books for non-fiction works. It’s much easier to write down my notes in the margin and underline key points I want to quickly refer back to later on. And sometimes, I use audiobooks for non-fiction titles I want to get information from, but don’t want to take the time to sit down to read! It’s really up to you how you want to mix and match the tools. Use what works well for you and what allows you to accomplish your ultimate goals, whether it’s to learn more or read more books in general or read about a larger variety of topics.

The conclusion for me is that listening to audiobooks are just as good as reading a physical book (or e-book, essentially reading a text). We should use the tools available to us to our advantage instead of getting blocked by what others may think of our use of them. If something can be used to help us become better and achieve our goals more effectively, then we should aim to use them to the fullest extent!

What do you think — do audiobooks “count” as much as physical books? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Side note, I use Libby for audiobooks!

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Hi! I’m Anand. I’m currently an Engineer at Flexport and studied CS and Data Science at NYU. Check out my website to learn more about me! anandtyagi.me

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Anand Tyagi

Anand Tyagi

Hi! I’m Anand. I’m currently an Engineer at Flexport and studied CS and Data Science at NYU. Check out my website to learn more about me! anandtyagi.me

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