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Audio Books vs. Book Books: Which Does the Brain Prefer?


I’ve recently started listening to audio books. The idea never appealed to me much because I’ve never liked being read to. Reading is a solitary experience for me and being read to always seemed a little icky, though I couldn’t tell you why.

Certainly being read to has a venerable history. At one time, all writing was meant to be read aloud, since few people could read. And reading aloud was family entertainment in the pre-radio, pre-TV days.  And, of course, reading to children is both cozy and the first step towards their literacy.

So it’s not like listening to books is anything new. But downloadable audio books are increasingly popular (though the growing popularity of ebooks is the headline news in publishing.)  Fans of audio books even have their own magazine.

The first audio book I listened to was Bossypants, which is read by Tina Fey herself. Now I’m listening to Never Let Me Go, by Kazua Ishiguro, which is beautifully read by Rosalyn Landor, who strikes a tone as wistful as the book and conveys changes of character with just the slightest change in her voice. Narration, I realize, is an art form unto itself.

But I’m still not sure how I feel about the audio book. It might be seducing me, but I worry about whether I’m having the experience of the book the author originally intended. Do we lose something of a novel when we don’t see the words spelled out in front of us? Is the medium integral to the message?

16 Comments to
Audio Books vs. Book Books: Which Does the Brain Prefer?

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  1. We’re always looking for more audio book advocates and reasons why audio books are not “cheating!” You made a ton of great points that research backs- all of which are important for kids too! Listening to fluently and expressively read stories not only gets their imagination going to visualize, but allows them to hear the vocabulary that they might have struggled with or skipped over in a book.
    Keep listening and feel free to add Tales2Go streaming audio books to your collection 🙂

  2. i listen or read @ 30 books a year. i can listen to a boring but important book a lot easier than reading it.
    But I can be very easily distracted when listening. i can daydream, or zone out unintentionally. Crime and punishment by Dostoevsky, for instance. I don’t think my comprehension was on the upper end of the scale for that one, but I did make it to the end. it’s some times hard to keep track of the characters in a book, since it’s difficult to go back. same with the plot, if it’s confusing and complicated.
    on the other hand, I’ve been sitting here engrossed with a David Baldacci novel, impatient to learn what happens next.
    i am not sure which the brain prefers, but i know that i add about 10 extra books a year by listening, and some of those i’d never attempt to read because my eyes would close very fast.

  3. For the past 6 months I’ve been listening to audio books while working as a painter. At least 40 hours a week I have my headphones on and plow through fiction novels. I love it but I feel like there might be a side effect to my personality. Almost as if all theses stories being spoken to me have altered my thought processes. This is probably irrelevant for me to comment this here. Was a good read🍻

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