Is there a difference as regards “reading” and “listening” to a book?

I was somewhat taken back when, several weeks ago, I heard an item on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme concerning reading. This short piece (which I have, unfortunately been unable to find online), consisted of a series of viewpoints as to what constitutes reading and, in particular whether listening to audio books can be construed as reading in the true sense of the word. One listener expressed the view that listening to audio books was not reading, and that anyone who said that they had read a book (when they had, in fact listened to it being read) was “lieing”. Now “lieing” is a very strong word and to my mind was misused by the person who employed it here.

There is, of course a difference (technically speaking) between reading and listening to a book and one may enter into a debate as to whether someone listening to a book has the same experience as the person who turns pages and absorbs the book in print or ebook format.

I, personally feel that there is something very special about handling and reading a book. I also find that my mind is more inclined to wander when listening to (rather than physically turning the pages of) a book. I will sometimes go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea while listening, miss a short segment and not go back as (in my view) I haven’t missed anything of significance. In contrast I will put a physical book down, go and make my tea and return to the bookmarked page ensuring that I have missed nothing of the plot.

Having said the above, I am a huge fan of audio books and believe that to listen to a well narrated book is, in effect to read it. So while the person who described those who say they have “read” a book (when, in fact they have listened to it being read), is technically correct. He is, in point of fact splitting hairs as to concentrate on a book being read is, to all intents and purposes to read it.

So far as my own books are concerned, I must confess that I like the idea of people possessing a physical copy of my work. I see it sitting amongst other books and the feeling of my book being enjoyed, then going to join a library of much loved books to be re-read at a later stage gives me pleasure. I am, however delighted that my latest collection of poems, “The Writer’s Pen and Other Poems” is available in paperback, Kindle and audio formats. Ultimately what matters is that my readers enjoy my work in the format that is most convenient/best suited to their needs and I certainly wouldn’t quibble where a reader to inform me that she had “read” my book when, in fact she had listened to the excellent audio narration of Alex Lee.

As ever, I would welcome the views of my readers. Do you feel that there is a difference between reading and listening to a book? And, if so in what lies that difference?

(For links to all of my books, including the print, Kindle and audio versions of “The Writer’s Pen and Other Poems” please visit my “About” page,


5 thoughts on “Is there a difference as regards “reading” and “listening” to a book?

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thanks again for the link, Chris. I’ve now taken a look. The link shows the first programme on the subject (which I haden’t heard/seen until now). However there is a second short piece (on PM) in which the statement about people listening to audio books (when claiming to have read them) telling “lies”, is made and its the second part of the series which I haven’t found online. Best – Kevin

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    I ended up discussing this same thing on Goodreads a couple of years ago. Someone had said it wasn’t right for audio books to be counted in the yearly reading challenges, because those are things you listen to, rather than things you read. I disagreed. While it’s true there is a difference in the actual physical experience of reading a physical book vs listening to a book, you still absorb the information in some form, and still explore the world the author has created for you between the pages (whether those pages be real things you can turn yourself, or not). Is there a difference between reading a physical book and listening to an audio book? Yes. Does that mean it shouldn’t count as reading? No.

    Regarding your cup of tea example: I always pause the book if I’ll be going out of earshot, or go back to where I know I heard last if I neglect to do so. Unless I’m listening via my Kindle, in which case I just take it with me. Listening to audio books doesn’t have to mean you miss things.


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