Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

The Case for the Audiobook

Sep 21, 2016

By Alex Morrison, Colorado Review Associate Editor

It is no secret that graduate students spend a majority of their time reading, rarely for fun, and often more than a book a week. We all develop different strategies to cope with an ever-increasing workload, whether by learning to read on the go, the art of skimming, or even selective reading. It wasn’t until midway through my second year at CSU, however, overwhelmed by a heavy workload, that I rediscovered audiobooks.

I say rediscovered because my earliest encounters with some of my favorite stories were often auditory. I can still hear Rob Inglis, narrator of The Lord of The Rings, as he raises his voice to a squeak to impersonate a frightened hobbit. Now, I find audiobooks as practical as I do enjoyable, less cumbersome than a large text and more readily accessible while driving, exercising, or even walking to class.

It turns out that I’m not the only one who’s tuning more and more into audiobooks. In an article this past spring on cnbc.com, it is noted that while the print book and e-book markets struggled last year, downloads of audiobooks “increased by 38.1% in 2015.” Still, the question remains: is listening to a book the same as reading it?

If we regard reading as the intake of information, I would argue yes. Of course, you cannot mark up or annotate an audiobook (yet), but you can still read actively by taking notes or following along with the printed text. Unfortunately, research regarding the differences between reading with the ear and reading with the eye is not yet on the forefront of cognitive or linguistic science. That being said, a 2011 Forbes article points out that an audiobook “pre-determines an aspect of language called prosody, or the musicality of words.”  In the same article, University of Virginia psychology professor Dan Willingham notes, “someone who knows the meaning can convey a lot through prosody. . . . If you are listening to a poem, the prosody might help you.”

Of course, we may be more prone to certain distractions while listening to a text and not reading one, merely because of the accessibility of audiobooks. We cannot cook dinner or drive to work, for example, with our heads in a novel, although we can while listening to one, which may complicate matters when we miss an exit or burn the croutons. Still, in the era of social media, aren’t distractions just one click away?  Isn’t it just as easy to be derailed by a Facebook post or a text while reading a book as it is while hearing one?

As for me, audiobooks have helped me to save time and absorb more information, which in graduate school is something to be celebrated.

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