There’s a certain paradox to reading. It’s about connecting to others, but we do it alone. When we read, we’re connecting to another person and their imagination, but not to someone we know.
That’s part of why I like conventions, and why I’ve recently joined a Terry Pratchett book group. It’s also why I often read books people recommend to me, even if other books appeal more at first glance. I want to share my reading, to talk about it, to make connections.
If there’s one thing most readers love as much as reading, it’s talking about the books we read. Whether it’s presenting theories on Jon Snow’s parentage or discussing which is our favourite Pratchett book, we all do it. But that’s become a little tricky linguistically.
Reading With Your Ears
For over a year now, I’ve dabbled in the Sword and Laser reading group on Goodreads. It’s a great place to find out about interesting books and to discuss them with other readers. It’s made me aware of a trend I’d never noticed before – referring to listening to audiobooks as ‘reading’.
When people want to discuss the experience of taking in a particular book, whether by reading, listening or a combination of the two, it’s become common to use ‘reading’ to refer to the experience in general. We don’t have another word that covers it, and that’s become the default. But it can occasionally be confusing, as it turns out that someone has been ‘reading’ a book without ever looking at a single line on a page or screen.
Does it Matter?
This came up in a discussion with fellow speculative fiction author Rita de Heer about one of my previous posts. As Rita pointed out, the way we take in stories changes the experience. An audiobook gives you around 150-160 words per minute, while an average silent reader will take in and understand 250-300 words. Proof reading might take you to 200 wpm, depending on the quality of the work, but we go a lot faster when reading novels.
Then there’s the fact that an audiobook adds another person to your experience of the story. The quality of narration can add to or detract from the experience. I love listening to James Marsters reading the Dresden Files books (review of one coming up next week), but there’s no denying that I’d imagine Harry Dresden differently without that voice.
So Is It Reading?
We need a word to refer to taking in stories whatever the format, as it’s still the same story and we want to discuss it with ease. Until we come up with something else, ‘reading’ is going to have to do. But if we want to appreciate the subtleties of how reading works and what it means, we need to remember that there’s a difference between reading and, well, reading.
Do you refer to audiobooks as ‘reading’? Do you have another word to cover all ways of experiencing stories? Leave a comment, share your thoughts.