Is Listening Cheating?

How many of you enjoy listening to an audiobook from time to time instead of actually reading a book? I can recall having listened to a few audiobooks and feel as though I was still able to take away the same message from the story. New York Times writer Andrew Newman recently posted an interesting article on how some individuals consider the idea to be a form of literary cheating.

Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways

JANICE RASPEN, a librarian at an elementary school in Fredericksburg, Va., came clean with her book club a couple years ago. They were discussing “A Fine Balance,” a novel set in India in the 1970s by Rohinton Mistry and an Oprah’s Book Club pick, when she told the group — all fellow teachers — that rather than read the book, she had listened to an audio version.

“My statement was met with stunned silence,” said Ms. Raspen, 38.

Finally Catherine Altman, an art teacher, spoke up.

“I said that I felt like listening to a book was a copout,” Ms. Altman said. “I’m not like a hardcore book group person — a lot of times I don’t even finish the book. But my point was that she is a librarian and I thought it was pretty ridiculous. I’m a painter and it would be like me painting by numbers.”

The perennial disagreement in book groups has been over authors, with the single-malt drinkers arguing for F. Scott Fitzgerald and the chardonnay drinkers for Anita Shreve. But the latest schism in the living room lit-fests is not over whom they read, but if they read.

Is it acceptable, they debate within and among themselves, to listen to that month’s book rather than read it? Or is that cheating, like watching the movie instead of reading the book?

Because audio enthusiasts generally listen aloud in a private space like their cars or with headphones, they are spared having to publicly defend the format. When they join reading groups, however, they enter what can be enemy territory, where dyed-in-the-wool bibliophiles want to hear nothing of a book but the crack of its spine.

Dain Frisby-Dart, 40, an avid audio book listener from Trempealeau, Wis., told her book group a few years ago that she was listening to the current selection. One of the members, a man in his 70s, reacted as if she had been reading CliffsNotes.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t count if you listened to it. That’s cheating,’ ” Ms. Frisby-Dart said. “I was so floored by the comment that I just kind of laughed it off.”

But Ms. Frisby-Dart was not laughing when she thought about it later, and she decided against audio for the group’s next selection, and the one after that.

Now she listens to only about 10 percent of her book group’s titles. “Perhaps I should stick up for audio books a little bit more,” she said, “but I do feel like there’s a bit of a stigma listening to them.”

Plenty of book club members listen unabashedly. But others cringe at the thought of facing the hairy eyeball from those with whom they share sofas. After all, the settings ideally should be relaxed, courteous and erudite, even when the selection is a James Patterson thriller. Some don’t even admit that they listen. Read more…

Happy reading ya’ll.

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6 thoughts on “Is Listening Cheating?

  1. Listening to an audio book is just as good as flipping the pages of a deadwood (book). Sometimes you feel like reading and sometimes you feel like listening it all depends on the mood. At fist there was pen, then pencil, then the typewriter, then word processor, and now the computer which is better? We use them all according to convince and how we feel at the moment. Should I write a letter or type the letter it all depends. As long as you get something out of the audio book that is all that matters. Reading or audio both are good it depends on your mood.

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  2. I listen to audio books in the car and when I do yard work then I usually have a book I am physically reading too. I think its the same effect as when reading to a child they are still able to capture the excitment of the content without actually reading it themselves. I have listened to a series book on tape and then when I read the next book in the series all the characters sounded (in my head) like what I had heard on the tape.Lol

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  3. Who are these book snobs who have issues with people listening to an audiobook? Welcome to the 21st century. The same people probably want a handwritten letter rather than an email.

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  4. The art teacher lost all credibility when she said, “Sometimes I don’t even finish the book…” And her painting by numbers comparison isn’t apple to apples. We’re talking about reading, not a creative act like painting or writing.

    People should enjoy books and good stories in whatever form suits their fancies. In the case of book clubs, the point is to discuss the book, and there’s nothing about having listened to it that precludes someone from discussing it.

    The only issue I have with audiobooks is for people, such as students, who are expected to do close readings and pay attention to language/text. I see audiobooks as a way to “read” a book while at the same time doing something else, and if that’s the case, the listener isn’t really focused on the “text.”

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  5. I agree with Deesha, I’ve listened to audio books on looong road trips, me and my sister enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t purchase another audio book unless it was for a purpose like that… i think…

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  6. Audiobooks are too expensive, but I agree, they are definitely a good idea for long road trips. Otherwise, I’d rather pay for a hardback book.

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