Is it better to read a book or listen to it?

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Anyone who has worked with blind people knows this. Ever since forever their audio players have had speed up / slow down / jump back and repeat controls so they can get a more print like experience. Braille has always been the preferred form for any serious reading, particularly for text books. No one has come up with a decent audio bookmark system.

Audio books can be fun, especially for light reading, the kind where you don’t really care about the previous chapters. If you want to learn something, you want braille, a screen or print.


I’m guessing the spread is doubled when it comes to consuming news, but that may also be a case of the medium being the message…

For narrative books, if a good actor is reading them with a good interpretation, the result could be amusing, not to mention poetry.
On the other hand a paper book, where one could also make notes with a pencil, works better than an audio.


But television is ruining the minds of our children! And violent video games! And Satanic Rock-n-Roll! New media is always bad - the adults just haven’t got around to condemning audio books yet.

I think it was Plato who complained the book was ruining everybody’s memorization skills.


If you use the word cheating when it comes to your reading habits, you have more important questions to ask yourself.


Socrates, actually - which you would remember if you hadn’t ruined your mind with all that reading.


I have a pretty clear line of demarcation here: Fiction gets ripped and put on usb drives to be listened to in the car. Non-fiction is still consumed through my eyes.

The one exception is short NF or NF that is broken down into smaller bits. Or if I’m taking a road trip…then I’ll listen to NF (Can confirm that Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is excellent on audio.)


I only started getting into audio books a few years ago and while I’m still convinced it’s a worthwhile way read books while driving to work or walking on a treadmill I do find myself zoning out and losing track of the topic quite frequently. I’d be hard pressed to regurgitate any useful detailed information I ingested from most of my selections (I tend to limit myself to non fiction) but i definitely do wind up feeling more generally informed about topics I was previously ignorant about.

I’ve had a paperback copy of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” sitting on my shelf for 15 years that I once started but quickly bounced off of. I finally managed to get through that brick by getting it on audio book (which also served to introduce me to one of my favorite narrators, Grover Gardner). While I’ll never be able to recall the endless names and dates from the book it finally gave me a perspective of why WWII happened that I never had before.

So in summary, yes it can be hard to learn from audio non fiction but it’s still worth it.


That seems to work for me. I also find if the fiction is old - like over 100 years old - with a good reader, I get a lot more from a good audiobook than I would a paper book. And some audiobooks are works of art in and of themselves. George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is a great example.


I’m pretty sure the answer for both is, “It depends on the reader.”


I spend 10 hours a week behind the wheel (self-driving cars can’t come soon enough) so I listen to:

Currently (read by the author):

Before That:

and Before That (a second listening because it’s hilarious):

I’d have never actually had the patience or time to read “War and Peace”, but I did manage to listen to that mofo. Friggin’ Andre: always on the brink.


I too love a well read audio book, but it takes so little effort that I can fall asleep, and it just keeps playing. Except for ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ - a riviting work of audio art.

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Similar for me, unless it is complicated fiction. No way I’m gonna try to listen to Umberto Eco or James Joyce in a car… :-/

And I do listen to light, popular non-fiction - the kind with a narrative, such as Devil in the White city.

It’s all about the cognitive load, for me. Can’t listen to anything that requires much thinking as audio. I’d rather be able to parse that out in print.

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Yeah, I listened to Atlas Shrugged awhile back to at least be grounded in what that was all about. The damn speech was realtime and halfway though I wanted to gouge my ears out. I doubt I would have made it though physically reading the book without hurling it across the room. Thankfully being audio book in my phone I refrained from smashing the thing. I did ask for a refund from audible afterwards.


One of the greatest things about the Kindle – if you get both the audio and the ebook, the text will move as it is read to you. And if you decide to just read – next time you open the audio version, it is in sync where you left the words.

I use to use the bookmark feature while driving…if I needed to go back over things, or to take notes BOOKMARK and then later, I can read the complicated stuff. More often than not, I just needed to hear it.


Each to their own, but I find I cannot focus on audiobooks. I need print to give something my full attention.


There are some books that worked really well for me as audio books; that’s how I consumed the first two books of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series.

I think the audio book’s forced pacing, and the delivery from the voice actor, really forced me to slow down and listen to a lot of things that I would normally have just barely skimmed. I’m maybe just a less avid reader than I used to be, because I know this wasn’t a big issue for me 20 years ago, but I’m far more likely to just stop reading a print book halfway through than I am with an audio book. The audio carries me though the bits that might have just halted me in print


I turned to audiobooks in late 2015 as a panacea to the two hours of news I had to suffer through in my car as the Trump train began roaring through our election process. I couldn’t stand hearing that man any longer. It’s been a wonderful addition to my long commute. I’m definitely in agreement with the article, fiction is a lot easier to listen to than something I really want to learn or understand.