5 February 2008

In one ear and out the other...

A story that ran recently in the Daily Mail reported that 25% of Britons have not read a book in the past year. The same article states that a third of Britons read "challenging literature" in order to seem well-read even though they could not follow what the book was about. The survey also found that 40 per cent had lied about having read certain books "just so they could join in with the conversation".

It strikes me that these people could easily catch up with their ‘reading’ if they started listening to audiobooks.

Karen Robinson, who has been involved in reviewing The Sunday Times Audio Book of the Week for more than ten years, is of the same mind. She said:

"Audio books can make the difference between reading and not reading a book: challenging classics and serious non-fiction are the kind of titles that pile up on your bedside table but get shoved aside as a bit too much like hard work. The audio versions are more accessible, and an excellent introduction to the great authors."

But does listening to an audiobook really count as 'reading' a book? There is still some prejudice against audiobooks. In the past critics have said that the benefits of actively reading words off the page cannot be achieved by simply listening to the words.

Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and Anansi Boys has previously considered the issue in his blog. He said:

"I don't think the experience of reading a book and the experience of hearing a book are the same. I tend to think the experience of hearing a book is often much more intimate, much more personal: you're down there in the words, unable to skip a dull-looking wodge of prose, unable to speed up or slow down… It's you and the story, the way the author meant it."

Karen Robinson agrees. “Sometimes listening to a book is better than reading it: a gifted reader can turn a book into an experience that's literary and theatrical, giving the characters a voice and tangible personality, teasing out the drama, the menace or the humour but still allowing the space for your imagination to engage, just as with the written word."

With our fast-paced modern lifestyles it is not surprising that many people don’t have time to indulge in reading. When exploring this subject The New York Times noticed that “audio books, once seen as a kind of oral CliffsNotes for reading lightweights, have seduced members of a literate but busy crowd by allowing them to read while doing something else.”

Karen Robinson agrees. She says:

"Audiobooks are a great way to use 'dead' travelling time to catch up on the latest books that suddenly everyone's talking about - big political and celebrity biographies, the Booker shortlist. Up until a few years ago, there used to be a gap between a book's publication and the appearance of the audio version, but these days many are simultaneous."

The figures were published to launch the government’s National Year of Reading campaign to encourage children to read more. However, I believe that listening can be just as good as reading in helping children to learn and develop important life skills and improve their education prospects.

Kati Nichol, audiobook reviewer for The Express, has long been a supporter of children’s audio. “Listening to a book is anything but a cop-out - research shows that children who listen to books read more books and have greater levels of comprehension."

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