Reading audiobooks is still reading.

If you say you read an audiobook you don't have to "correct" yourself. I'd argue that you /shouldn't/, that you'd get less correct.

There's no need to say "well no I didn't read it" if it was an audiobook. There's no need to put "reading" in scare quotes.

It's reading just as much as reading print is.

I know there are worse problems, but it sucks having my favored reading format denigrated by sighted people, even to the point of them denying it's "real."

@bright_helpings it's really ableist when you think about it that primarily sighted reading is considered "real" reading. I wonder if it's the "letters on a page" aspect, if the same people consider braille more real?

@ljwrites @bright_helpings despite “universal literacy” being a thing for over a century now, it hasn’t been long enough for reading to fully lose its special “it’s what makes me better than you” shine

@zens @ljwrites @bright_helpings how is it classism? Audiobooks, like many other accessible options, are usually pretty expensive in comparison to a paper book

@wolfie @ljwrites @bright_helpings classism isn’t about how much money you have or spend. for instance, there are countless plumbers who are wealthier than most lawyers, but that’s never going to be good enough to be invited to the same art openings and parties. for thousands of years literacy was reserved for a small privileged class of scribes, preists, royalty and aristocracy. having exclusive rights to read was a system of control.

@wolfie @ljwrites @bright_helpings the gutenberg press made reading vastly cheaper for the masses, and yet learning to read remained an expensive privilege for only a few who were able to afford sending their kids to school instead of work. classism works with shibboleths. illiteracy is looked down upon as being of a lower class. audiobooks are illiteracy adjacent enough

i over estimated earlier. getting universal literacy was an effort only started in the 1950s and we are still not there.

@wolfie @ljwrites @bright_helpings if you think this is a stretch, i’d like to hear any other explanation for why audiobooks are “lesser” that isn’t just classism in disguise.

@zens Ableism. I was talking about ableism and I'm not saying classism doesn't play a part because it does. But you're sort of hijacking my point here and you don't need to do that to make your own point. @wolfie @ljwrites

@bright_helpings @wolfie @ljwrites apologies, you’re right- it is ableism. i only intended to answer a question and didn’t intend that to overshadow your point. my original much shorter post was a guess as to whether braille holds a higher status in their minds, and if so, why. but as you’re a stranger to me I did not show the appropriate manners.

@zens @ljwrites @bright_helpings ah ok, that makes sense, I guess I'm only really aware of disability related reasons for not being able to read a physical paper book so the historic privilege behind accessing books didn't come to mind, though in the current day audiobooks do seem to be stuck behind a lot more barriers (price, requiring a compatible audio device, DRM, having time to listen etc) than physical books are (you can often get them for pennies and just need time and ability to read them)

@zens @wolfie @ljwrites @bright_helpings agreed, and poor people are usually the ones hit hardest by internalised classism. My daughter used to go to school with favela kids in Brazil; in a parent's meeting I once saw a mother crying about how she couldn't convince her little daughter to come to class anymore, because the other favela kids mocked her because her Nike sneakers were not legitimate.

If you read Paulo Freire's work on expanding literacy in Brazil, it's clear that the core step was to dismantle people's own reduced sense of self-worth in being "analphabets". People would only have confidence to deal with schooling at all, after Freire walked through rural folks' own knowledge and culture to make themselves aware they are not the inferior beings ideology paints them as. Like @zens said, a bricklayer in Brazil can actually enjoy a pretty wealthy lifestyle if they're lucky to be at the right place on the market; they'll still feel ashamed of being a bricklayer, and mortified if anybody found out they can't read.

I'll add that writing wasn't just restricted, it was and is a culturally-specific phenomenon, and thus is bound with colonialism, slavery, xenophobia and racism. It can be freed from that, but to free it from that you have to dismantle the sense of superiority it carries, because that sense stems from Euro (or Han) ideals of superiority.

@zens @ljwrites @bright_helpings It is not just ableist and classist but has colonalist roots, too. Every culture in the world has oral literature, but only a few have writing. By posing writing as superior and more intelligent, the colonisers set themselves as such.

For more on this check out Foley, "How To Read An Oral Poem"; it's a fascinating, pleasurable little book with many loving case studies of how oral literature works.

@ljwrites Yeah I wonder how sighted people think about braille too. That might count as reading because it seems difficult to them? I think listening, especially in an age of podcasts and a lot of people taking in information/stories aurally, feels too easy or not a big deal somehow. Whereas I think braille is treated more like a magic secret code and since most sighted people can't do it it is perceived to have value? I dunno.

@bright_helpings and that's fucked up in itself, to think reading needs to be hard in order to "count." Hearing people can, absolutely, read by listening while folding laundry or driving or working out, if that works for them! They really need to give themselves the permission and the credit.

@ljwrites I mean I can only guess what the sighted people are thinking (or not even thinking, subconsciously assuming), because I've never been one. This is the impression I get from how they talk about audiobooks.

And you're right, my motivation for saying this isn't that people are hurting my feelings or whatever, it's that people who read audiobooks aren't giving themselves the permission and especially the credit they should! I really hate to see that.

@bright_helpings @ljwrites as a sighted person who used to read a hundred print books per year and now can only do audiobooks for psychological reasons: you're spot-on about that, and it's part of a more general problem with capitalist flagellation ideology (that suffering makes one worthy and superior, and without suffering one isn't entitled to respect or good things).

@bright_helpings I've definitely done the asterisk thing about books before, like "I read this- well listened to it..." and part of it may have been embarrassment about how it was too casual and I was usually multitasking. Which doesn't hold up to scrutiny because did I pay attention to every word of things I read on a page? Absolutely not. If anything I have slightly better memory for things I listened to, and multitasking might actually create associated memory from doing X thing while listening to a passage.

@ljwrites Yeah not everyone is like this of course but I'm also someone who can (in the right circumstances) pay more attention to information I'm trying to take in if I'm also doing something else. And I understand this is a common theme for neurodivergent people: not everyone looks/reacts the same when they are paying attention/receptive to learning. This is another way it's ableist to say audiobooks are lesser or somehow not "real" reading.

@bright_helpings Audiobooks might be a great format for illiterate people to read books. 🤔

I've never seen anybody from the west discuss illiteracy as an accessibility problem.

A lot of people from my grandparents' generation born right after independence, especially women, never learnt to read and write because the new government didn't construct the schools yet. Still they were well informed of the news through radio broadcasts.

#accessibility #illiteracy #audiobooks

@njoseph @bright_helpings
Several communist, anarchist communities have had a long standing tradition of workers hiring young kids who go to school/can read to read the daily news to them while they worked on their craft.

@njoseph @bright_helpings I can be a slow reader, therefore I love audiobooks. My catalogue of finished books on Audible is approaching 150, most of it fantasy, but also many non-fiction works on economics, politics and society.

I'm thinking here in the West audiobooks are also very important for many people who find it difficult to engage with texts. The blind, dyslexic and people who may have problems sitting still and focusing on written words.

@njoseph @bright_helpings Or even learn to read.

I think illiteracy is seen in the same way as poverty in the west - an inherent moral failing. With all of the convenient secondary effects that keep things just the way they are.

Maybe a couple of pirate radio stations of people just reading the news (sort of like a clandestine, shadow news network) is something to consider.

@njoseph @bright_helpings

Where I grew up in rural Sweden when audiobooks where expensive, multi-tape affairs, to lend them at the library you had to pay a fee unless you had an accessibility reason. Illiteracy was an accepted such reason. Also my friend currently works for the Swedish Agency for Accessible Media and they absolutely see illiteracy as an accessibility issue. ♥

@bright_helpings If reading a room is reading, or reading body language etc, then audio books are reading too for sure (but like, saying "listened to the audiobook" is good too, it maintains awareness for that medium, hints the reader's preference etc)

@Shrigglepuss oh yeah there's nothing wrong with saying "i listened to this audiobook" (I have strong opinions sometimes on the narrators and other stuff can be important about what medium you consumed a book in!), it's just when people say "oh I didn't really read it" that bugs me. I've gotten so much out of books I've read as audiobooks and it feels bad to see them invalidated this way.

@Shrigglepuss @bright_helpings

Yeah, I believe the insecurity may come from the meaning of reading as interpreting something (symbols as letters, etc.) in your head, which is not done with audio. That's why (I believe) nobody would ever say "I touched this braille book" to say they read it, 'cause there's clearly an interpretation phase (which is not done just by touching) before the required parsing of the language itself.

The core problem imho is assuming reading as a superior activity.

@bright_helpings I like to specify that I listened to an audiobook under some circumstances because I feel that the performance brings something extra to the text, but I still count those books as "read."

As I think about that, I realize that I rarely comment on the physical forms of books I read in print versions. Maybe because so many I read now are ebooks and the formatting isn't as obvious. There are some physical books I have to talk about because they're so beautiful it also influences me

@bright_helpings I've almost always got an audiobook going these days, even if I don't have a print book I'm working on. Audiobooks are very portable in this time of smartphones and reading them can be combined with other activities, such as walking the dog, the way that print books can't!

@stelepami Yeah it's actually really rare for me not to have an audiobook on the go right now, I'm in a bad patch for that now, but usually I do have one on my phone. :) (I have a bunch now, they've just barely been touched for months.)

@bright_helpings A bonus for me is that popular fictions often has a shorter wait list at the library for the audio versions so I get to it sooner!

There are some series I only listen to because the narration has become integral to the stories for me. (Sadly, one of my favorite narrators died before the series was done. I tried the new narrator and it isn't as good for me. When I switched to the print books, I could still hear the deceased performer's voice, which I think is lovely.)

@stelepami There's nothing wrong with talking about the format of a book you read, I have Opinions on audiobook narrators and the physical experience of how print books smell/look/feel/etc.

I'm not saying no one should ever comment on how they read a book, just that it's not good to say some formats "count" as reading and some don't.

@bright_helpings I didn't interpret your original post as discouraging discussion of different format experiences at all! I felt compelled to jump in with My Important and Unsolicited Opinion to explain the choices in language I use when I talk about different book formats.

All formats are awesome in their own ways! Many have different drawbacks for different individuals. It's so cool that there are multiple options for consuming books! Yayyyy!

@bright_helpings I'm sighted, and I call it reading when I read an audiobook. I agree with you completely.


A large part of the stigma with audio books is how they were often abridged versions of the full text, sometimes with surprising liberties. (For example, the 1989 audiobook of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES read by Arte Johnson has some jarring edits that omit key scenes.) But in this digital era, where running lengths aren't limited by cassette-reel sizes, that's a legacy issue and you're right that it should be dismissed.

@bright_helpings Huzzah! Audio has been my preferred long-form information consuming method for several years now

Audio frees up my hands for other work, so it's great for tasks that don't require too much cranial interaction


To add more notes on the same theme: People often want to default to narrower semantic definitions.

It's worth keeping in mind that "read" started out in English with an even wider range of semantics (originally as "advise") than it currently has, one of the main one beings "interpret, decipher". And that, connected to the "decipher" sense, it's in fact cognate with "riddle".

@emacsomancer my senior seminar when I was trying to do an English degree was on Old English riddles. I really loved them.

And yes, one of my utterly pointless pet peeves that I can't seem to rid myself of is people calling Aethelred "the Unready" (a strangely common throwaway reference in Britain), when it was nothing to do with the modern word ready but should be something more like "ill-advised."

@bright_helpings @emacsomancer now considering a modification to my display name, can really relate to my king-bro there 😂

@bright_helpings Old English riddles are lovely! @cadadr and I were talking about them a few weeks ago in connection with one of his own riddle poems.

(Yeah, I have the same peeve about Aethelred's moniker.)

@bright_helpings Audiobooks are just a logical extension of being read to, which bring education and thought to situations where visual reading is impossible or impractical, and the practice has a long tradition in enterntainment, education, and social organization. People who dis audiobooks are not welcome in my foxhole.

See also the important history of El Lector de Tobacco

@roadriverrail @bright_helpings

And "silent reading" as a dominant practice is a fairly recent development, in the longer view of human history.

@emacsomancer @bright_helpings If I had to guess, this whole line of thinking probably starts with well-meaning parents and educators who champed a "TV bad reading good" mantra. The kids who loved silent reading enjoyed the satisfaction of being "superior" and grew up to gatekeep that opinion. And yes, kids need to practice their reading skills and commercial TV feeds them a lot of drek. But somewhere along the way, we lost the plot.

@roadriverrail I mean silent reading is of course potentially useful in lots of cases - particularly in terms of speed. But there are lots of things which just don't even make sense in this fashion. Poetry: how does one really appreciate poetry in silent reading form?


@bright_helpings So much internalized ableism is often like... A pre-defense mechanism, like, we've seen people make fun of something or tear it down so we just automatically do it to ourselves beforehand so others don't do it to us. Without thinking of the impact it has on our psyche and those around us! These reminders are so needed. Tools are marvelous and don't change what we do or have done. I haven't gone on any less of a walk bc I used different tools to do it, etc...!

I totally agree.

The only other thing (many good suggestions in the thread already) I could imagine that could lead to audiobooks being seen as lesser, is that some people use them to fall asleep to. And then miss large chunks of the text.

I cannot have a audiobook on without listening to every word. Audiobooks help keep me stay awake. So I cannot relate to this.

But I can imagine that if you use audiobooks as background noise, that you think they don't count.

@bright_helpings Would reading be appropriate for audiodrama too? I guess if it can work for audiobooks that are lower on the "drama scale", then maybe reading is part of experiencing an audiodrama but it's not the whole thing? A full cast of voice actors and the sound effects add a whole extra dimension to interpret that isn't really present when someone just reads a book.

@csepp Yeah, I'm not saying "all audio is reading," here, I'm just saying that audiobooks are books. Drama is a different art form that's appreciated differently and understood differently than prose, no matter the medium.

@bright_helpings god I was such a jerk about this in high school until a librarian (hung out at the local library a lot) scolded me so intensely I thought I'd die from shame

@Cyborgneticz haha that is some librarian superpowers!

I was a real jerk about this as a kid too, despite/because of benefiting from audiobooks (internalized ableism is a hell of a thing!), I think we've all been there. Glad we're not any more. :)

@bright_helpings thank goodness for growth and the people that help you with it

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