======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ==== ======= ======= ====== ====== ====== ===== ==== ====== ====== ===== ====
Growing up, books were always my escape. My sanctuary. My therapy. I was a chubby, awkward girl, with braces, hair that tangled in the slightest of breezes, and enough insecurity to fill an entire girl’s locker room. I had friends, sure. But if we’re being honest? They were what you’d call losers. And if we’re being really, really honest? So was I.
Still, what I lacked in beauty, poise, or popularity, I made up for in something else: my imagination.
I realize how lame that sounds. “I wasn’t pretty, but boy, I sure could think up a wicked daydream.” But the truth is, something about how my mind worked, made it so the bullying, the loneliness, and the fact that I looked more like a plump German boy than a cute little girl didn’t matter. And my secret, my cure, my reasoning, was found in the pages of Harry Potter, and Jodi Picoult, and pretty much anything by Stephen King.
From a very early age, I fell in love reading. I can’t think back to a time when it didn’t completely transform me. I’d spend family vacations curled up in the backseat of the van, my nose deep in a book, missing the world around me. Going to the library felt like walking into heaven, and for my birthday my mom would take me to the bookstore and let me go wild. I could spend a lifetime pouring over pages, rereading my favorites, and visiting my friends in literature. It made me feel comforted. It made me feel safe. It made me feel loved.
And so, that is why I absolutely loathe audiobooks.
Now, that’s aggressive and dramatic — I realize that. I guess what I’m trying to say is not so much that I hate audiobooks (even though I do). It’s just that they’re not the same. Not even close. Audiobooks aren’t even books in my, well, book. I know I know. It’s literally in the name. Audiobook. It’s someone, a very skilled someone, reading the books aloud as your brain paints the pictures. Which is sort of what you’re doing when you’re reading, except not really.
Because the thing about reading? It’s so much more than just the words. And it’s way more than hearing someone say the words aloud. It’s the feel of the worn pages of your favorite book beneath your fingers, each crease, and fold, and random food stain telling its own story. It’s chapters with tearstains, at the spots that make your insides ache each and everytime you reach them. It’s when your eyes fall on a passage that speaks to something deep down in your soul, a phrase so beautiful that you freeze in that moment and read the words over again and again, wanting the message to become imprinted in your mind, seared into your skin.
Reading is curling up in front of the fireplace while rain is pounding on the window or staying up all night with a flashing under the covers, your tired eyes strained in the semidarkness, reaching the end of a chapter and thinking, “just one more.” It’s finding peace and solace in the commas, the dialogue, and the format as your own world crumbles around you. As your own reality seems too hard to bear.
And I know that audiobooks can give you some of that. I’m not just a hater. I mean, I am a hater. But it’s more than that. Books are my first and strongest love. The pages that fill my bookshelves and the tattered copies of my favorites on my bedside table are always there to lend me comfort or relief. Reading is a full body experience. A transcendence, if you will. And audiobooks? That’s just listening to a story. Sure, your brain might follow along the same general plot line. But you’re not creating the characters’ voices in your head or stumbling over a word you don’t know or catching the author’s clever use of punctuation. You’re doing what civilizations have done forever — listening to someone tell you a tale. I get that science says it takes the same amount of comprehension. But you’re not personally looking at different combinations of 26 letters and putting them together in a way that creates magic.
What that all comes down to is simple: Listening to audiobooks isn’t reading.
That’s all there is to it. By all means, enjoy the stories. Listen to them on your shitty commute and feel high and mighty because you devoured a book in a day by mindlessly putting it on while you were at work. But the next time you want to have a discussion about a book, don’t come to me and say you read it. Because that’s a goddamn lie. You heard someone else read it. You didn’t experience the story, the phrase, and the spellbinding combinations of letters the way the author intended, and for that, I say it’s not the same. Because no matter what science says, you did not read the book. No one is impressed. You are a liar. Therefore, you only get a generous half of a point for it (as opposed to a full “reading book point”), and may God have mercy on your cheating soul..