Do Audiobooks “Count”?

Woo! Something bookish (besides a book review) to talk about two weeks in a row! Look at me!

So let’s get right down to today’s topic. Do audiobooks count as books read?

Spoiler alert: Yes. They do. And to be honest, I’m not really sure why this is an issue I keep seeing come up, but I do, and it’s starting to get me a little feisty, so here’s my take on it all.

First off, “reading” a book basically means absorbing it, understanding it. When we’re tested on reading comprehension we’re not tested on can. you. read. each. of. these. individual. words. We’re tested on can you string these words into a sentence and understand them. You don’t actually have to physically read the words with your eyes to string them into a sentence and understand them. Simply put, reading is not a physical act you need sight to complete.

Which leads me to my second point which is: it is ableist as hell to tell someone that audiobooks don’t “count” as reading. What about blind folks? Do they have to get a book in Braille for it to count, per this silly rule? Do you know how few physical books there are that are produced in Braille? And how expensive they are? A copy of The Hobbit is $72.95. Want a more recent young adult book? A copy of Ash Princess is $97.95. Game of Thrones$239.95. Audiobooks are expensive, too, don’t get me wrong, but they’re more widely available, and there are many more library options.

It’s not only blind people who this nonsense excludes, either. “Not counting” audiobooks also hurts neurodiverse people. Audiobooks are often used as an alternative method of teaching for kids (and adults) whose brains aren’t neurotypical. Just because some people mix letters up doesn’t mean they’re not able to comprehend stories and information. It doesn’t mean they don’t count.

I think this is really why this issue fires me up, to be perfectly honest. Because by saying audiobooks don’t “count,” it feels like people are saying those for whom audiobooks are the only viable (or affordable or accessible) option don’t “count” when they in fact do. Very much. They’re just as much a part of the literary community as everyone else. I want them as part of my audience. I want everyone as part of my audience. I want that tent to be as wide and welcoming as possible. I don’t care how you absorb stories; I only care that you do.

Ableism is point one and the most important, but point two is time. Some people don’t have time to read as much as they’d like (or at all). Single parents, workaholic types, people having to hold multiple jobs, people doing school and work, those with long commutes, the people who might make up this category are endless. As you get older and take on more and more responsibilities, you have less and less free time. And what free time you have is precious. Maybe you’re trying to get that side hustle going. Maybe you need to spend more time with your partner or children. Maybe you’re just too damn tired from struggling that you can’t make the words turn into sentences at the end of a sixteen-hour day. Audiobooks give you back a little bit of free time because you can read and do other things. I listen to audiobooks on my long commute, at the gym, while I’m cooking dinner, taking the dog on a walk, cleaning my house, etc. All things that need to happen, all things that cut into the time I have to read a physical book. To have the luxury to have so much free time that you can choose not to “count” audiobooks is a privilege, plain and simple.

Final point on why audiobooks definitely count as books read: because not counting them is silly, really. I recently listened to Furyborn by Claire Legrand on audiobook. I wasn’t taken with the narrator, so I read the sequel, Kingsbane, in hardback. Shockingly, I didn’t have to go back and read Furyborn in hardback to understand Kingsbane. I simply picked up the book, opened the cover, and started to read. This is because I’d read it by listening to it. I mean, this is not that complicated.

So, at the end of the day, this is my word problem: According to Goodreads, Aimee has read 55 books this year. If 27 of them were audiobooks, how many books has Aimee read this year?

Answer: Aimee has read 55 books this year.

As always, be kind to yourself, and keep at those Goodreads goals, however you reach them!

❤ Aimee

Mamas Last Hug
Bookstagram photograph from @writingwaimee of audiobook version of Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal surrounded by red butterflies.

Dispensing with the “Classics”

This post has been churning around in my head for awhile now. For those who haven’t read the “About” section on this site, I was an English major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As such, I’ve read a lot of books considered “classics” (or, in academia, those books which make up the Western canon). I read them because it was required of an English major, not because I liked them. I read them because I wanted to be an author, and it is widely known that to write, you must read. I read them because I was told they would make me a better writer.

And maybe in some ways, they did. But I’m no longer convinced it is these specific books that make one a better writer. In fact, I think in some ways, they can be harmful. Because the authors at issue are almost universally white, cisgender, straight men. Not surprisingly, that makes a lot of their work racist, homophobic, and patriarchal. They do not reflect the reality of the world around us, not anymore (and arguably not when their books were written, either), nor do they reflect the reality of any world I want to live in. To quote one of these men, Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” But how can the Western canon represent the current truth? How can it help us learn to write our own truths when it doesn’t even accurately convey its own?

Yet, the thing that haunts me most is the thought of what we could be missing out on by encouraging our students to mimic a Western canon that is no longer relevant. Think of all we could have if we didn’t force this trite old sameness down the throats of every high school student in America. We could have more readers, more writers. We could inspire more voices to tell more stories, more truths. We could lift up creativity, in all fields, across all specialties and scopes. I mean, what if Black students didn’t have to read about the “heroism” of Atticus Finch? What if they were never subjected to a lecture on why it’s “okay” that Twain used the n-word 219 times in Huck Finn? What if indigenous students didn’t have to read the words “the only good Indian was a dead Indian” written by some white woman who didn’t know the first thing about their culture(s)? What if female students didn’t have to read about an all-male cast descending into chaos and savagery (and thereby be forced to contemplate what their role is in placating this behavior) in Lord of the Flies? What if our students didn’t have to follow around a main character who sexually assaults two little girls in A Clockwork Orange? What if none of these children were ever forced to sympathize with their oppressors? Would that really make them worse writers?

Or would it make them better?

Would it make the writing less or would it simply make it different? If we didn’t have these “influences” would we be more or less free? I mean, isn’t literature about freedom? Expressing oneself in the fullest and truest way possible? And how can you be free to write from your own experience and your own culture if none of your “influences” saw you as human?

What kind of impact would it have if instead of To Kill a Mockingbird, we passed out copies of The Hate U Give? Hell, what kind of impact would it have if we just went ahead and accepted the fact that a lot of the Western canon is simply boring? I mean, how many people out there do you think hate reading because someone handed them Moby Dick and they read three pages about how white some whale was and decided books were not for them? Seriously though, even the whale is white? What if we gave them Six of Crows instead? Why can’t books be both instructive and interesting?

The thing is: they can. And they are. There are a lot of books out there that are both; books that academics (and even teachers) snub their noses at because they’re classified as “young adult” or “fantasy” or “genre fiction.” I mean, I have actually seen educators, good educators I know, say things like, “THUG was really great considering it’s young adult.”

Like… what? Seriously, though. What?

Anyway, I think it’s far past time we stop and ask ourselves: Why are these labels seen to be bad things? Is it who writes these stories that make them less? Because if it’s that, it should really be evaluated. Or is it that reading these stories is fresh and interesting and fun? And if it’s that, whoever said that reading had to be boring or painful to be worthwhile? I mean honestly, what kind of message are we sending with that notion?

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Anyone else think it’s time that we cancel the classics? And if not, why do you think they should stay? Anyone want a good mix of both? Let me know (respectfully, please) your thoughts in the comments.

❤ Always, Aimee