I was part of a book club for five minutes a while back, with some of the members “reading” by listening to audiobooks. The leading stance was that it’s all the same, which, although it didn’t sound reasonable to me, I couldn’t yet contradict since I’d never “read” by means of an audiobook.

Well, now I have, and so now I’m giving you my informed opinion… IT’S NOT THE SAME! Absolutely, definitely, in no way, it’s reading and listening to an audiobook the same!

Reading is an activity that requires complete attention. You can’t read and cook, or read and clean the house, or read and give yourself a pedicure at once. But guess what? You CAN do those things while listening to an audiobook.

An audiobook is the epitome of convenience. Michelle Obama has been cooking meals with me for the past week, for example. She talks, and I cook. She talks, and I wash dishes. She talks and I slumber in bed until I fall asleep… and when I wake up three hours later… guess what?… she’s still talking! But convenient as it is, it’s an informal activity and your brain knows it. Your brain knows that it can disengage for a couple of seconds to concentrate on how much salt you put on the rice. Your brain knows that it’ll jump back in in just a second and everything will be fine. It knows that connections will be made, that you’ll “write in” the words that you missed, and that nothing will be missed. Or will it? 

There’s actually a multitude of details that you miss while listening to an audiobook. You are actually multitasking, and, as you may already know, multitasking doesn’t mean that you can do two things perfectly at the same time. It means that you abandon one thing to concentrate on another, and vice versa, ultimately doing neither one perfectly. 

The right time and place for both books and audiobooks can be found, for sure. But no one tell me that sitting down and dedicating both your body and mind to the activity of reading is the same as listening to an audiobook. 

Whoever is “reading” Ernest Hemingway by listening to an audiobook is missing goodness only knows how many fabulous details, let me tell you.

And those of us “reading” Michelle Obama by listening to her audiobook will first remember how calming her voice was and how difficult it was to stay awake.