Is Listening the New Reading?

Audible.com’s slogan is “Listening is the new reading.” On the face of it, this is very clever, until you really delve into it. How can listening be the new reading when they are different actions? But a company’s slogan is not presented for deconstruction, is it? It is intended to capture attention.

Several years ago, I experienced three versions of Winter’s Bone: the movie, the audiobook, and the novel, in that order. I watched the movie because I liked the description of it: a teenaged girl goes on a quest to find her father and save her family (okay, I made that up, but that is the gist).

Through the movie, I learned about a part of the United States that I had not even thought about: the Ozarks. I was so intrigued by the story that I listened to the audiobook because that was the format available to me at the library. I wanted to know how closely aligned the book and the movie were (very). Then I read the book because I just wanted to experience the story with my eyes.

(I do have to say that I did not care for the narrator of the audiobook. Her performance was just a tad too flat.)

When I read Winter’s Bone, I marveled at the genius of Woodrell’s writing. There was not one spare word in the entire novel (It is 208 pages). I haven’t read anything that spare and marvelous since Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories.

The three versions of Winter’s Bone were compelling. Each was rich in its own way, but also very different experiences.

Listening and reading are valuable and serve overlapping purposes in that they are forms of communication. But so are dance and music. Music is never going to be the new dance, nor will dance become the new music. They are artistic expressions that hit us in different parts of our souls and our hearts.

I enjoy audiobooks. They appeal to my multitasking personality. I suspect that others enjoy them for the same reason. You can drive and listen. You can cook, clean, dance, paint, and listen. You cannot, however, drive and read or cook, clean, dance and paint while reading, without risking mishaps.

Also, there is the visual aspect of reading that is not present when listening to a book. I just finished listening to Anne of Green Gables (Don’t ask). What I enjoyed most about the experience was Kate Burton’s narration. What a performance! I found myself laughingly immersed in Burton’s depictions of the loquacious orphan and her taciturn foster father.

I skimmed through the novel, and I can readily say that I would have lost patience reading the lengthy paragraphs (brilliant though they were) filled with Anne’s breathless, interminable monologues. The visual alone exhausted me. If I had not listened to the novel, I would never have experienced the full story. Reading Anne of Green Gables and listening to it being read were not the same.

Audible.com’s slogan is clever. Still, listening is not the new reading. Listening is listening. Reading is reading. Audiences can appreciate, and welcome, multiple representations of a work of art. We don’t need to be seduced into thinking that one replaces the other.