Is it cheating? Generally when one asks such a question they already know the answer; they’re just looking for validation of some sort. The fact that they’re even asking the question often indicates that they’re feeling at least a little uneasy about whatever “it” is.
As an educator, I have an aversion to anything that even remotely resembles academic dishonesty, so you might be surprised by my take on this issue. The “it” I am referring to here happens to be listening to the audiobook versus reading the same book via hard copy or ebook format.
One could argue that it isn’t technically “reading” if you use the audio format; however, I’m not entirely certain that is enough to relegate audiobooks as “cheating.” My views on this topic have changed over time. I have always loved the look, the feel, the smell of a good book. When e-books came along, I was willing to test the waters, but quickly found that I much prefer paper to plastic. There’s just something about curling up with pages to be turned and a nice cup of coffee that draws me to literature like nothing else can.
I grew up in a book-loving house. My parents both voracious readers; my father of the crime, mystery, and history genres and my mother of romance, crime, and mystery. My parents both read to me regularly as a child; a time I relished with great joy, not only for the stories, but for the time spent with my parents. I grew up loving books the way I wish every child could.
However, more recently I’ve rediscovered a deep rooted love of storytelling through story slams and podcasts. An oral history of sorts. As a child, I always enjoyed spending time with my grandparents and great grandparents. Much of this time was spent with them telling stories of their lives to entertain and instill in me a sense of belonging, rooting me in family values and traditions and in so doing also passing down appreciation of a well-told story.
This, coupled with my experiences as a teacher, have given me a different perspective on audiobooks. In the classroom, I’ve discovered that students who struggle with focus and reading fluency benefit from hearing a novel read aloud. It allows them to pick up on subtle nuances of tone. More clearly understand characters’ feelings and motivations. It allows them to step into the world the author has created.
My biggest argument in favor of audiobooks is one of accessibility. Audiobooks make a wide range of literature more accessible to individuals who would otherwise not have such access. For my students, it allows them to experience literature as something to be enjoyed instead of an overwhelming chore.
As for me, though I still prefer the flutter and turn of the page and the smell of adventure found in a good book, my busy schedule doesn’t always allow me the luxury of curling up on the couch with my coffee mug and the freshly cracked spine of a newly found gem. I have discovered that through the use of audiobooks my commute to and from work offers an excellent opportunity to keep my fingers, or in this case my ears, on the pulse of the literary community. And there’s definitely something to be said for hearing a novel read aloud, particularly by its own author. So call it “cheating” if you want, but who doesn’t enjoy story time?