Do audiobooks still need defending?
At least one person thinks so. Ten years after the New York Times looked into whether listening to audiobooks was “real” reading, or just “oral CliffsNotes for reading lightweights,” Claire Armistead asks a similar question in the Guardian, “Reading with your ears: do audiobooks harm or help literature?” She quotes American literary critic Harold Bloom, who told the NYT that reading text is superior, “Deep reading really demands the inner ear as well as the outer ear. You need the whole cognitive process, that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.”
She also quotes Neil Gaiman, a brilliant reader of his own work, who said that same year (via his blog) that Bloom’s comments are,
“just snobbery and foolishness … I don’t believe there are books I’ve never ‘read’ because I have only heard them, or poems I’ve not experienced because I’ve only heard the poets read them. Actually, I believe that if the writer is someone who can communicate well aloud (some writers can’t), you often get much more insight into a story or poem by hearing it.”
The New Yorker jumped into the fray seven years later, also refuting Bloom.
Armistead explores the issue for herself by comparing the experience of reading and then listening to Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster, (S&S Audio, 2014). The novel left her flat in print but thrilled her in audio (listen to an excerpt here, read by the brilliant Fiona Shaw, who also talks about reading the book here).
You have to wonder if Bloom, now 85 and at an age when many discover new appreciation for audiobooks, still feels the way he did ten years ago.