What does it mean to ‘read’ a book?


These are the books I bought at Walmart. I purchased a series, a collection of Agatha Christie novels and the latest Theodore Boone offering from John Grisham.

The other day I went to Walmart to pick up a few items. As I normally do, I wandered through the book section. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a book problem.

I compulsively purchase them. I have stacks and stacks of books in my house, and yet I buy more. This is because I love books. I can’t get enough of them. I see something that looks good, I have to have it. One day, I will get them all read, but until then, I guess I am a bit of a collector.

Sure, I could go to the local library, but I want to own these books. As a writer myself, I know the time and energy and passion that goes into creating a book. I want to honor that effort by purchasing it.

This isn’t to say I don’t like libraries. I truly do. They allow people to have access to information that they might not otherwise be able to get ahold of. Maybe some people can’t afford to buy books, and that’s OK because we have libraries. I feel I have just enough disposable income to purchase books, so I do. If that doesn’t work for someone else, that’s more than OK. Go borrow the book. My focus is to encourage people to read. Period.

And it is with this goal of mine in mind that I convey what happened while I was checking out at Walmart.

The woman running the cash register was quite cheerful. She had a long conversation with the person in front of me as they discussed American Sign Language and a host of other topics.

When the conveyor belt carried my books to her eager hands, she began to scan them and asked me about them. I told her how the series was merely something I’d heard good things about. Agatha Christie is a great writer, I said, so I had to get them too. And as for the John Grisham book, well, I already own the first three books and felt compelled to collect them all now.

“I kind of have a book problem,” I said.

She proceeded to tell me about how she was reading the Game of Thrones series (it is actually the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin, of which Game of Thrones is the first book). She said she was concerned because she had heard Martin often kills the more popular characters, and she wasn’t sure if she could handle losing her favorite characters.

I told her I hadn’t read the books yet, and she told me I should. I told her I would keep that in mind.

Then she said, with a bit of hesitancy and embarrassment in her voice: “Well, I don’t know if you can say I’ve read them. I listen to the audio books.”

Without thinking, I responded, “Sure that counts. You consumed the book. It’s the same thing as reading it.”

On my way home, I thought about that encounter. The question nagged at me: does listening to a book equate to reading it?

I say it does.

Reading is an act of consumption. Consuming literature, whether good or bad, is important to me. As I mentioned earlier, I just want people to find the joy of reading. I want them to experience being transported to a different city, country, planet or time in a way only a book can. But to me, the medium isn’t as important as the story. Reading is consuming, whether your eyes track over printed letters or your ears collect spoken sounds. Personally, I do both. I love to read, and whenever I’m going on a long trip, I listen to an audio book. It is all the same to me.

Now, someone is bound to argue that watching a movie, then, is the same as reading. That is wrong!

A movie is a re-imagining of a book. It is the perception of the work from a director and screen writer. A movie is an homage to the book. It isn’t the same as what the author wrote. It is a different take on the storyline. See, with an audio book, the words the author wrote are read verbatim and recorded. It is true to the original work. A movie isn’t.

That’s why listen to an audio book counts as reading when watching a movie doesn’t.

So I saw consuming a book is consuming a book, and that is what it means to read. Reading is consuming, regardless of who it is done.

If someone thinks I’m wrong, that’s fine, but I would ask that person to consider one other bit of evidence for my argument.

We read to children. As children, we were read to. Perhaps this was a bedtime story. Maybe it was a grandparent reading the morning newspaper at the breakfast table.

No matter how it happened, we are most often first exposed to books by having them read to us, and we do the same for the generations that come after us.

To say listening to a book doesn’t count as reading is, therefore, a fallacy. We learn to read by being read to. To say listening to a book doesn’t count as reading negates the importance and joy of reading to others and being read to, both as a child and later in life.

Go consume a book. Read it. Listen to it. Read it to someone else so they can listen to it. How you do it doesn’t matter. Just do it. Consume a book, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about how you do it.

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