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OPINION: A Reader's Guide to Physical Books vs. Audiobooks

I have always been an obsessive reader. I have a very active Goodreads account. I am a member of Jenna Bush Hager’s book club. I have the Barnes and Noble app on my phone and will spend absurd amounts of money on books. One of my majors is English. It’s easy to conclude that reading is something that is easy for me and something I do all the time. But dear reader, it is not. In fact, one of my 2024 resolutions is to read more recreationally - not just for a grade or a class. I finished 2023 with a brand new list of books to begin outside of my English classes, each one occupying a place by my bed or in a spot in my Amtrak carry-on luggage. I’m also an avid Libby app user, so I can always listen to a book for free (support your local libraries!) on the go. 

There is a clear sense of timelessness for me when it comes to physical books. They’ve been around for centuries, and I hope they will continue onward. There is something so deeply special about the sensory experience of a physical book. Readers know about the magical smell of a new book, but the experience of feeling the cover and pages in the hands is another experience that audiobooks can’t replicate. There is almost a sense of peace that I feel when I’m holding a physical book, especially one that I’m making my way through. 

Call me crazy, but I love to annotate physical books. Highlighting quotes that stand out to me or resonate with me is an activity I find to be deeply meaningful, and something that audiobooks can’t provide. I am not someone who uses e-books for many reasons.  A physical book will always be equivalent to coming home from a long journey once I pick up a physical book that I’ve adored that has pieces of myself when I first read it scattered throughout the pages. When I travel to my parents’ home in Charlotte, I find the books on my shelf that mattered so deeply to me when I was a completely different version of myself. I know that the same feeling will resonate when I am older  and I am able to find all the books that sit by my bed now along with the annotations I have made as  a twenty-year old college student. 

Audiobooks maintain something that physical books can’t - a clear voice to the words. In great narrators, books that otherwise wouldn’t stand out, arguably become memorable. I am currently listening to Jenna Bush Hager’s “Everything Beautiful in Its Time,” and it feels like the literary equivalent of a warm hug. Starting her audiobook is what has forced me to go back to the gym because I can actively do other activities at the same time. Without Hager’s narration, the lessons from her storytelling wouldn’t stick to my brain and give me visceral responses on the treadmill. A large part of my “Harry Potter” obsession as a child was because my mom bought all the audiobooks, narrated perfectly, in my opinion, by Jim Dale. Those audiobooks made the mundane activities of my siblings and I’s childhood life, such as allergy shots, doctor appointments, and drives to school more vivid and exciting. On the hardest days, audiobooks have kept me company as a positive distraction, like having a friend sit directly next to me and ramble. It becomes easier to sink into something positive if a narrator is sharing a story that keeps readers engaged. I can still remember parts of books that wouldn’t be funny on a printed page, but had me cackling in my dad’s minivan backseat. In a strange way, audiobook narrations become more impactful to a book’s purpose. A good narrator demonstrates every piece of emotion that books exist for. Whether that voice is an audible one or one in the reader’s mind is up to them. 

Audiobooks are also a way for me to bond with my mother. My mom works in healthcare, and her speciality is homecare. Most of her job occurs in her car. To keep herself in a reading habit and to keep her focus, Audible is her best friend. She has passed down the importance of a good audiobook to me because of the amount of time we’ve spent together in her car. Some of the best discussions we’ve had have stemmed from a book we’ve listened to together. In our FaceTime conversations, we’re always recommending the other a new audiobook. As of the time of this article’s publication, we are listening to the same audiobook at the same time. We tell each other if even the slightest fraction of the familiar voice picks up that “We’re listening to Jenna!” 

There isn’t just one “perfect” option for readers. I rotate constantly in between listening to a book and picking up one, depending on what I am in the mood for. There is a reason why books have remained as the longest piece of mass media there is. Books are the world’s oldest method of storytelling. Books cannot be destroyed by humans alone. Both ways of accessing books, whether it’s an audiobook or a physical book, are deeply personal and valid experiences. As long as reading happens, no matter what shape or form it takes, there is magic made. 

By Kat Whetstone, Reporter

Graphic by Shae-Lynn Henderson, EIC



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