when is a book not a book?

There’s a fairly regular discussion/argument over on the socials about what constitutes ‘reading’ a book.

Indeed, just the other day, a fairly prominent fantasy author (whose work I admire a lot, and therefore will not name) made a remark about people who read hundreds of books a year. How did they do it? Were those books, they mused, picture books? Do these people sleep, eat or work?

Cue the inevitable Twitter howls of outrage.

I read what I consider to be a fair few books a year. Sixty-two (or sixty-three, I kind of lost count what with being in the incredibly fortunate position of reading books pre-publication and some of those books not being on Goodreads).

I was having a conversation with a friend over Christmas, the conversation turned (as all good conversations do) to books and she counted how many books she had to read.

She counted them. She counted them on her fingers.


Six books.

And she’d read maybe six books last year too. I have more than that within arm’s reach of where I’m sat now. (27 – 17 unread, 10 read, I just checked. I’m nothing if not thorough)

So to her, my sixty-and-counting was a HUGE number. How did I do it? Do I sleep, or eat, or work?

And to me, 300+ is a huge number. But over the years of being a book blogger, I’ve come to know a lot of people who regularly read hundreds of books in a year. And yes, some of them don’t (or can’t) sleep. Some of them include graphic novels, or novellas.

But all of those people have one thing in common. They love books.

Some of them prefer to read a book rather than watch TV, for example. Five minutes spare time? Book. Waiting in the queue at the post office? Book. Tea in the oven? Book.

Driving in the car? Audiobook.

Ah, now there’s another fun topic.

Is listening to an audiobook the same as ‘reading’ a book? Does it, should it, count towards your number of books read?

Of course!

It’s just someone else reading the book for you, at a time when perhaps you can’t read it yourself. You’re still getting the story.

Now I love a good audiobook, with the perfect narrator. Car journeys, out walking the dog, cooking tea. A friendly voice telling you a tale.

Ah, but now what about this?

Over the past day or so I’ve been listening to ‘How To Kill Your Family’ on the BBC Sounds app. Bella Mackie’s darkly comic novel a young woman who set out to kill her estranged family in a variety of ways.

It’s a ten-part adaptation of the book, told in fifteen-minute chunks, so some two and a half hours. It’s enormously entertaining, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

But the unabridged audiobook (via Audible) clocks in at 10 hours 49 minutes. (see, I told you I was thorough)

Clearly I have not heard the whole story.

But have I ‘read’ the book?

What do you think?

*I do have the book on my kindle, and based on the abridged version, will definitely read it!

(This post originally appeared on my substack newsletter/blog, where I post semi-regularly about random stuff )

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

4 thoughts on “when is a book not a book?”

  1. Ooh, interesting wrinkle at the end. I’d say you’ve certainly read a book. The book? Well, if you’ve read the abridged version of Crime & Punishment I’d probably say you’ve read it, so… but then, reading that abridged is fairly standardly the experience. I’m guessing your example, not so much.

  2. Great post! Any reading is reading irrespective of how many! I’m in awe of those who can read 4/5 at a time but then I know others who are surprised at the number I read in a year. We’re all different!
    And HTKYF is a brilliant read!

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