When can you say you “read” something?
I’ve been having some trouble with my eyes recently, which has caused me to take a look at other forms of reading. Most notably in terms of reading alternatives is the book on tape. While this undeniably makes the book more digestible and easier to take with you on the road (walking to work need no longer be time wasted not reading!), it also makes me wonder about what you’re actually doing when you listen to a book. Does listening to a book on tape really count as reading the book?
The short answer, to me, is no. Definitions of “reading” or “to read” that I’ve found are intrinsically bound up with the written word. “The cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message.” “To interpret something that is written or printed.” “To look at and interpret letters or other information that is written.” All of these tie “reading” to the written word, which I interpret as something visual. I believe that having a “written linguistic message” necessitates having something spelled out (literally) on a piece of paper or screen that you then read from. Sight is paramount.
That said and despite my view on the matter, only one of these definitions specifically make a necessary connection between reading and viewing the written word. Two out of the three the definitions I quoted, just as examples, define “reading” not as “the act of seeing and understanding a written message,” but as the interpretation part only. I think it could be argued that “understanding a written linguistic message” could be accomplished without necessarily looking at the written linguistic message and thus “reading” could also be accomplished by gaining understanding through a recitation or other auditory form of the written linguistic message.
So where does that leave books on tape? I firmly think that listening to a book on tape is not reading. It is definitely gaining understanding of the book and even a first-hand knowledge of the plot, but, all the same, it is not reading. I would suggest the invention of a new verb that indicates that you the reader digested/enjoyed/understood the book but which takes the form of how you accessed the book out of the equation. “I read X” is what we now use to say you digested/enjoyed/understood the book, but it is a verb inherently suggestive of seeing and literally reading a text. Books on tape can provide the same levels of enjoyment and understanding, but they cannot truthfully use the verb “read.” With all the new technologies beyond the book on tape coming forward (“I Kindled Bleak House?), we need something new, although I’m not sure how to etymologically create it. Any suggestions?