Is it cheating to listen to a book rather than read it? If you don’t actually turn the pages but still absorb every word is it the same?

I love to read. I have done since I was a child. I had a selection of treasured tomes which I read over and over again. I still have many of them. There were a few classics and then some relatively new books that have gone on to become classics – like Dr Seuss and Flat Stanley. I would spend hours reading Asterix the Gaul, not appreciating until much later how clever it all was. And Enid Blyton. Lots of Enid Blyton. Mainly fairy tales but a bit of boarding school stuff too which made my little state primary school seem very dull by comparison.

Then, as I went into the 6th form my reading took on a slightly more pretentious air as I read what I thought to be reading rather than necessarily what I would have chosen. I churned my way through more modern classics – Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Bell Jar, The Wasp Factory. You get the general idea.

And on it went until my thirties when I spent most of my time too exhausted to do anything other than give the odd magazine a cursory glance. I could remember the pleasure of a really good read but I didn’t have the time during the day and couldn’t stay awake long enough at night to get through more than half a page.

But gradually things improved. My energy levels were restored, if not to their former pre-children levels, then at least to something approximating normal. I set up my book club (See 3 May 2009)and began reading again. I enjoyed it immensely but as time went on I found that I only had enough time in the month to read the book club book which, enjoyable though it was, was very limiting.

And so I began to listen to books on my ipod. I bought myself an ipod as part of my “reintroduction to technology” process last year. Gradually I worked my way round itunes and learned rudimentary control of the clickwheel (although it still drives me mad by undertaking random and seemingly unilateral action.)But I don’t often listen to music on it. I have a little for the rare occasions that the mood takes me but mainly I listen to books.

The benefits are that whilst I clean my house or walk to town or work out in the gym, my mind can be doing something much less boring. It means that I can read my book club book at night but also lose myself in something of my own choosing at other times, consequently enjoying far more writing during the course of the month. The downsides are that people assume if you are wearing earphones that you are listening to music and so talk to you. This is really annoying! I am listening and concentrating on the plot. If someone speaks to me I have to scrabble around in my pocket to turn it off and invariably I miss part of my story and part of what the person is saying to me. But worse than this is when I knock the clickwheel and it whizzes me on without me realising so that I have to try and refind my place. Much harder to do than replacing a lost book mark.

I recently listened to A Tale of Two Cities, book club’s selection for the month. I would never have finished in time had I tried to read it but I was able to listen night and day and I was done by the time the meeting came. ” That’s cheating!” remarked someone. But is it? I achieved the same end. I absorbed all the words that Dickens wrote in the right order. I know the plot and the characters and could appreciate the beautiful prose. And in some ways it is easier to fully immerse yourself in the book when someone is reading it to you, rather like it was when you were a child and were read to before going to sleep. And I would never have finished had I tried to read it so it brought me something extra.

Listening will never replace reading for me until I can no longer see to read. There is something so entrancing about opening the cover of a new book and turning the pages, seeing your progress through them day by day. But listening brings me something else.It allows me to continue to “read” in situations and at times when otherwise it would be impossible. It lets me cover more ground and take in books that I would never even try to read in the conventional way. But best of all it gives me something else to think about as I clean the bathroom and for that alone it has to be given full recognition.