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What Counts As Reading?

A man sips from a mug while sitting in front of a laptop reading a book.
Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash

If you’ve spent some time navigating online writing forums and groups, you may have spotted a certain thread of discourse: what counts as reading?

In theory, it seems simple enough. Surely, if there are words and you read them with your eyes, then that is reading. For many, books or newspapers come to mind when picturing reading. However, the digital era has brought a new kind of literacy that has muddied the waters.

Newspapers, articles, and academic papers are now available to read online either for free or for a small fee. Social media is constantly updating with new information, data, and memes. The Internet has brought so many new ideas to people who otherwise would not have known them. Thanks to the Internet, I can send and read messages from home without hiring a carrier pigeon. I can read university papers in my field without ordering them at the library weeks in advance. There are so many new forms of stories to consume online: creepypastas, fanfiction, YouTube captions, web code, and more. How is this not exciting for some people? It’s wonderful!

But what do we here at MM consider to be readable material? For starters, there are:

  • Books

  • e-Books

  • Audiobooks

  • Articles

  • Blogs

  • Features

  • Comics - web and physical

  • Video game text

  • Subtitles

  • Fanfiction

  • Graphic novels

  • Zines/magazines

  • Scripts

  • Leaflets

  • Social media posts

  • Dissertations and papers

  • And so many more!

An iPhone displaying a paused audiobook lays on a white fluffy material. A pair of headphones, a MacBook, and a purse are next to it.
Photo by Lena Kudryavtseva on Unsplash

The advent and rising popularity of the audiobook, in particular, caused a stir in writing communities. You are hearing the story, rather than reading it on a page - does it count? Reading is a verb, and listening is a completely different verb, so surely it doesn’t? Frankly, I would argue that listening to audiobooks, while a different experience to physically reading words, still counts. Many people have an easier time absorbing a story by listening to it or following along while listening to an audiobook. For the visually impaired, audiobooks are easier to obtain and much cheaper to purchase than braille books.

As long as words are involved, you are reading. What form the story comes in doesn’t necessarily matter.

For those who still want to argue that traditional stories were told through books, storytelling was verbal for most of history. Oral tradition allowed stories and legends to live on and be told to people who could not read or write. Pretending that books are the only way to read when the printing press has been around for a fraction of human history is ignorant and narrow-minded. Following the ‘traditionalist’ logic, would you prefer books to be carved into stone tablets? Or perhaps painted onto a cave wall? Good luck finding, paying for and maintaining those forms of books.

In terms of e-Books, certain traditionalists believe that they do not count as reading because they are not on a physical page. I want to point out that e-readers such as the Kindle have accessibility features to make reading easier for those people. Adjusting text size, page colour, and tweaking other settings is impossible with standard physical books. Not only that, but digital books are often cheaper than physical ones and do not take up valuable storage space in a home. While many readers would love to have a fancy library, not all of us are rich enough to buy books regularly or stay in houses large enough to accommodate them. You are reading the same story more comfortably - how does that not count?

A set of wooden shelves display a variety of American comics featuring Batman, Superman, and other superheroes.
Photo by Lena Rose on Unsplash

Gatekeepers have also shut out comics because they contain pictures. It seems that some people like to think that books with pictures should only be read by children. Notice how I said ‘read by children’ - comic books are read. I don’t know about you, but I love art. The fact that I get to take in a great story and beautiful artwork at the same time is wonderful. Yes, there are comics for children, but there are also plenty of comics for adults. For some kids and adults, books can be intimidating or hard to focus on. People with dyslexia or ADHD can find comics easier to digest than standard books. Comics are a stepping stone on the way to getting comfortable reading longer works of fiction. Forcing kids to move on or read other books is a quick way to make them hate reading - the single worst outcome for any budding story lover.

Stories were meant to be told.

For people who struggle with reading standard books with no pictures, alternative genres, and narrative styles can help them access powerful stories. If it involves words and your imagination, it counts as reading. How far you want to take that concept depends on your views of art. Accepting other forms of storytelling as reading opens a path to further creativity. It seems like a pointless exercise in smug superiority to gatekeep what should and shouldn’t be accepted as reading or storytelling. As long as words are involved, you are reading. What form the story comes in doesn’t necessarily matter.

If you still staunchly believe that reading books in a physical paper form is the only way, I think that you need to examine your biases. It is highly ableist thinking to section off the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ mediums that could help readers of all kinds and abilities learn new stories.

Stories were meant to be told. They are as varied and wide as the mediums that tell them. Whether those stories appear as an article, creepypasta, or video game, we here at MM will stand for them all.

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