If we were sitting having a coffee, and you asked me what my hobbies were (imagining that the conversation had taken a turn for the worse and this is all you could muster up), I’d probably reply by saying ‘reading’. Just as boring as the question, yes; predictable, yes; true, no. I do love to read, absolutely I do, but when you manage to read just one chapter per week, can you still class that as a hobby?
As a child, reading really was my thing. I was an avid book reader; I’d immerse myself in books, the most exciting part of my week being the walk to the local library to exchange my old book for a new one (Babysitter’s Club, here I come). I wasn’t a fan of the classics or what you would see as the more impressive or inspiring books – less Jane Eyre and more Goosebumps, Point Horrors and Roald Dahl for me – but I read. I read a lot. I read intensely. And finishing an entire book each week wasn’t uncommon. When we’d make our annual trip to France – travelling for two days by car and boat – my Nana would treat me to a trip to the bookshop before we left, making doubly sure that I had enough reading material to keep me occupied and wouldn’t become a ‘bored’ traveller. And every year, I’d emerge with a pile of ten or more, all of which would be finished before the holiday was over. Off me and my bag of books would go, my face and tiny body buried beneath them all, only coming up for air to ask for food or the toilet. Those were the days when reading really was my hobby.
This continued throughout school, but once college began – bringing with it the allure of parties, late night drinking, and socialising – my bookworm tendencies started to disappear. I deemed the reading material that was forced on us for the benefit of lectures and the course as being too much of an interruption in my valuable social time, so reading something that a tutor hadn’t ordered me to, just didn’t happen. It seemed then to be insignificant, unimportant. Then, just as my relationship with books grew increasingly strained, I became a parent at nineteen. And there’s nothing like a teenage pregnancy and new baby to really turn your life upside down. So, for years, my reading was replaced with a new hobby – TV. Then slowly, as the mobile internet world developed, I replaced the TV with the mind-numbing exercise of scrolling through social media. My hobby was now ‘screen-staring’, and that hobby stayed around for years.
Deep down, even during the height of my bookless phase, I always knew the importance of books. In fact, and quite hypocritically, I’d preach to Amelia about how it was imperative to her development that she read every day (same as when I tell her that she’s eating too much sugar only to sneak off afterwards to finish my chocolate biscuit). I’d get annoyed when that want and desire to read that I displayed at her age was missing, and instead, there was only a want to watch YouTube, and Music.ly videos (an app that’s created an epidemic of young kids dancing with only one arm while the other clutches their phones). But still, I’d battle on. Even going so far as allocating a specific time each night for her to read (even though it’s often done begrudgingly, which frustrates me even more). But, I do know that when books are an active part of your life, your language skills improve, your imagination is reignited, and you’re introduced to words that you’d never discover on the latest TV dramas. I know that. I can still feel a shift in my own writing if there isn’t a book by my bedside. If only I could use the determination and passion that I use to get the kids excited about books on myself.
In the past, I’ve shouted about my new ‘hobby’ of listening to podcasts. Those I can do. I seem to devour them. They’ve become the background noise of my everyday life. So, when I was introduced to BookBeat an audiobook app, something clicked. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The issue with reading a book, as with all of us and our busy lives, is often time. There never seems to be enough of it. Mornings are rushed, day times are a mixture of work, kids, and activities, and evenings are when I transform into a chauffeur/chef/teacher/Instagrammer all in one. So, by the time both girls are in bed, rather than stimulating my already exhausted brain with pages filled with words that it then needs to make sense of, I give into the urge to lie on the sofa, be still, and be distracted by some effortless TV watching. I know, it’s terrible. My ten-year-old self would be eye-rolling at me, too.
And that’s when the BookBeat app rides in and saves me from a life of misery and mind-numbing TV watching (just like the Knights in shining armour that you see in the classics). If I can’t seem to find the time to read the books that I want to read, and even when I do, my brain has already gone home for the day, why don’t I let someone else read them to me. I can go back in time and become a child again; tucked up in bed, listening to the soothing sounds of a bedtime story just before you drift off to sleep, only this time, it’ll be happening all day long. But wait, aren’t books meant to be read, not listened to? Will you still get the benefits of the books? Will I even listen to what they’re saying? Well, considering I can recite most conversations that I’ve heard through podcasts and that reading a bedtime story to Penny every night is a crucial part of her bedtime routine, I’m going to say yes. This is my one-way ticket to booksville. I’ll be transported to different realms, I’ll be romanced, gripped on storylines, desperate to know how it ends, I’ll fall in love with fictional characters, and fear what’s going to happen next – my love for books will be rekindled. Only this time, the magic will be going on in my car, in the kitchen, when I hoover, and while I work. I can take this magic with me wherever I go.
Whenever I do start a book, I always promise to make time for it, to give myself a reading rota just like I do for Amelia. However, after a few nights of fighting with my eyelids to stay open while lying in bed, not fully understanding or remembering the words I’ve just skimmed, I begin to drift off (literally). I can’t seem to immerse myself in my books as I did when I was 10-years-old anymore (when I’d completely clear my mind and concentrate on nothing else but the storyline), and it’d be nice to know what I’m reading without waking up during the night, dribbling onto the pages. However, now that I’m able to ‘read’ while going about my everyday life, I’m already coming to the end of a book that I started last week (something that would have taken me months to do if I’d used my old method of tackling it before bed). I couldn’t stop. Whenever my ears were free of chattering mouths, I’d instantly turn to the app to fill the quiet. And thanks to BookBeat’s unlimited listening feature, the girls can take advantage, too. The app holds such a variety of genres that there are books to suit all – children’s classics for Penny, humour for Amelia, and thriller and true life for me. The girls have now taken to listening to audiobooks as they fall asleep, doubling up their exposure to books (which makes me very happy). Reading (or being read to in Penny’s case) before bed, and an audiobook as they fall asleep.