This fall I fell into audiobooks. Not just any audiobooks, but JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books, narrated by the remarkably talented Jim Dale. I had read all the books multiple times and had listened to most of them before. My children grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and Harry Potter audio books were a go-to book during long college road trips with my children. We were all devoted fans and knew we could easily fall under the Rowling spell while mile after mile slipped by unheeded.
So about 2 months ago, faced with a long solo drive, I picked up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (one of my favorites), and popped it into the CD player. I’ve been listening ever since. Each day, as soon as I get in my car, I switch on the CD and pick off from wherever I’ve left off. In an instant I’m whisked away to Hogwarts, the Burrow or to 4 Privet Drive. Over and over again, I am blown away by JK Rowling’s ability to create this world and to people it with such full-bodied vibrant characters. Even knowing the outcomes, I find myself once again gripping my seat and riding the emotional roller coaster. I no longer listen to NPR in the car and have lost what little grasp I had on current events. And I don’t miss it. Instead, I look forward to my commute and I’ve actually begun inventing errands so that I can spend more time in my car.
But now that week after week after week has gone by and I’m listening to the sixth book, I’ve started to wonder about this new habit. I recently came across the term “keystone habit”, coined, I believe, by Charles Duhigg. He maintains that certain habits set off chain reactions of other habits, a cascade or domino effect. Generally he emphasizes how creating a positive habit in your life makes it easier for other positive habits to fall into place.
So, is my audio habit a healthy habit or a reason for concern? Is there such thing as a keystone habit for negative habits? Like a gateway drug? Each day when I listen, am I getting a fix? What is it about Harry Potter and that whole magical world that entices me away from NPR, the real world and my own worries and concerns? I’ve been known to avoid serious issues and confrontations and the general unpleasantness of reality. Is this a more creative and socially acceptable way for me to indulge my ostrich-like tendencies and bury my head in the sand? B.H. (Before Harry), I used car time to catch up on the news but also to wind down after a long day, to process, to work through ideas and thoughts in my mind, to contemplate or to simply exist in solitude. A.H. (After Harry), I simply push a button and drift away. Is this simply a healthy respite or is the effect more pernicious? I really don’t know.
And tonight as I get in my car and drive to class (looking forward to the bonus 90 minutes of listening time), the biggest question of all remains. What will I do after I finish listening to the 7th book?