“You’re bringing a book on a date?”
I looked up, startled. It was senior year of college, and I was in the common area shared with my three roommates, getting on my coat and packing up my purse before going out for dinner with my boyfriend. My last step — taking the paperback I’d been reading, and nestling it in beside my wallet in my old beat-up purse.
It’s never been unusual for me to have a book crammed into my bag whenever I leave the house. Dinner with the in-laws, party with friends, a half-day at work that doesn’t include a lunch break — there’s a mass market, or a full hardcover, or now a Nook or even something downloaded on my phone, ready for me to read at the first sign of five free minutes.
I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, back to Animorphs books in my backpack, back to Dr. Seuss on car trips. That paper brick right within reach is a comfort, a security blanket, ready to help me out at a moment’s notice, to pull me free from boredom, keep me company if loneliness surrounds me, to cheer me up or calm me down if depression or anxiety worm themselves into my brain.
While I don’t know too many people who insist on this practice (I was the one in my family curled up in the back corner of the minivan on road trips with nothing but a too-loud Disc-man and an R.A. Salvatore novel) but I’d never been made to feel weird about it. Until that day, in my dorm, with my friend. Though loads of my friends love to read, this friend was pretty close to last on the list of people I would have expected to question me. My fellow bookworm, the one who ALSO made time for pleasure reading during finals week, who rambled on about stories and characters with an enthusiasm so bright it blocked out the glazed expressions of everyone who was forced to listen. I looked at this person, expecting her to realize the logic behind carrying a book you would never crack open, just because you wanted it there.
And she looked back at me, confused, like I was an indecipherable nerd, like all the passages in my brain were turned around and broken.
“Uh, yeah,” I answered lamely. “Just in case.”
All my good reasons, rooted in emotion and vague-but-real feelings of comfort, became suddenly inexplicable, particularly in the face of a person who should have understood. It all seemed weird, and silly, and maybe a little bit messed up.
I’ve left home without a book before, because I was distracted or rushed, and managed to forget. But for the first time that I could think of, I consciously, purposely, removed the book from my bag, placed it on the table, and left without it.
I didn’t need the book that night. Really, it’s rarely necessary all those other times. But I’ve always liked having that backup plan, that comfort. “Because it feels like I’ve got a good friend by my side,” Debbie Tung writes in her comic. That’s exactly right, and it’s why I’ve never left a book behind since, if I can help it (it’s hard to fit a paperback in those tiny purses I use at weddings). I always keep a book in my bag, even if I wind up with a twenty-pound purse, even if someone gives me a weird look because they don’t understand.
It’s worth it, to feel secure, and to know my friends are close.