“A Sense of Comfort” :: On Bringing a Book Everywhere

Debbie Tung
Debbie Tung, Where’s My Bubble?

This post is inspired by a comic by Debbie Tung. Check out her Tumblr, she’s really amazing!

“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.

What It Is: How Drawing “Helped Me to Stay”

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“[Drawing] was a form of transportation. I did it because it helped me to stay by giving me somewhere else to go.” — Lynda Barry, What It Is

In high school my notebooks and paper bag-covered textbooks were a mess of my graffiti. I spent every non note- or test-taking moment drawing my personal doodles of frogs and bees, and creating never-ending, constantly dividing tendrils, using my collection of gel ens to draw them and then fill them with the vibrant, shiny color.

Focusing his never been my strong point; I have a mind that tends towards wandering. If I don’t want to lose track of where I am, something needs to anchor me. Writing I can focus on, but only that. For something like Biology class, I needed something to take up the part of my brain that tried to slip away. Drawing—sketching—doodling—that was perfect.

Sometimes, my reasonings for this were not understood, and I was called out on it. Once, in Math, I set to drawing an Orca on the front cover while some classmates spoke at the front of the room. My mistake was shading; the teacher heard the scuff of my pencil, and chastised me for being so rude and not paying attention. I put my pencil away, and had to focus on my classmates without looking at paper or moving my hands. She never did confirm whether I’d really been not listening.

Then, other times, it didn’t bother the teacher at all. I doodled on my folder while the Health teacher explained alcohol poisoning. Suddenly he turned to me and asked if I was listening. “Yes,” I said, without looking up, and repeated what he’d told us. “All right!” he responded, and continued on.

Recently I read Lynda Barry’s What It Is, part graphic novel, part collage, part memoir, part writing guide. The above quote gut-punched me as so weirdly but completely true. Drawing gives you somewhere to go—letting my mind wander, as it will—and helping me stay, letting me pay attention to everything going on around me. I was taken right back to high school, when I did the most drawing, now having words to describe something I always knew was true. I drew then to keep myself in that fantastic in-between place. I want to draw more now, so that I can find it again.

Book (and Cartoon) Thoughts: Teen Fantasy and Crystal Gems

Some varying thoughts on things I love that have been pinging in my head.

I’ve been reading a lot of great teen fantasy lately. I loved Cinder and it’s sequel Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, and I’m just waiting to finish up a couple other half-read things before I dive into the copy of Cress sitting tantalizingly in my Nook. The other day I finished Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, and I could hardly handle how much I enjoyed that (I’ll have a mini review of it, likely next week).

I went into a Books-a-Million for the first time yesterday, realizing that’s what took over a Borders I used to go to when I was in college. It partly reminded me how much I miss Borders, but also got me thrilled by how big of a graphic novel section they have (not to mention the area of just nerdy merchandise). It was a little messy, and a little sparse, but I’m hoping that’s just because it was the middle of the week and they were organizing.

As for cartoons, there was a big reveal episode of Gravity Falls, and now I just want to know when the next episode airs.

Steven Universe, Pearl, Rose's Scabbard
I need one of these hugs.

Cartoon Network has been playing Steven Universe episodes all week, though their way-too-early airtime means I have to wait a day, putting me a day behind. They’re drawing into the end of the season, which means the plot is getting heavy, but Rebecca Sugar and her team are revealing more and more about the characters, who they really are, and how the loss of Steven’s mother a long time ago affects them all differently. And oh man, the Pearl episode, Rose’s Scabbard? I need to watch that a hundred times. Basically I end each episode in a state of extreme emotion, so I may have a heart attack before this whole thing’s done. (I might need to write another big post on this show.)

Really, what an age to be an adult who loves books and cartoons made for children.

Books on My Fall To-Be-Read List

Once again I’m taking a topic from Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and Bookish. This time, the books that I want to read this fall.

  • 20312458A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. I’ve been putting this off for a while, and I’m not even sure why. I think I’ve just been on a short book kick? And I never did finish rereading the whole series beforehand. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. I’m currently reading this, but it’s danged long (though not as long as Dance) so this will take me a while to read this.
  • Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley. I have it, it’s sitting on my shelf, I’m gonna read it this week, I swear.
  • Extras by Scott Westerfeld. I’ve also been putting this one off, because I loved Tally and she’s not the main character here, as far as I can tell from the description. But I want to hand the whole book stack over to other people to read, so I’ve got to finish the series first.
  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. Not only did I go to Lesley with Sara but her first book, If You Could Be Mine, was truly excellent. I can’t wait until this one comes out in a couple of weeks.
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I mentioned last week that I need to read more Sanderson. And I will. Perhaps on an upcoming plane trip…
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. I also mentioned last week how much I want to read the next in her Raven Boys series. This also comes out in a couple of weeks. October is a good month this year.

Those are the books I plan to read this fall. will I get to all of them? Probably. Will I kick some out in favor of another one I decide I want to read more? Also probably. And obviously I’ll be filling in my months with more than that.

What books do you plan on reading this fall?

So I Have an eReader Now

It was my birthday last week, and the one thing I finally decided on asking for from my husband was a Nook Glowlight. For years I’ve had mixed feelings about eBooks. Paper books are superior in their reading and tactile experience (they are), I like to own things I love, I like to shop for books, and sometimes I feel like the price of the eBook is not worth it as in times when I can get the brand new paper copy for less money than the eBook off the same website.

We got a Nook Color a couple years ago, and I started reading some graphic novels on that. And I didn’t mind it too much. Then recently, the library I work at got their own Nook Glowlight, and I took it home for a spin. It was after that that I decided it was probably worth having, despite my earlier reservations.

  • Traveling. The last time my husband and I took a week vacation, I took a bag of books. Literally, I filled a duffel bag with manga, novels I was reading, novels I might read, books of poems, nonfiction I’d checked out of the library… Really, an excessive number of books. I knew it was excessive. My husband knew it was excessive, but he didn’t say a word. Now, having the Nook wouldn’t have cut down on everything — I actually was reading three of them! — but it can help me reduce the number, and make me less panicky about running out of stuff to read. I foresee particular use for this the next time I’m on a plane.
  • Space. There is no space on my shelves. Most of them are double stacked to some extent. And even though I really, really want to get another bookshelf, I have to agree with my husband that there is no space for the thing in our little condo. I don’t have shelving for every new book I want — but it doesn’t really matter when it’s digital.
  • Books rotating out. On a yearly basis I’m donating bags of books to the library. Some of them are books that I’ve had for a long time, and I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ll never read them again, like some of the manga that only appealed to high school me. Then there are others, mostly books I hoarded when I worked at the used bookstore, that I never got around to reading, and now I’m ditching them by the sackful. Basically, I’m getting books out of my way all the time, and while it’s nice to give to the library, it is also a pain to have to regularly dig through my stuff just to keep from tripping or to prevent my shelves from caving in. With the Nook, I can make a wishlist so I remember what I want to read, and hopefully only buy when I intend to read them, and then if they’re cursed to languish it won’t be my duty to haul them somewhere else.
  • Font. I like that I can change the font size. One night when I was very sleepy, I was having trouble reading the words. Then I pumped up the font size and I was able to get through the rest of the chapter faster.

I’m not going to stop buying physical books. Let’s clear that up. I’ll keep buying books by Lesley classmates, and Scott Westerfeld’s new novel is going to find a nice home snuggly on top of other sideways books. Anything important, I’ll buy, even if it means I wind up buying it twice. And I’m still getting most of my reading from the library, I’m not made of B&N gift cards. But I like reading on the Nook, and I like the idea that I can carry a portion of my personal library with me inside my purse.

Do you read eBooks (if not, why?)? What device to you use? Do you find you read more or less with an eReader?

Shared Character Experiences: A.J. Fikry and Turkish Delight

I’ve been following the trend of every other library staffer that I work with, and started reading Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. At one point the title character, who is a bookseller, is having a conversation with one of the book reps that’s come to town vaguely about food in books, and he brings up something that also haunted me — Turkish Delight.

“…I always wanted to try the Turkish Delight in Narnia. When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a boy, I used to think that Turkish Delight must be incredibly delicious if it made Edmund betray his family…And it turned out to be this powder, gummy candy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in my entire life.”

“Your childhood was officially over right then.”

“I was never the same,” A.J. says.

When I was in fifth grade, we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as one of the assigned readings. I loved the book, yes, but I kept thinking — Turkish Delight must be amazing. I remember imagining the vivid red of Edmund’s mouth as he ate it, which invoked all my favorite flavors of candy: cherry, strawberry, or even, still my heart, raspberry.

Turkish Delight is not something a regular American kid encounters in the Shaw’s, so for years I never ate it, and almost forgot how much I’d wanted to. Then my husband (then my boyfriend) and I went to a candy shop on Cape Cod. A candy shop that sold European candy — including Turkish Delight. I was so excited. I’d finally get to try it! This delicious candy that Edmund loved so much! I bought one, and once in the car I ripped it open and bit in.

I think this is the actual brand I tried. Don’t try it.

I don’t remember the flavor. I think my brain is protecting me, trying to diminish the extreme disappointment. I only remember it was hard to swallow, and I didn’t finish the awful thing.

It’s true that most things are never as amazing as you thought they’d be. You expect them to at least be edible, though. I’m just glad wide-eyed 10-year-old me never encountered Turkish Delight outside a book. I might have never trusted an author’s culinary taste again.

Book Thoughts: A Return to Harry Potter

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireAs always, I have too many books on my list to read, from a new Francesca Lia Block novel to a nonfiction book on being an introvert. But surely I also have enough time to reread the entire Harry Potter series. I’ve read the first 4 books several times, but for some reason never got around to rereading 5-7. I became inspired to get on that when we were watching the movie marathon on ABC Family and my husband asked a question I could not remember the answer to. Unacceptable! But really, all I needed was one good excuse to read these guys again.
  • Speaking of J.K. Rowling, I’ve also gotten her new book, which she wrote secretly as a dude, from the library. Now, I’m in the minority of people who really, really liked The Casual Vacancy, so I went into The Cuckoo’s Calling with I think far less trepidation than some other people I know. Unfortunately, I’m also not a real fan of crime novels, which this new one is, but I still adore her, so I’ll get this beast read. Which I really need to get on top of to beat the hold list…
  • Other reason I have to rocket through this book: Rainbow Rowell’s new book is out! I read Eleanor & Park a few months ago, and it’s only my recent discoveries of The Fault in Our Stars and The Book Thief that beat out my love for that book. Her new on, Fangirl, sounds a tad less serious, but still delightful, especially since her main character is obsessed with a series that sounds a lot like Harry Potter…
  • Back to J.K. Rowling — have you heard about her movie? While I always thought that she would go back to books if she reentered the Harry Potter world, it’s still really exciting to hear about the movie she’ll be making. Even more exciting that it won’t be something potentially series-ruining like, “Let’s see what Harry’s doing now!” I don’t know if people are skeptical about this or not, but if they are, I say, leave her alone! After Harry Potter, Rowling’s got something most writers don’t: enough money and time to do whatever she wants. Let her try different genres and modes of storytelling; even if we don’t like it, we just have to remember what her first project was, and realize that no matter what, we can forgive what comes next.

Book Thoughts: New Finds

  • Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen Audio BookI’ve recently started listening to audio books, mostly while I putz around the house. I was never sure if I’d enjoy doing this, but since I discovered that I concentrate better on cleaning and any other chore that doesn’t use a certain part of my brain, I figured I’d give listening to stories a shot. And it works — my house is often much cleaner than it used to be, since I want to keep listening but need to find something to do with my hands. It works for longer car rides, too. Right now I’ve just been listening to young adult (Sarah Dessen) and funny stuff (Tina Fey) so it’s not as crucial for my concentration to be quite as full.
  • Also, obviously, I’ve been reading (listening) a lot of Sarah Dessen. I never thought I’d like her, but her stories are sweet and tough some inner teenager part of myself. Then I discovered that a bunch of her books have overlapping characters, and now I’m kind of hooked.
  • My grandmother went to Prince Edward Island a few months ago and of course read all the Anne of Green Gables books. I mentioned that I read the first one and would get to the rest eventually. She logically interpreted this as I wanted to borrow each one from her at exactly the same time, so now I have them all in a sack, on the floor, because where the heck are 9 books going to go?
  • There is a great amount of relief in recommending a book to someone wholeheartedly and having them enjoy it as well. Takes away the potential embarrassment of you flailing around and thrusting a book in their face, half-shouting “It’s good! It’s so good!!” when they also have an emotional response. This happened recently with my frantic praise of The Fault in Our Stars. (Which, have you read that yet? You should. Go read it. Go!)