|From William Joyce's The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore|
There are large photo pools on various sites that follow the theme What's in your bag? Owners dump and arrange the contents of their daily bag, photograph it, tag it, and post it to the curious enjoyment of thousands.
What I find myself wondering far more often that what is who? What are the books we carry? Who are the authors whose company we enjoy enough to take them traveling on our daily trod paths? And how does one decide who to bring?
For me, the selection is about far more than what I might be currently reading. I've been known to put a book in my bag just to have its company even though I never get to take it out during the course of my day. I might want to walk with a memory I associate with a book or author, or perhaps I feel like traveling to wherever I was when I first encountered a particular piece of literature. I might be needing inspiration from someone or simply enjoying the company of a friend.
Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman are both regulars in the recesses of my bag...at the moment, Eudora Welty is tagging along while writing letters to William Maxwell (What there is to Say, We have Said). Janet Erskine Stuart is a conversant companion and Julia Child is good for a laugh. Wislawa Szymborska makes me think and a secondhand guide to world architecture is great for dreams.
I have to say too, it does make a difference to me that it is a thumbable, physical, actual, honest and papery, book. I am entirely for technology and advances in communication and information dissemination and access, but when it comes to what I keep in my bag... I do like the warm rustle of the printed word.
It is the object itself as well as the author and content that is important to me. I've given away the book in my bag and used it to kill a bug. I've written to a friend in the margins and used a tea bag envelope that smells like my childhood as a bookmark. It has been wrapped in a fleece and used as a pillow, it's been read aloud to strangers, and it has taught me something new.
When people ask me if the printed word will remain a viable format for literature, I must say yes...not only for the practical aspects...I believe it will continue to be logistically and pragmatically easier to get a greater number of people books than ereaders or computers for a good while into the future...but also for personal reasons.
Quite simply, I would miss its warm steady company in my day.