Neal Draws Comics: Literature or Love . . . Literature or Love

22 January 2013 by 40 Comments

Hard Decisions

Of course, it’s not like I really have to choose between the people I love and my books, not completely. But you know those times when you’re right in the middle of the good part — when someone’s about to die, or they’re about to find out who’s behind the curtain, or maybe there’s just a really freaking great description of a cocktail party and all the lost souls who attend such things? In moments like these, when someone says, “Did you hear me? Take. Out. The. Trash,” and gives me a look that says, “Right now, or I will cut you,” I sometimes teeter ambivalently on the precipice of getting stabbed, if only to read a few more words.

When I was a kid, I’d carry a book around with me everywhere I went. You know, just in case I scored three minutes in which nothing else was happening: at the bus stop; during the commercials in between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Denver, The Last Dinosaur; while walking from my fourth-grade classroom to recess (anyone else ever smash their head on the bar between two doors that open outwards? Those things were killer).

Having a toddler around means that I have lots of three-minute opportunities to crack open a book. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to reach total immersion at the drop of a hat the way I used to; most of the time three minutes just doesn’t feel worth the effort. But every once in a while, I’ll come across a book that just begs to be read, that stays in my head all day long, such that I can almost remember the sentence I left off with. And then I get mocked for wandering around the house with it under my arm, for bringing it to the bathroom with me, for holding it open with one hand while stirring pasta, for throwing it into the diaper bag as I run with Addison to the store. You know, just in case the traffic lights are really long.

And, I gotta be honest, books like these don’t always make me a better husband or father. When I’m in the middle of one, it can be damned hard to even get up to relieve myself, much less perform a task necessary for the smooth operation of our household. Washing diapers, at a time like this, are not on the top of my priority list. And, of course, the best way to get un-interrupted reading time is to call up Dora for a little babysitting. Is it possible, I wonder to myself as I find my page, that my daughter might learn to love books because they indirectly reward her with TV? Probably, I decide. Yeah, more than likely.

“Daddy, do you want to go read? You can put Dora on for me if you want.”

So, in terms of the comic, I suppose you might say that I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. At least every once in a while. Since I’m still married and my two-year-old can spell her name (A-D-D-I-S-O-N!), I suppose there might be room for multiple loves in my life. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m now such a snob with books; if I liked everything I read, I’d probably be divorced and living in a box under a bridge, reading to my heart’s content.

Hopefully nobody is currently living under a bridge with their library of books, but when you’re in the middle of a good book, what ends up going out the window to make room for it? Has your ability to immerse changed over the years? By inclination or by necessity?

40 thoughts on “Neal Draws Comics: Literature or Love . . . Literature or Love

  1. What goes out the window when I read? Laundry, dishes, cleaning in general, writing, trips out of doors…

    My biggest battle with my husband is over my car books. I keep a few in the car in case I am waiting in a car line to get a kid, or in case I’m a passenger and the driver won’t speak. He keeps bringing them into the house and putting them on a bookshelf. The Philistine.

    • Most common conversation at our house:

      “Lindsay, do you know where my book is?”

      My wife pretty much hates it. The problem with bringing my book everywhere is that I’m liable to put it down just about anywhere. I’ve found it in the fridge before. And then, of course, my helpful wife sometimes brings it from whatever random place she finds it and puts it somewhere more reasonable that I never think to look.

      My two year old called out to me during her quiet time the other day, shouting “Daddy, I found your special outer space book!” It was at the bottom of her toy box, where I presume I’d left it several days before while cleaning up her room…

      • My husband does this; just lays down the book wherever he is, then can never find it. Of course, when he does this after finishing a book, and if I want it later, then it is REALLY hard to find. I’d love to have them more organized, but there simply isn’t space, so as it is, I’ve been collecting more and more as e-books. At least THOSE I know where they are… :-)

    • My “just in case” books accumulate in the loo–specifically on a shelf next to our claw-foot tub. That way, if I decide on a whim to take a bath, I have something in there to read if I forgot to bring a book with me.

      My stash is getting low, though :( I just knocked out my emergency Stephen King paperback, and I’m almost done with the anthology that’s in there now. I think I have a copy of The Old Man and the Sea hiding somewhere in there, too, haha.

      • That’s the worst, right? Getting fully into the tub and then suddenly realizing you forgot something to read? (Do men admit soaking in the tub? I guess I just did…) It’s pretty close to jumping in the shower and realizing you’ve got no soap.

        Of course, sometimes I feel the same just collapsing onto a couch after a long day, and looking around for my book, and. It’s. Not. There. Where to get the energy to find it, where’s that energy?

  2. Yay, I love Neal comics!

    You know what’s the most annoying? How non-readers somehow equate “reading” with “not doing anything.” I mean, yes, there are some things that genuinely take precedence over books. But someone walking into the room and starting a random conversation with me while I’m reading happens WAY too often around here. Leads to some pretty stabby feelings of my own, lemme tell ya!

    • Thanks, Charleen!

      It’s interesting to think that a lot of the great thinkers in history likely spent most of their time lounging around and reading stuff, and every once in a while writing stuff about what they thought about what they read, and what they thought about while they were reading.

      But we civilians sometimes get crap for doing the same thing.

    • Somehow I didn’t think of it this way, but that’s so true! That has annoyed me so much over my lifetime. My parents like TV, they don’t like getting interrupted at the end of the episode. So please, don’t interrupt me when I’m at the end of my book!

      • Or in the middle of a book or at the beginning of a book, thank you very much. What really gets me is after I’ve put my book down and engaged in whatever inane conversation is being demanded of me, the conversation is over, I start reading again – and then it just randomly starts up again.

        Why? Why would someone do that? Or the people who interrupt your reading to ask you what you’re reading – I guess that I might kind of understand now that I’m usually reading on an eReader now, but when I was reading a book with a dust jacket and everything? I mean the title is right there AND I’m in the middle of reading – why would you interrupt me and ask? And then get mad when I answer “a book” and keep reading?

        Oh… how misunderstood the constant reader is.

        • The e-reader is definitely more mysterious, but with an actual book, I always debate whether I need to actually make eye contact or whether it’s enough to sort of hold up the book so they can see the title, without losing momentum in whatever sentence I’m in the middle of. Depends who it is, I suppose. Depends whether I’ll have a chance to apologize to them later, or if they’re my boss at lunchtime, or whatever.

          • I remember a Thanksgiving weekend with extended family years ago – most people were watching football, playing cards or talking. I was sequestered in a corner, reading. One of my cousins came and asked what I was reading – I held up the book and kept going. Then he asked what it was about – I handed him the dust jacket so he could read the synopsis and kept reading. He gave up and walked off.

            Later, it was gently explained that he was trying to have a conversation, not just find out what the book was about. I looked at my mom and asked (completely seriously), “well, why didn’t go talk to one of the people who are talking instead of the one person who’s reading?”. At that point, she threw her hands up in the air and stopped trying to instruct me on social niceties, vis a vis reading anyway.

            And why do people seem to view reading in public and invitation to talk to you? Seriously, why would I be reading if I wanted to talk to a random stranger? At least now I can also put in headphones and they get the hint. Sometimes.

          • I get you, Cynthia. That’s why it can be good to read in awkward places, like under park picnic tables, or in the crack between the wall and a vending machine. Still kind of public…weird enough that most people will just sort of back away slowly.

  3. When I was a kid, I could read several books at once. I’d have one by the bed, one upstairs in the living room (to read during commercials), one for reading on the bus, one for reading during class after I had finished my assigned work… My mom was usually cool about it. She’d ask me to do something and I’d request clemency until the end of the chapter, and as long as I indeed stopped and did as requested after the chapter ended, it was all good. The only problem I had was with my dad. He would always grab my living-room book and start reading, pulling out and using my bookmark to mark his place. I finally bought him his own bookmark and told him to use it when he read one of my books so I didn’t lose my place… :-) He loved The Chronicles of Prydain, by the way…

    • The ten-books-at-once and each-in-its-right-place (cue radiohead) would probably help to solve my book-losing problem.

      And, Lloyd Alexander is truly one of my favorites. Just picked up the whole Prydain series at a sale…

      • Alexander Key was another favorite when I was a kid. I just happen to remember how much Dad enjoyed Prydain, and I was actually able to convince him and Mom to buy me the whole series, whereas many others I had to just check out the library…

    • I know. Something about kids does that. But it’s probably good for our kids to see us with a book in our hand more often than a phone, right?

      “Why are you always carrying that book around?”
      “Just in case.”

      • What phone? I don’t have a phone. And that works great, because when they say, “Can I have a phone?” I say, “I don’t have a phone. Tell me why you think you need one.” Not a single one has responded to that question with a better answer than, “My friends have one,” to which I say, “So do mine, but I don’t have a phone.”

        I do always have a book. Right now, my carry around is Neverwhere.

        • Props, Andrew. My daughter hates that she can’t swipe at our old cell and make things happen the way other people can. We’re dinosaurs, mean old dinosaurs!

          Carrying a book around has the added benefit of masking moments when you see someone you know that you don’t want to talk to. Other people use their phones like they’re suddenly getting the most important text in the world; those of us with books can suddenly open it and flip madly through pages as though we urgently need to double-check a description of a grecian urn while navigating crowds at the mall.

          Hmm. Maybe phones work better for that.

        • Awesome! Where I grew up, on a ranch way out in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have a phone at all until I was 12, and even then it was long-distance to call anyone, so I never developed the habit of yapping on the phone. As a result, I really do NOT like talking on the phone now, and people are always asking me to “text them” but I don’t have a phone, so I reply “so e-mail me, what’s the difference?” Hehe.

          • I hate talking on the phone. Of course, I kind of hate talking to people in real life, too. And I hate texting (can’t do it). Reminds me of an essay William Hazlett wrote in the 1800’s: “On the pleasure of hating.”

      • Hmm, maybe it could present a problem that I have books ON my phone? :P

        I just keep my iPad/iPhone synced on my Kindle app and can read wherever I go. Often I have a print book and an ebook going at once, so I can read either one when it’s convenient.

        • They make skins for these newfangled phones now, right? Even swappable ones? I’d totally go in for a Moby-Dick or Lord of the Rings or Never Let Me Go skin. Maybe, I’d figure out how to get a skin on there for every new book I’m reading…


          …okay, so it could get either expensive or tedious…but if I was actually reading stuff on my phone, I think I might be tempted, especially as a way to clue my kids in to the idea that I’m reading books, multiple books, and not just playing angry birds.

  4. I’ve gotten to the point where I am pretty much constantly reading “something”, whether it’s a book, ebook, blogs, articles I find on Twitter, LiveJournal communities, the list goes on. I read blogs and online probably more than I should, but if a book doesn’t grab me, I tend to defer to them, since I can access them from anywhere. Ebooks have that convenience too, though, so that helps. I feel like I’m constantly immersed in some type of written word, and I guess that is okay. Boyfriend doesn’t always seem to appreciate it, but usually it’s if I’m sneaking in reading something while he’s making food or something. I can’t help myself! :P

    • I’m on the internet a lot too, during the time I’m not with my daughter. My writing process mostly involves staring at the screen blankly, or surfing, until the right string of phrases comes into my mind. Then it’s a brief but intense burst of activity.

      For that reason, I often appreciate the difference between a real-world book and what I do on my computer. With a real book I get a sense of permanence, and difference, a greater sense of relaxation, something removed from all the clicking and scrolling and quick jumps from this site to that site. I could probably get that same feeling from a good e-reader, though I’m late to the e-reader game, so my experience is limited.

  5. I used to always have a book (and still do, but don’t often have those stolen moments to read it anymore, unfortunately.) And I used to tune everything and everyone out to read. (Still do, when I have the time to read. My dad still talks about it. “Remember when you were a kid? I could NEVER get your attention. Always with your nose in a book. Tuned us all out.” Yep, that was my whole childhood. In a nutshell.)

    • This! My folks would be so aggravated with me when we went on trips, because I’d be sitting in the back reading rather than “looking at the scenery.” Yeah, okay, first it’s North Dakota and then it’s South Dakota – what scenery is there to see? Leave me alone and let me read…

    • Yeah, most kids get rewarded if they read something. I merely got punished if I read too much and didn’t do the other things I was supposed to be doing.

    • My parents used to say that about me too. They also insist that that’s why I get lost easily, because when I was young and riding in the car with them I always had my nose in a book instead of looking out the window. Even now, if I go on a day trip with them, they are like, “you’re missing the scenery!” and I’m like, hmm…scenery? or awesome book with even cooler scenery? Awesome book wins out.

    • zomg, what is up with all of the parents who were like, not even encouraging their reader kids? My dad was like that, too. “You should do something else, you’ve always got your nose in a book.” Yeah? I’m also SUPER LITERATE now, so, time well-spent.

      • It’s possible there IS a point at which it’s too much of a good thing? I don’t know, maybe not. All I know is that I was in a constant battle with my parents to let me read books during family meal time. I usually lost.

  6. Love the comic, LOVE it!

    This post and the comments have me thinking of some weird times in my life. People (my family) made fun of my reading habits for as long as I can remember.

    I’ve been called anti-social, nerdy..etc. You all know the names. During long car rides I was told to put down that damn book and make conversation. (Yuck, why?!)

    I could go on and on but man it’s kinda depressing remembering that stuff. Jerks.

    • Thanks, Jennifer!

      Sometimes the introverted (anti-social?) minds are the greatest minds of all. To be fair, Alexander the Great probably wasn’t an introvert…but I remember listening to Bill Bryson’s book on CD “A short history of nearly everything,” and identifying with the scientist (can’t remember which one) who would flee out his door and refuse to return until visitors had left.

      • Ha ha – oh, if I could only get away with fleeing until visitors leave. My sister and I both get overwhelmed if we’re around too many people for too long (even just family) – we’ve found that if we sneak of together, we can make it look like we’re hanging out without actually having to converse (except to show each other things that we’ve found online that are hilarious or share great lines in a book) and everyone will leave us alone.

        Although we did get chastised for sitting next to each other and just messing with our phones, passing them back and forth, and cracking up randomly by my dad. My mom finally told him – “oh just leave them alone, you know how they get”. I should add that I’m 45, so he sure should know “how I get” by now.

    • I appreciated that my family always thought that I liked to read was a good thing, but they just didn’t understand what the rest of the package of that came with :P But in the year between college and when I moved out, they would often say, “How come you never read books anymore?” rather than be happy that I would make more conversation or play MMOs with boyfriend and friends (they weren’t happy about that one). It’s an interesting balance :)

  7. Readers unite!

    Being married to someone who doesn’t like to read, this happens all the time. I have to admit that he does try really hard though. He has learned that I’m in the last 50 pages or so, that unless it is life and death, interrupting me might be hazardous to his health and *usually* remembers to leave me alone…

    My family was always getting after me to get my nose out of my book and be social. After a while, they gave up because I would just be very unpleasant until they let me go back to reading. One of the reasons I love my ereader is that I can literally carry hundreds of books with me. I am never without a book anymore.

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