I have had to do a lot of traveling alone in my life. Hundreds (yes, actually hundreds) of hours spent on airplanes and in airports--by myself. Now this is something that I endure, but it hasn't ever been something I endure happily. However, my first Christmas journey home from Spokane, Washington (where I did my undergraduate work at Gonzaga University), I was wandering the Seattle airport trying to waste the three hours before my connecting flight to Denver when I moseyed into a bookstore and ran across an old friend.
J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
I was uncomfortable, so painfully uncomfortable, being on my own--but the remaining journey spent with my terrifically interesting companion was actually pleasant. I enjoyed settling down in that horrible airport bench/chair and catching up with Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves. I was home before we found the weakness in Smaug's armor. I finished the book my first night home, and sat it gratefully on the shelf.
Since that first long flight there have been countless others. Christmasses, Spring Breaks, Summers, across continents, and oceans--mostly alone. But now I find I'm never really alone. Not really. Because I know I have friends in every airport bookshop. There are eight copies of The Hobbit residing on my shelves, and six copies of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere." There is nothing that makes travel more pleasant than a wonderful, well-loved book.
My mom doesn't understand my collection. When she travels, she picks new books--a whole stack of them--and tries them all. I don't understand wanting to risk spending 10+ hours with a boring, relentlessly chatty stranger--a flight from Glasgow, Scotland to Denver, Colorado with a boring book?! God help me! I'd much rather fly with someone I know and love.
And, while I own an iPad, I don't think the number of Hobbits on the shelf is likely to stop increasing. When you put an iPad on your lap, people feel compelled to ask you about it. Is it really faster than the old one? Can you get your email on that thing? Do you have to pay for wifi in the airport? And on, and on, and on. When you open a book--a good, old fashioned, crisp-spined, ink-smelling book--it is, almost always, an indicator that you don't want to be bothered. You're already having a conversation--with a Hobbit!