The Peril of Lending Books
November 9, 2011 § 16 Comments
Once upon a time, I lent a book to someone. It was devastating. Such playful and fine-tuned words I gave! Such playful and fine-tearing hands that got ahold of it! Yes, she had kids. Plural. And dogs.
We have since drifted apart.
I have also lent books which have never returned to my hands, sometimes without the borrower having even read it before losing it. This too is cause for heartbreak. (If a book falls open in the middle of a forest and no one is around, are the words still there?) Maybe there is a magical and peaceful bookshelf to which all loaned and missing books find their way. I imagine the space would look something like this:
As a result of my book possibly making its way towards this haven, I get a little antsy and repeatedly ask if the borrower has read it. Eventually I forget until it’s returned. Then, oh joy! I repeat author and journalist Christopher Morley’s prayer of gratitude:
When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again. But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again.
I am always torn (better me than my books!) between wanting to say, “This book contains the entirety of love, joy and everything good. Quick, read it! Take my copy!” and “Forget it! No wrong in self-preservation.” If only I had this bookplate inscribed in all my books, I could say I do not lend for pure motives – I’m trying to be holy, blameless, and set apart from the vice of gambling:
Yet even if one does lend and get the book back, and it makes it through the kids, the coffee cups, the under-the-bed dust bunnies, and floor-of-the-car tramplings, the peril is not over. The New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard wrote,
The most dangerous part of lending books lies in the returning. At such times, friendships hang by a thread. I look for agony or ecstasy, for tears, transfiguration, trembling hands, a broken voice – but what the borrower usually says is, “I enjoyed it.”
I enjoyed it – as if that were what books were for.
In the end, I think I’m taking to heart this poem by Hal Sirowitz:
Lending Out Books
You’re always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take. Whenever
you meet a woman, the first thing you do
is lend her your books. You think she’ll
have to see you again in order to return them.
But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time
to read them, and she’s afraid if she sees you again
you’ll expect her to talk about them, and will
want to lend her even more. So she
cancels the date. You end up losing
a lot of books. You should borrow hers.
Such a wise therapist. I read this poem in a book I have. And no, you may not borrow it.