Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It's Mine, Mine, Mine!

Sarah Wendell's column today over at RTB got me to thinking about something. She talks about giving books away, which had me nodding my head a lot. I keep far too many books. Sure, there are those that deserve it - books that I've loved and do re-read over and over again. But what about all of the ones that I've owned for fifteen years and have never looked at again beyond that first reading? They should be goners.

What this made me wonder is how you all handle the lending out of your books. Do you do it? If someone asks you to borrow a book, do you hand it over with a big grin and a "Sure, enjoy!" Do you offer up a favorite keeper to a non-romance reader, positive that this is the one book that will make a convert out of her (or him)? Or is yours a policy of "Do I look like a lending library?"

I admit to a huge amount of trepidation at the prospect of lending a book. Especially if that book is a favorite out-of-print, hard to find copy. And I suppose I can't be blamed for not wanting to hand those precious babies over. It's not selfish to want to protect something important to you and virtually irreplaceable.

But I also admit to feeling a bit queazy when I lend out books that are readily available. When a good friend asked to borrow my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I handed it over but the smile on my face was forced. I told myself my reluctance was because I'd stood in line at midnight to get my copy so it held some kind of bizarre value that only existed in my own mind. What a lame excuse, especially since I'd had a blast standing in line, and it's not like this book is some kind of limited edition run. I think I got book 4,567,892,164 out of 8,000,000,000 copies. Hardly an item worth putting on a pedastal under bullet-proof glass.

And this friend is a great person. She respects books. She returns them. Except, to my defense, I don't see her very often so I honestly had no idea how long it would be that my precious baby was going to be away from home. It could have been months or even years. Ended up she returned it within a month or two because we happened to see each other. I think she might have even made a special trip to drop it off. Geez. I'm a lousy friend.

But my point is that even though there was no reason not to lend out this book - heck, I could have even afforded to fork over another $17 or so for a new copy if some earth-shattering need to reread it gripped me in a fever of desperation - I still didn't want to do it.

Maybe this selfishness is from having been burned in the past. I know for a fact that there are books that I've loved and lent and lost. I can remember coming across a copy of Chase The Moon in a USB and nearly swooning with relief and glee because my original copy had been long gone from lending it to a friend. And I don't forget the unforgivable sin of borrowing a book and never returning it to me. I'm more likely to forgive someone's forgetting to repay the twenty bucks I lent them than if they borrowed and kept a book.

Weirdly enough, I lent a book to my church's head minister well over a year ago and I still have yet to get it back. I honestly don't think I will. Not because this person is evil or inconsiderate, but because I'm sure this person has just forgotten all about it. I'm sure someday this person will find my book on his/her bookshelf and say "Holy cow! I forgot I had this." Since this book is still in print and I can always get another copy, I'm taking this with surprising grace. I like this person and will just consider this a donation to the church. Now I feel better.

Lord knows I'm far from guilt-free on being a perfect borrower myself. I belonged to a book club once, and one of the women in it had a book she thought I might like. She gave it to me - which technically means I never borrowed it since I never really asked for it but kind of had it forced upon me - and I brought it home. As books in my house often do, it landed in some random bookshelf someplace where I promptly forgot all about it. Fast forward a couple of months and this woman casually asks when I might be finished so she could have her book back.

Blind panic when I searched high and low and could not find this book to save my life. It didn't help that I couldn't even remember the name of the book nor the author. I finally had to confess to her that I'd lost the book. She smiled thinly, offered the title up, and I bought her a new copy. Thank god it was still in print. Wouldn't you know that months later the original showed up on my bookshelf, where it remains, unread, to this very day.

So not only do I not like to lend books, I pretty much don't like to borrow books. Especially not special books. If it's something that the lender doesn't really care about ever getting back, sure, I'm happy to have it. Otherwise, I'd rather not have that heavy responsibility.

Heck, I'm even nervous now about borrowing from our public library. I cannot tell you how much I have paid over the years in over-due library book fines. Suffice it to say that I think I own a full wing on our town's new $24 million structure that went up last year.

Problem is that at my house, keeping library books segregated from all the other books is impossible. I've tried things like a library book shelf but it never seems to work. And if the books aren't out where I see them, I forget about them. And now that the kids have their own cards and are never satisfied with checking out two or three books at a time but rather something closer to eight or ten, we have even more fines. Thank goodness our library has a maximum fine amount or I'd have to get a second mortgage. I've taken to trying to return books as soon as I'm finished reading them even though it means multiple trips through the library's drop-off slot. And I'm never really sure at any given moments how many books I have checked out.

For some of us freaks in the world, books are so much more than just a conglomeration of paper and ink. We put far more value on the words and ideas in between the covers than can ever be expressed by the price tag printed in the corner. That's why we are willing to shell out twice or three times or even ten times the original price for a hard-to-find favorite.

But since other people don't view books as more than, well, just books (these are the same people who cannnot understand why some of us like to watch the same movie over and over again), there exists a chasm that is hard to bridge. Unless you specify otherwise, I'm sure some people feel that when you lend them a book you are actually giving them that book and have no expectation of ever getting that book back. Because, why in the world would you want back a book you've already read? They see no reason to a) take care of your book or b) return it in a timely manner or c) return it at all.

And unless I've established that the person I'm going to lend a book to is the same type of book-freak as I am, I have to assume that they fall into that second category. You just can never be too careful.

So because I'm one of those book freaks and also the fact that I hate the idea of people not liking me, lending out books becomes even more of a mental minefield I don't like to cross. I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to remind people that they owe me money/promised they'd drive the kids next time/borrowed a book and haven't returned it because I don't want to look petty. I want to look giving and generous. So if I lend out my one and only copy of Quinn and then don't get it back in what I think would be a reasonable amount of time, I'd be put in the position of asking for it back (yuck) or losing it forever (gasp!).

My solution - try not to ever lend it out in the first place. How bad am I?


Joely Sue Burkhart said...

I'm totally with you. Years ago I lent the first in a Guy Gavriel Kay trilogy to a friend at work. He never read it, but let his teenaged daughter read it. I never saw the book again, and it was out of print for years. I still haven't replaced it, but will someday if I stumble across it in a UBS.

Humaira said...

Oh dear. Well if I've bought a book and really hate it, I promptly sell it on Aamzon for maybe not even half the price I bought it for.

But as for lending books, since I rely on the public library a lot, I have pitifully few on my shelves, and if anyone ever asked to borrow them I don't think I could lend them. At all. These are favourites I actually like, so anytime anyone comes over, I hide my books. Sad I know, but also very safe.