On Lending Books

Even though I’m a big reader and have always loved talking books with anyone who will engage me, I’ve never been one to lend books to friends. Maybe I’m just a little too possessive over them, making me something of a book nazi: a term a friend recently used to describe a person who cringes at dog-eared pages, bent covers, or even broken spines; one who gives guidelines for the reading of a borrowed book. I’d not heard the term before, but knew exactly what she was talking about the moment she said it.

Of all my possessions (which admittedly mean nothing in the overall scheme of things) I value a few above all others:

  • my wedding ring
  • guitars/instruments
  • poems I’ve written
  • personalized Arsenal FC home jersey
  • my books

Though I would never have time after saving my family, I would want to make sure these things are recovered should there be a destructive fire or other unfortunate event. As time goes by I’m finding that I would probably save a couple of books above even my instruments, particularly an old edition of Tennyson’s complete works. I would also place the 18th century complete Shakespeare by Alexander Pope that my wife has brilliantly preserved in my own list of books to save.

These things can all be replaced, but more than any other object, I find books carry with them moments heavy with memories. For instance, I remember where and when I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the first time and the adventure of my young life felt somehow amplified in its pages; how significant was reading Epictetus’ Discourses to a change in my personal worldview and taking responsibility for my own life; and perhaps, most importantly, my father’s selected editions of John Donne and Dylan Thomas, and his complete John Milton, which I keep safe now after his death (I’ve purchased other editions of these so as not to inadvertently damage those he once owned). Books contain information, text, story, and even great literature, but the personal and social connections we make with them are at least as important as their contents.

Maybe these connections make me just a little anxious when a friend asks to borrow book to read. I want nothing more than to share the joy and learning that I gained from each book, but it’s hard to let go, even for a brief period. It must be hard for some parents to trust others with their children and I image it to be somewhat similar with books. I won’t feel this way about every book I’ve read and there are many that I don’t even remember taking in my hands. Then there are those who are heavier than their pages allow.

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