Today I made calls and behaved like the outspoken Marya Dmitrievna, the middle-aged le terrible dragon in War and Peace “who told everyone her opinion as candidly, loudly, and bluntly, as ever…”
Actually I just went to my cousin’s house. I wanted my copy of The Bone Clocks back.
“Great cookie. And is that my book?” It was splayed face-down on a floury kitchen counter.
“I’m slowly reading it.”
She’s on page 10.
“I want to read it now, but I’ll give it back when I finish,” I said.
Some people are very rough when you ask for your books, though.
You lend a book; you want it back. They borrow a book; they don’t think you value it. Hinting isn’t enough: you have to say, “I need it back.” I lost Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face to a woman who pored over self-help books and memoirs of ruination (I lost a few other memoirs of ruination to her, too); Kathleen Raine’s collected poetry to a friend’s girlfriend who walked off with at a party; and almost lost an out-of-print edition of Osbert Sitwell’s short stories to a friend who insisted I had given it to her..
I had to be firm about that one. “No, I want it back.”
Sometimes I protest, sometimes I do not. People do not take the loan of books as seriously as they take, say, the loan of your ball gown or, er, only dress.
It is more practical to give books away than to lend them.
Here is a quote from Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop:
“ON THE RETURN OF A BOOK
LENT TO A FRIEND
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend’s bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend’s friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor use it as an ash-tray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff.
WHEN I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never thought to look upon its pages again.
BUT NOW that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.
PRESENTLY, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed.”
What’s your policy on lending books?
I don’t. Even now when beautiful books are fewer and fewer, people don’t value them .They don’t return them not because they are holding onto them selfishly; they just don’t think about them. They lose track of them.
I lend fewer for these same reasons.
I agree. I’ve lent books and they haven’t been returned because people don’t think about books like I do. I’ve also gotten a book back in horrible condition. And how about this. I lent a book to a good friend. He had it on his dining room table when a friend of his, visiting from Texas, took it to read on the plane.
I don’t lend books anymore unless I don’t want them anymore.
Oh, dear, that Texas story is the best example of why not to lend books I’ve ever heard. I rarely lend books, either.
I don’t either. I’ve lost so many books over the years from lending them to people and never getting them back. I made an exception recently and loaned my first edition (paperback only, fortunately) of “The Secret History” to a colleague. She carried it round in her handbag and spilled coffee all over it….. Never again. Never.
In a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s”, spilling coffee on a book is one of the big “don’ts.” Honestly, what are people thinking? And she gave it back in that condition?
To give her her due, she bought me a new copy. But I would have preferred my original one back intact as it was a first edition paperback and different from the one she gave me. *sigh*.
Very careless of her! I always am attached to my original copy, too, and as for a first edition: she probably didn’t even notice. It’s too bad we have to learn NOT to lend our books by lending books.
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I don’t have a policy, but your words sure rang true to me. It’s one of the most awkward situations for book lovers. I do (mostly) remember to whom I loaned what book, but asking for their return is something I haven’t yet mastered. Not only not mastered but really not ever tried. I may use your words about wanting to read it again, and then I’ll not give it back unless the person asks me!
Nan, it is VERY awkward. I don’t know why people confuse a loan with a gift. It is easier to get something back from a cousin than a friend! Yes, my new phrasing is very helpful. I do want to share my books with others, but I do expect to see the book again. I don’t often lend books anymore. It’s a pity.