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.
“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?