Thursday, December 07, 2006

Books I've loved and lost

Today is the birthday of American novelist Willa Cather (1873-1947). Thinking I'd do a little recreational reading sometime this afternoon, I just scoured my bookshelves for my dog-eared softcover copy of Cather's My Antonia.

It wasn't there.

I freely admit to being a loser. I often lose my sunglasses, my car keys, and sometimes even my mind, but I don't lose truly important things--like books. And in my neighborhood, burglars tend to snatch things like the family silver and large-screen TVs and diamond earrings, not well-loved copies of great American novels. So I can only conclude that my Antonia is currently collecting dust in the home of one of my very own friends or relatives.

Anyone who lends books must accept the possibility that she will never see them again. But while I'm sorely tempted to keep my darlings safe at home, few pleasures compare to telling an interested friend about a book or author and then pressing a treasured volume into her hands: Read this. I guarantee you'll love it.

I've lost a lot of books that way. My beautiful brown-leather-and-gold-trimmed edition of Kipling's Kim is gone. So is a very attractive volume of Robert Browning's poems (that absence was discovered just last week, when I was struggling to remember a line from "My Last Duchess" and went hunting for the book to look it up). I know who has my copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion: she has moved out of the country. But where oh where is my favorite SF novel, Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? And whatever happened to Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss? How could anyone who cares about me deprive me of two George Eliot books?

I hate knowing that some of my beloved books must be lying forgotten in dark closets and damp basements. But I'm still lending books because it's such a thrill to welcome one of the little travelers home and say to its borrower, "I knew you'd love it."

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Susan Kaye said...

Whenever I lend a book I kiss it goodbye mentally. This way, if they do find their way back, I'm just thankful and not as bothered by mildew, food stains, ripped covers, dog-eared pages ...

Bonnie Calhoun said... you really think she carried that book all the way to another country?

Long years ago, I used to lend out books, until I went to one of my friends garage sale and found one of my books on a table for 50 cents. That cured babies (and I have hundreds) stay home!

cantnever said...

Loaning books can be a treacherous journey that requires forgiveness when I do not want to give it!

Years ago I loaned a wonderfully illustrated copy of THE YEARLING to a young girl... She did return it after I asked her for it, but the beautiful DJ was torn and terrible! I struggled with that for years I am ashamed to say. Just recently I found a lovely used copy that was not so carelessly used. I was delighted. My books are friends I do not want to be without. It comforts me to know that others share this.

I do not easily loan books anymore. Mostly I give gifts of them, or purchase a spare copy to give/loan if I chose.

Marianne Arkins said...

If I like a book well enough to loan it, I'll usually buy a copy and gift it to a person. Seldom do I find anyone who treats books with the same respect as I do (people who dog ear pages should be imprisoned).


Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, that's way harsh, Marianne. ;-) Some of us bend page corners because we want to go back again and again to a juicy passage. Some of us even write in the margins of our books. But that's love, Marianne, not abuse.

But of course if someone borrows a book from me, they must not leave their love-marks on my property. Anyone who commits such a heinous crime deserves not only to hang, but to be chopped up in little pieces and fed to vultures.

Carrie said...

I really struggle with lending books to people. I've lost SO many. It breaks my heart sometimes.

I used to read my parents' old 1978 encyclopedias when I was a kid. I came across Willa Cather in Volume C and had to go to the library to get one of her books! I must have been about ten when I read Saphira and The Slave Girl. I haven't read anything else by her since, but I should, and will, someday.

Brenda Coulter said...

You won't be sorry, Reese. She was an amazing writer.