In “Hamlet,” Polonius said to Laertes, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
I have always thought books were an exception to the lending rule, since they offer an opportunity to share the immense joy of a great read, but I may have to turn the page on that.
Someone out there has a copy of my “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” by Olga Tokarczuk. For a year I thought it was my friend Sharon, but she’s an upright sort of woman, and she swears she searched her house and does not possess, nor did she ever possess, my book. I would like to believe her. The novel is a mind-bending challenge, translated from the Polish. But it did land the Nobel Prize in literature, and I want it back.
The book is MIA, and Sharon has a history. She has borrowed other books, and returned most of them. Once she “found” a book of mine in her house that she had borrowed two years before. See what I mean by wanting to believe her?
I can’t quite go with Shakespeare on being neither a borrower nor a lender because sharing a much-loved book weaves a powerful connection. And it adds to my pleasure to know that someone I care about will be reading the same book without having to pay for it. There is a particular pleasure in having my friends or loved ones read the very pages I read, as if the laugh I laughed or the tear I shed might linger in the spaces between the words, also to be shared.
The experience has become even more precious in the days of e-books, when most of what we read is on our devices.
Years ago, I lent books out all over the place. I never even wrote my name inside the cover. Then I realized that my book collection was dwindling, and it was all my favorites that were gone and forgotten. I had no idea who had them or for how long.
A friend of mine who borrows books frequently and always returns them promptly suggests that I keep a list of my lending, so I can ask for a book back after a reasonable amount of time. That works when I remember to jot down the transaction, but more often it’s a casual deal and soon forgotten by both the borrower and me.
That’s the other thing. I’m not a really responsible borrower, although I try very hard. I’m pretty good about books, because they’re so important in my life. But I’m terrible with, say, wrenches. I have a collection of wrenches in my basement that I borrowed over the years and never returned because I have no idea who they belong to. Somewhere out there I have friends to whom wrenches are very dear, aggravating their hearts out because they lent them out and haven’t gotten them back.
Still, a wrench is just a wrench. Sharing a book is like holding hands and jumping onto a fast-moving train, seeing the same words and feeling them differently.
On rare occasions I’ve borrowed a shawl or gown for an event. Most times, though, I don’t like to borrow clothing, because I’m bad with red sauce. I don’t borrow money (except when I forget my wallet), and I never borrow jewelry.
Perhaps we need to track our books with digital tags so we can find them when they go missing. Or perhaps I shouldn’t be a lender if I can’t deal with the occasional delinquent borrower. The funny thing is, I was hounding Sharon so much that she offered to buy me another copy of “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.” She doesn’t get it. I don’t want another one. I want that
one, the one with the spaghetti sauce stains on Page 35 and the dog’s paw print on the back cover, the one I remember reading while lying on the beach. For me, the books I have read and loved have a life, memories of which linger in the mind and heart.
There may be a gazillion copies of “Drag Your Plow” out there, but there’s only one copy that shared my pillow and my comforter for three weeks last summer.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.