Wednesday, January 17, 2007

BOOKS: I Trust You. You're Not Like the Others.

Have you ever had the following scenario happen to you?

After loaning out the bazillionth book that was never returned, you vowed to stop this habit. Never, ever, ever again, you told yourself. Ever. But then you were talking to this person about books, and it turned out that this person had never read one of your favourite books. And you thought to yourself, "This person would LOVE this book! It could change their life! And then they'd have me to thank for it! I'd be a life-changer! Maybe they'll write about me in their memoirs!" And despite your previous resolution about not lending books, you convince yourself that this person is different. No way they'll screw you. And besides, if they forget to return it, you'll remember and remind them (politely).

Fast-forward six months. You have a hankering to re-read one of your favourite books. You go to your bookcase to get it, but it's... not... there. Where could it be? Could you have loaned it to someone? But you vowed not to do that any more, remember? Though... you seem to vaguely recollect that maybe you did anyway. But to whom? Or is that who? You can never keep that straight. Never mind all that. Your book is gone -- where to, you have no idea -- and you're likely never to see it again.
Do you:
(a) Curse yourself, but hope that the book could still come back, possibly of its own volition à la The Incredible Journey, and wait for it like the Patient Griselda?
(b) Curse yourself and buy a new copy?

(c) Curse yourself and decide that, as punishment, you've lost your ownership privileges for this book for all time... and then renege a few months later and get yourself a new copy after all?
The most tragic thing about this entire scenario -- other than the pathetic cycle of stupidity, of course -- is that the books you lose are never just ANY books. They're your all-time favourite books, books you love so much that you're helpless not to foist them on any nigh-stranger who expresses the merest smidgen of a suggestion of an inkling that they might be interested in reading it.

Here are just a few of the books I've replaced at least twice:
  • Larry's Party
  • The Stone Diaries
  • East of Eden
  • Travels with Charley
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • On the Road (Okay, this isn't one of my favourites, but I liked it a lot at the time(s) I owned it. Note to others: Don't loan anything by Kerouac to the kinds of people who like Kerouac. If you can't learn from my mistakes, what am I doing here?)
See? It adds up! And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Rusty has witnessed my sad walk down this path countless times in the past ten or so years, which is why, for Christmas this year, he gave me one of those home library kits, which I've always secretly coveted, despite -- or perhaps because of (I am an enigma, after all) -- their utter dorkiness. I don't know what's in your peronal library kit, but mine comes with self-adhesive pockets, insert cards, a genuine pencil and, awesomest of all, a date stamp and stamp pad. All neatly contained in a nifty little compartmentalized wooden box that in and of itself is an anal-retentive's wet dream. It's the gift that keeps on giving... if you define "giving" as "taking back what's mine."

Now the only problem, as I see it, is mustering up the nerve to openly use this system in front of people to whom I'm loaning books. Is there a way to do this without looking like a dick?

"You're going to love this! I've read it eleven times! Now... there's just the small matter of the paperwork. How do you spell your last name again? Mm-hmm. And what's the best daytime number to reach you at? All righty! You've got it till March 16th. You do understand that late penalties may apply?"

That does sound potentially awkward, huh? How deep is the irony that this kit is created for and marketed to the one segment of the population (i.e. book nerds) too self-effacing to muster the
cojones to actually use it?

Probably the best policy would be if you just don't come to me for a book loan... well, unless you really, really, really want it. I can trust you, right?

(Note to Doppelsis, Suzi, Tara, Libby, Jenn, Shona and, possibly, others: I'm not talking about you, I swear! You guys rock! Actually, this makes me realize something I've never noticed before. All the people who borrow my books and don't return them don't even read my blog. Note to those people: Fuck you, you fuckers!)


tuckova said...

What about just bookplates with your name and phone number/e-mail in them? Sometimes I have books that I know belonged to someone else but can't remember who that someone else is; I usually ask until I find the owner, but I can imagine that some people just shrug their shoulders and figure "mine now!" Maybe a bookplate would help? And it's less aggressive than the library system, although probably less effective.

jacob said...

happens to me all the time. what i do these days is keep a small book into which i jot down the name of the person i'm lending the book to. i do this right in front of them, and am quite upfront about it. most of the books that i've lent after i started doing this have come back to their rightful place on my shelves.

Anonymous said...

Phew ...

But I know exactly what you mean, I am still in mourning for my personally annotated copy of Alasdair Gray's Lanark which I lent to someone in the UK at least 5 years ago and am clearly never going to get back.

I used to always write my name in new books, but I stopped when I moved in with my then-boyfriend: it seemed a bit pointed, as if I was marking out my property for a future division of goods. Now I just write the place and date of purchase on the inside cover and hope that's enough to remind any errant borrowers of the book's provenance.

Anonymous said...

I had an elaborate library system worked out in my classroom where I appointed 2 seventh grade librarians/thugs to collect the books that hadn't been returned in a reasonable time period. It worked pretty well, but then I stopped teaching and received the very same library system you have. I've never used it. I'm always tempted, but too embarrassed. I do slap a bookplate in books I lend out, just so it's clear that it's mine though.

Her Ladyship said...

Dude, I am totally with you on the losing of the books. Despite having moved 1500 miles away from some of the books I've lent out, I still hold out hopes that one day they'll show up at my door. Of course, you didn't deal with the other side of the coin: do any books reside in your bookshelf that may have started out life as someone else's?

Donna said...

I've given up on getting books back, but I hate writing (my name or anything else) in books, so my strategy: when I see a decent copy of one of my favorite books at a used bookstore, I buy it. That way, I have "loaner copies", and I hang onto my personal copy. The few dollars the used book costs me are well worth saving the irritation of not getting it back - because I don't expect it and I'm ok with that.

Carrie Ann said...

Bookplates are totally awesome for lending to voracious readers who may not be able to remember what they bought and what they borrowed, or from whom. But the type of borrowers who never get around to reading a book in the first place, or who just never think to return things - this personal library seems perfect.

Two and a half years ago I took a book with me to a friend's cabin, and let her read it since I was working on another book at the time. She hadn't finished by the time we left, so I let her keep it. But then she took it upon herself to loan it to her grandmother. Who lives across the country. The worst part is that this book was a birthday present from my best friend three years ago, and I still haven't read it.

Anonymous said...

I've bought at least four copies of The Complete Dorothy Parker and three of The Killer Angels... part of the problem is, I always end up hoping that I didn't get the book back because whoever I lent it to just loved it SO MUCH that they couldn't bear to give it back (which is actually how I ended up with my first Dorothy Parker--I kept re-reading it, and finally my friend bought a new copy for herself, for my birthday). So I talk myself into just buying another copy.

Cory said...

I have a ridiculous pattern going on in my life: I give my all-time favorite book (Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford, which is no work of literature, it's just perfectly lovely) to someone, and they, having read it, refuse to give it back. I sort of empathize because it's a fantastic book. I can't seem to stop recommending it to people, so I've started buying $2 copies at my used book store, reading it a few times, and passing it on when someone comes along who needs it. (Full disclosure: I blatantly stole my first copy from my dad, along with other treasured works like my first Pride + Prejudice, Zen + the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and any Billie Holliday he had on hand. So it's maybe karma that people keep stealing my shit.)

Doppelganger said...

Tuckova, I like the bookplate idea. I have a feeling it could help, since the people I generally loan books to, even the delinquent ones, are rarely the "fuckers" I so colourfully described them as.

Ha! Shona, since I still have your DVD set for the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries (and I've had it for how many months?), I'm not in a very good position. But I'll get it back to you soon, I swear! As for your comment about marking your books during cohabitation, Rusty used to joke that he'd write his names in all my books, and that way I'd never be able to leave him. Heh.

Aha, Your Ladyship, you got me. It didn't even occur to me to look at this side of things when I wrote this post. But having given the matter some fresh thought, I've decided I'm in a defensible position, in that I have a stacking system that works in conjunction with my shelving system. Books that were loaned to me that I've finished always get placed in a stack, so that, no matter how long it might be until I see their owners again, the books don't get assimilated into my own collection. Though I will give myself demerit points for not always being as proactive as I could be about returns. To me, loaners fall into two categories: books that I've actively borrowed from people and books that people have wanted to loan me. I tend (unconsciously, possibly) to be much quicker about returning books in the first group, whereas books in the second group take longer, generally because it takes me much longer to get around to reading them.

Whew! Talked my way out of that one.

Carrie Ann, you said:

But then she took it upon herself to loan it to her grandmother.

But... but... that's so WRONG. Oh my god, I'm spluttering over here.

Some of you mentioned buying loaner copies of favourite books when you see cheap used copies. I thought I was the only person who did this! I've got three copies of Travels with Charley along. Man, it sure cuts down on feelings of ill will.

Anonymous said...

This entry
really, really spoke to me
. I've lived this so many times, I don't care what people think when I start rubber-stamping my books.

Of course ... I haven't returned my friend's copy of Nobody's Fool in, like, four years. But he can't possibly appreciate that book the way I do!

Anonymous said...

I use a digital database thingie called "Bookpedia", from It sets the "loan" period for a certain time, and after that time it sends an email to whomever borrowed the book. And it keeps sending emails until I log that the book has been returned. I have absolutely zero shame about using this system, and what did it for me was loving most of my complete Sandman run. Also, I have yet to have a single person complain.

But I gotta say, Larry's Party? For real?

Anonymous said...

Er, "losing" not "loving". Although I did love them.

Anonymous said...

What I like to do is lace all my loaned books with some deadly virus that has an incubation period of, say, three weeks? I also keep a vial of antidote in the place where the book used to be and when the book is returned, I just inject the antidote into the forearm of the borrower.

So simple!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I am still soooo mad about my husband lending out seven (seven!!!) Phillip Roth novels to one person, which have of course not been returned. Why would you do that? You lend tops two books and make them return those before they get more. OOh, the anger is rising up all over again. Give back the books, Patrick!

Anonymous said...

you leave larry's party alone. it was sad. isn't he sad enough without being picked on?

i've foisted Muir's 'Irreverent and thoroughly incomplete social history of almost everything' on more people than i can hope to count - and in between lendings i tend to lose it places...i swear it finds its way back onto my bookshelf by itself while i'm sleeping.

good book, sit. stay?

lumenatrix said...

I know I am odd about this, but I never expect to get books back. In fact I usually tell people not to bother, just give it to someone else, don't let it gather dust on your shelf. Granted, I buy everything used and there are a few I would never lend out, so it comes out in the wash, I guess.

A friend of mine has the same library system you got and what he does is instead of a "due date" he stamps in the day it leaves his house. That way it's a little less agressive, but as he says, "everyone remembers when it went out." Sort of the Catholic guilt version of the due date. It works for him and no one has ever complained about it. Usually they think it's neat.

Sam said...

I feel for you. I'm still semi-traumitized every time I go to my shelves in search of a book that I can clearly picture in my mind's eye only to find that it's one of the several dozen that never made it back to Houston when I returned here from a few years spent living and working in London.

I still don't know which ones disappeared because I discover another one "missing" every few weeks.

Doppelsis said...

You better not be talking about me! You have oodles of my books right now. Some of which have been praised in this here bloggy thing and one or two or three others that have been trashed and left the authors hanging their heads in shame for ever even thinking about putting something in writing.

Because you are my sister and I love you I will give you my copy of Larry's Party (not previously owned). I want to reread it first because I gotta admit I don't get the love that you feel for this book.

Anonymous said...

Oh my word, word. Rusty is my dream man because I have decided that whoever gives me that library system as a gift truly knows and understands me and my love (obsession) of books. People approach ownership so differently, but personally my books (the ones I've read, anyway) all have some sort of physical evidence of my love (abuse) of them (in the form of crumbs or snide comments) so I suppose that in the end, my books are too disgusting to lend. But I want that library system anyway, and also I think this might be a genius, easy way to mark your books as your own.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that has a similar piece of software as mentioned above, and he is not in any way uncomfortable to use it. He shows me very plainly how my name will have a red mark against me until I return his DVD by the date decided upon by both of us.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: Larry is sad because he is not a man. I have no idea what Larry is, but he's just not a man. I have never in all my life come across a less convincing male character in my entire life. He doesn't strike me as "not a man" in the sense of a woman dressed as a man, or in the crazy homophobic sense of being a gay man, because he's neither of those things either. He just isn't a man in any sense that I, as a man, can recognize.

I suppose that makes him very sad indeed. I was really, really disappointed by that book, because Carol Shields is one of my all-time favourite authors. The Stone Diaries was the first "real" book I read, and the first time I realized a book could be about Canada, and even better, about a Canada that I recognized. It's still in a tie for my favourite novel of all-time.

Tammy said...

Thanks, Doppelsis, but I've already procured a new copy. I take back what I said about you yesterday, though. You're not a meanie -- you're swell!

I can't chime in on the "Is Larry a realistically depicted male or is he not?" debate, because I've never been a man. I can, however, state that many, many male writers have written female characters that in no way bear any relation to any woman I've ever known, but I like these books anyway. I just like Larry, whatever he is. And it's so funny -- I've never thought he was any sadder than average. He gets a little lost in places, but he's never that far gone.

But August, I like the digital solution you've found to the lending problem. Reading about that, combined with the Cap'n's more, er, radical solution, makes me think of a third system, involving a computer chip implanted into the book that commences verbally shaming the borrower at 30-minute intervals until the book is returned.

AndSolaana, that stamp is gorgeous! I think I need to drop some hints around the house before my next birthday.

BabelBabe said...

Love Agust's digital solution - although my heart wants to embrace the Cap'n's solution.

I only care about the books I lend that I then find out are out of print. Twice now, that's happened. And each time the person has sworn they don't know what i am talking about, even though I wrote it down when I lent them and to whom. now i just don't lend. EVER. I do the loaner/giveaway copy thing, though. I have handed out umpteen copies of both Stones from the River and Possession.

Anonymous said...

About a month ago, I mailed eight books to a friend in The Netherlands. I don't know when or how he'll return them to me but I know that it is one of the few instances in which I — perhaps oddly, since the books are about 4000 miles away — am not the least bit worried about them.

A few years ago, I hated to loan out any books but I decided to just let it go.

But don't think I don't have a list of EXACTLY which books are in The Netherlands.

Anonymous said...

I have about 10 copies of On the Road for that very reason. I pick them up at used bookstores all the time just so that when I run into someone who says, "You know, I've never read any Kerouac," I can whip it out of my oh-so-cool bag and say, "here, keep it, I've got nine others."

Anonymous said...

i have a bad bad feeling that i might be guilty after all - i seem to remember a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's that may or may not be among the various boxes in my mother's attic ....

Corey said...

My problem is, I hate writing in books, or putting stickers in them, so while I received a set of bookcards as a present, I can't bring myself to use them.

Just as well. I don't lend out books anyway.