The Selfish Book Lover

In her blog, my friend Fran asked what books you share.

The answer is simple: I don’t share no stinkin’ books.

I used to. When I was fifteen, sixteen, I loved lending out books–sharing words that meant the world to me or else foisting those words on others. Until a boy I liked taught me a lesson about that.

I’m not sure if I want to get into details, but I’ll tell you this: he had very blue eyes and lived very far away. He thought about things, and I liked him a lot for that. In my hometown, it was rare to meet boys who thought about things and also openly seemed to like me. I was this shy girl who was always blushing a lot but who, when provoked, had opinions and stuff. And I was strange–really strange. Not just because I liked fantasy novels and dyed my hair funny colors but because in middle school I used to eat the ABC gum off the bottoms of desks (ew!) because I thought it made me a bad ass or something. This boy didn’t know about these things, because he was from someplace else.

At the beginning of my senior year, I read Fight Club. I’d already seen the movie, but still, it felt like a revelation–I hadn’t realized that books could be like that, metatextual and poetic. Boundary challenging, you know? Later I would read Vonnegut and realize Chuck Palahniuk was not the first, but at the time it was a special, special book, as weird as I was. I lent it to every one of my friends. It was a movie edition, and the floppy cover got all dog-eared and curled. Just after graduation, this boy came for a visit, and we kissed–my first kiss–and I lent him the book.

Then he left and I found out he’d had a girlfriend back home the whole time he’d been kissing me.

I asked him to mail me the book, but it didn’t happen. I was tetherless–Fight Clubless. I learned something about lending books then: not to do it unless you can live without ever getting that book back. That’s not to say that I don’t have a certain generosity when it comes to books. In fact, I love giving them as gifts, whether used or new, love sharing words words words. But certain words I keep close to my heart. I’m selfish with them. They’re mine.

But there’s only one person who I lend books to–to the guy who is sitting in the next room chattering on vent right now. Nowadays our books are all mingled together on the shelves, so mixed up that they might as well be ours rather than his or mine. It doesn’t even bother me. I know I can trust him. I know that because on my nineteenth birthday–six months after I lost my first copy of Fight Club–he gave me another, a hard copy, nicer than the one I lost. And he wrote his heart down on the flyleaf in ballpoint pen.

20 Comments

  1. That is really the cutest! (Not the cheating boy who stole your book, but rather the inscription.)

    I didn't have a history that made me detest lending out books, but I am of the same sentiments. The books I love — ones that I gush about and want everybody to read — are precisely the ones I hesitate to lend out, because others don't treat them with the same fervency I do (I pamper them). The ones that I'd gladly lend out are the ones I didn't like quite as much, and thus have little incentive to get others to read them.

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    • My husband is pretty cute. :D

      I actually am pretty harsh with my books, but I know any damages are mine. And yeah, that's part of the reason I've taken to just giving away books I don't adore. If I don't care enough to lend them out, I don't care whether I get them back, either.

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  2. That is so cute!

    I'm the same – I don't lend out books to just anyone. When I was in high school, I knew this girl who wasn't a big reader at all. So my first instinct was to loan her my favourite book. I was convinced if she only read this book, she'd convert to Readerism. So I let her borrow it.

    Seriously, I had to badger this girl for months to get my damn book back. When she finally brought it to school . . . it was destroyed. Absolutely destroyed. I don't know what she did with it, but the binding was falling apart, the cover had been creased, the pages bent. And she never even read it.

    I wouldn't talk to her after that. Because the worst part was: that book was written by LJ Smith, and it was around the time her books went out of print. I couldn't go to the bookshop and buy a new one. It was hard to find on the internet. It was only a year later that a friend of mine managed to find a used copy on Amazon, and she bought it for me.

    So, I learned my lesson.

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    • I love that both of our stories end with people who cared more getting us new copies, you know? I feel like that's somehow significant.

      Also, ugh. What was she doing with that book?!

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  3. I don't lend a book I'm not prepared to lose, but I GIVE away books I love and then buy myself another copy later when I think of it. And then give that away. I've been through about six copies of The Curse of Chalion, more Pratchett and DWJ than I can count, and it's ok. That's what those books are for. They're my evangelical pamphlets. I'd leave them in bus seats and on park benches, if I could afford it.

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    • Hee, they're your Chick tracts!

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    • There's a story behind this, and since you all love stories and we're in the business of story-telling and -foisting, I should probably just tell the damn story.

      Long ago, when I was doing minicomics, someone enjoyed my comics so much that out of the blue she sent me a copy of "Bridge of Birds" by Barry Hughart. It's a fantasy novel set in China and it's WONDERFUL (the sequels get repetitive, alas). Anyway, I was pleased and baffled and I sent her a note asking why she'd sent me this particular book. She wrote back saying she had like, 50 copies of this book, which she sent out to people who had proven themselves awesome enough to deserve it.

      That made me laugh, and anything that makes me laugh, WINS.

      I don't have 50 copies of "Going Postal" or "Howl's Moving Castle" or TCoC. I usually only have one at a time, but it's for giving away, and I do.

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      • That's pretty awesome!

        See, I take the opposite route: I have MY copies, and if I want to give someone one, I buy them a new copy. Unless I don't really want to keep the book, in which case I give it away.

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  4. I'm selfish with my favorites. I loaned my favorite book to someone in junior high. I kept badgering them to return it. Later I was helping them move and I found it molded in the bottom of a box in their garage. I never loaned that person another book, and I only loan my favorites to good friends. Books can become an extension of us, a bit of us to hold in your hands, and loaning that book out is like inviting someone to read us. Non-booklovers don't always get this.

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  5. I lend out books. However…I stopped lending out books for a while after an incident in my sophomore year of high school. Maybe its a New Jersey thing, Phoebe… :-P
    I was 16 going on 17 (old for my classes) and I had just gotten a brand new copy of Pride and Prejudice. I'd never read it and wanted my own copy. I had just read Emma and hated it, so I was hoping to love P&P. (I did. I love all of her books except Emma.) This particular copy was a SPECIAL EDITION Border's copy with a SPECIAL EDITION cover. I stress this because, well, its important.
    My Creative Writing high school teacher wanted to borrow it. A nagging thought in my head said to remove the book jacket because something was going to happen. I got these thoughts all the time and generally didn't ignore them (ex: first boy to ever ask me out, everyone was excited for me, I had nagging bad thought, I said no and he went out with BFF, I kept telling her to dump him and something was wrong with him/their relationship, BFF told me to butt out, he ended up raping her).
    But this time I did ignore the thoughts. Mistake, mistake! The teacher took my book with PRETTY GORGEOUS SPECIAL EDITION! book jacket and read it. Fine. A few months later (I tended to be lenient with my book-lending time), I asked for it back. She said she didn't have it, that she had lent to another girl at our school. WTF. Later that month, I asked the girl if she had it; no girl had returned it to our teacher. I went back to the teacher, who told me she had it. I got it back. Without the book cover. I have NEVER been able to find the same book/book cover ever again and I have looked all over. And of course now its 8 years later and Border's is closed.

    The moral is- Don't lend your books out to people when you live in NJ.

    (I don't lend my books out that often anymore.)

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  6. This is such a cute story!:)

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  7. LIKE x A MILLION

    (The book cuteness, obviously.) I'm the same way about books. If I lend you a book, I trust you a WHOLE LOT.

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  8. Awwww…! That note!

    I'm curious what you mean by "metatextual and poetic". Poetic I can understand, but how would you call Fight Club metatextual?

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    • I can see that the label might seem to be a stretch, but FC was the first novel I can recall reading where the author showed an awareness of the rules of fiction and then willfully bended them to create the desired effect. It opened me up for other, truer metatextual works–by Calvino and Vonnegut and Danielewski.

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      • Interesting! I never read Fight Club, though I've seen the movie. Is there more to the metatextuality than the way the story seems to make you want to like one character, then twists it so you feel deeply uncomfortable supporting them?

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        • Well, there's that whole MAJOR TWIST. I'd say it's pulled off in an even more significant way in the novel since you realize how very very unreliable the narrator is.

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  9. I am no longer a book loaner. I loaned the 7th Harry Potter book that I stayed up til 2 in the morning waiting to purchase (and up until 5 am reading) to a former co-worker. They did not return it and even thinking about it makes me want to hunt them down and poke them in the eye. I thought I'd forever lost my Trust Snape sticker that I got at the book release event. However, I was lucky enough to have purchased An Abundance of Katherines right after that and I happened to use that sticker as a bookmark. I found it when I went on a John Green reading frenzy.

    I will borrow books from other people, but most of the people I borrow books from aren't "in love" with books. I always caution them that if I really, really like a book then they probably won't be getting them back any time soon nor will they be getting that exact copy back either. My favorite "forever borrowed" books are A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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