Here’s what I mean. The borrower, with the book now in his possession, begins to believe the book belongs to him! Not right away. But the act of seeing the book on his desk, then on a nearby table, then maybe on a shelf, tossed there loosely but later tucked vertically between other volumes, creates a blur of ownership. With each passing week, the book takes on squatting rights.
The reason I know this so well is that I’ve been both lender and borrower. I still have a handful of books I’ve never returned, mainly because I lost contact with the owner. But between borrowing the book and losing contact, there grew a period when I had the opportunity to return what did not belong to me. But I didn’t. Mainly because I envisioned a day when I’d sit in the backyard and leisurely pore through this book that had been so generously recommended and lent. (I’ve read somewhere that when we buy books, we’re really buying the time that we will devote to reading it.)
For this reason, I’ve always been reluctant to lend out books. I’m in touch with some of the people who still have my books, but I never say anything. Maybe because I know how they feel. If I asked them to return my book, which now feels as if it belongs to them, they’d become resentful. And I wouldn’t blame them.
I have gotten better about lending books. Now, when I do, I try to imagine that I’ve given the borrower not the book but the gift of time. In fact, I don’t expect to ever see the book again. When it is returned, as sometimes miraculously happens, I’m always a little surprised. In most cases, I’ve forgotten the book was gone. Gazing upon a forgotten friend like this is a little exhilarating.
Lately what I’ve been doing is shedding, giving away books, something I could not have imagined years ago. It’s liberating. I’m freeing up not only my shelves but also my time. But the process of choosing which books to loosen from my clutches hasn’t been easy. I started with books owned for many years but never read, the ones I grudgingly admit I probably never will read. I’ve now moved to books read but with only moderate interest. Just because I wasn’t crazy about these select “duds” doesn’t mean others won’t devour them. I’m also giving away paperbacks that I liked but are not worth saving. I have hundreds and hundreds more that fall into the category of personally meaningful, and I can’t imagine parting with these quite yet—or ever. I think the key will be to find a dear friend or family member who will treasure the books as much as I do. I have to know that they’ll find a good home, that someone will be as stingy with them as I have been.