I’m sorry but I just don’t get people who can read a book, profess to love it, and then pass it on to someone else. I guess that makes me a selfish so-and-so who doesn’t like to share. But no matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to let go of a book that has given me hours of pleasure – and will do so again when I get around to re-reading it in a year or so (as I inevitably will).
See, that’s the problem. It’s not that I don’t like to share. It’s just that for me, books are not just objects that you can pass on from one person to another. For me, they are old friends with whom I have an on-going relationship. I turn to them for cheering up when I am feeling low. I fall back on them for companionship on a rainy afternoon. I find new delights in them every time I read them afresh. And sometimes, they function as an aide-memoire, reminding me of happier times when I had read them for the very first time.
The books I had to study for my English Honours course in college still occupy pride of place on my shelves. Only now, I can dip into them for pleasure instead of worrying about tricky exam questions I might have to answer later. Hardy perennials like Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer come in handy when I am feeling a tad nostalgic for my youth. Donna Leon, Elizabeth George and Val McDermid are tucked away in case I should ever want to lose myself in a murder mystery (and no, it makes no difference that I already know who did it). Jodi Picoult is the perfect comfort read over a lazy weekend. And then, there are the classics like novels by Jane Austen, which never get old no matter how many times I read them.
Lest you think I only read women authors, there’s also a stack of Daniel Silvas and John Le Carres, which do duty when the spy thriller fan within me surfaces (as it does ever so often). There are the food books – all the way from Nigel Slater to Nigella Lawson – that provide sustenance in more ways than one. And then, there are the likes of Bill Bryson, whom I read whenever I want to be reminded what really marvellous writing is all about.
Given this kind of history with my books, how could I possibly give them up?
All this is, of course, by way of elaborate explanation as to why I don’t like to lend books to people.
Don’t get me wrong. I am as keen as the next person to share the joy of reading a great story. There is something so deliciously life-affirming about discovering a brilliant new author that you want to share that news with everyone you know. And there is a great pleasure in discussing a much-loved book with someone who has enjoyed it as much as you have.
So, yes, I know it makes a lot of sense to lend books out to people who will have as much fun reading them as you did.
In that case, why don’t I do it? And why, on the rare occasions on which I give in to a fit of generosity and loan a much-cherished signed copy of a book to a friend, do I lie awake at nights wondering if I will ever get it back?
Well, mostly it’s because I never do. The problem with lending books to people is that they seldom – if ever – return them. Oh yes, they swear until they are blue in the face that they will. They promise that they are not the kind who will borrow a book and then keep it. But then one week passes, then a month, and as the year rolls by, you realise with a sinking feeling that you are never going to see that old friend ever again.
As the saying goes: ‘Loan a book; lose a friend.’ Only in my case, the book is the friend I am most upset about losing.
Which is why I refuse to lend my books to anyone. Of course, there are a few honourable exceptions to this general rule, the handful of people who make the cut on my lending scale. My sister, a couple of my cousins, and one solitary friend – all of whom I can rely on to return old favourites and whom I can pester repeatedly if they don’t.
But what if – as happens so often – I want to share a particular favourite with someone who I know will get it just like I did? Well, in that case, I just head out and buy another copy, gift-wrap it and send it across.
That way, everyone’s happy. I get to keep my friend; and my friend gets to make a new one.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami