Christmas is all about giving. Or rather, it should be, but tends to get swamped by rampant commercialism that inspires people to think less about others and more about me, me, me. The problem I’m finding, though, is that although I’m far from being sidetracked by the commercialism of Christmas, I’ve also lost my giving spirit.
Specifically, my book-giving spirit.
I’m not talking about losing the will to give books as gifts—sheesh, if I ever lost that, it would be worth checking whether I still had a pulse. I’m talking about the will to loan books out. I used to be such a rich depository of books and loan so many out that I was a veritable, unofficial library for friends and passing acquaintances. It was something I was happy to do—I was only too enthused to recommend titles for different tastes, for those who were big or small readers alike.
I enjoyed seeing people enjoy books, and loved having conversations about what they thought of a certain book, how they interpreted and reacted to an author’s particular style and intentions. In retrospect, I think I got as much out of the giving as they got out of the borrowing and reading. Maybe more.
Somewhere along the way, though, and I can’t quite pinpoint when or how it happened, I lost the desire to loan books out. I’ve gone from being the most generous book loaner ever to a scrooge-like character who breaks into a cold sweat when she so much as thinks someone is going to ask to borrow a book.
I think it comes from being taken advantage of one too many times, and from having one too many books not come back. I now kind of know how video stores and libraries feel as people rack up fines and never quite get round to dropping the DVD or book in the returns slot.
My situation’s worse, though, because I don’t issue fines and end up out of pocket and a little sad and grumpy at my loss. Some books I’ve had to fork out the cash to replace because I can’t bear not having a copy on my shelf (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History springs to mind). Others I can’t (and shouldn’t have to) bring myself to rebuy (I’m thinking of John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman—I know where it is and I live in hope that it will one day make its way back to me).
Still others I haven’t and can’t replace because I’m not entirely sure whether they’ve been loaned out and have lost their way back or whether I’ve misplaced them myself. The former is likely, but I’m opting for the latter to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Before you say that I should have a borrowing system so I can track my books, I completely, utterly agree. The only reason I haven’t is because it makes one seem uptight and scrooge-like and makes potential loanees feel awkward and untrustworthy. And, given that I’ve always been keen to encourage people to read, I’ve been reluctant to put anything that might seem like a barrier—like a ‘sign here and promise to bring it back or I’ll beat you with a big, metaphorical stick’ loan record—in their way.
The problem with giving so much and so readily is that you come to the point I am now: frustrated by the one-unreturned-book-too-many that broke the book-loaning camel’s back. I can’t name a specific book—it doesn’t matter and there are too many—but I can tell you that I now start to squirm considerably when I see someone eyeing off books on my shelves.
I haven’t yet found a way to say no if someone asks for a loan—my polite upbringing overrides my true feelings—but I no longer enthusiastically offer (or even offer full stop) to loan any books out. I think my facial expression belies my internal struggle, though, and I’m fairly sure that it resembled Edvard Munch’s The Scream recently when a friend asked to borrow my un-read, un-spine-cracked, pristine copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms. When I unwillingly said yes but really meant and hoped he picked up on my body language that said no, he took it off the shelf and put it not somewhere where it would be carried to maintain its immaculate condition, but in the pocket of his cargo pants.
I’m not sure whether I’ve lost my book-loaning spirit forever or if it’s just temporarily gone AWOL. I’m hoping it’s the latter, because the former would be too incredibly sad. Either way, I’d really appreciate a return of my books, anonymously dropped off in the middle of the night or otherwise.