Looking for a book. A specific book. It happens to all of us. We think we know where it is on our shelves, we pull down every single book, but it isn’t there.
So maybe we had lent it to someone? Very likely. Especially if it was a book we were enamored of. Sure you fall in love with people and then you get jealous and you want to keep them to yourselves. But books are different. You want others to be as excited about them as you are. Still, they become uniquely yours, and when you can’t find them, they sit there in your minds, niggling, bothering you, until you finally realize, remember, “oh yes I lent that book to so and so and it never found its way back.”
“Hey, I’m not really lost.” they will say. “I am just taking a detour so I can let someone else know about me. Eventually I’ll find my way home. Now do you really need to have me physically in your hands? Isn’t it enough that I’m there as something you remember?”
Hush. There’s a distant whisper breaking through the years. “Hi there. Remember me? You took me to school to share with your classmates when you were in the second grade. What pretty pictures on my pages. I know, now you don’t even remember just what some of the stories were, but I gave joy to lots of other children. That was quite some time ago when you had to walk a good half-mile to get to school, protecting me under your coat when it snowed. I was supposed to go back to you but somehow the teacher forgot and I stayed in school forever.”
You don’t have to go that far back, though, to find books that have lost their way. There’s Olive Kitteridge having her say. “Are you sure you don’t know where you put me? Perhaps you lent me to someone.” That’s also what Lucy Barton tells me. Except I do know where you, Lucy Barton, are – on James C’s night table. He says he will read you, sooner or later. “But,” you continue to tell me, “I’ve been there over a year now. And guess what. The Mapmaker’s Dream is keeping me company, right there on James C’s desk. Weren’t you looking for that Venetian friar’s writings too?”
Sometimes you are just missing. I can call you up, a whole array, but that doesn’t answer my questions. You, Lincoln in the Bardo, loom up ghostly as befits your subject matter. But please, tell me where you are now. Did I lend you to someone? Are you in one of those boxes of books that are to be put in storage? I know the last time I saw you was on the steps leading to my new apartment. And then?
Books that lost their way. Through no fault of their own. Or of mine. There’s one book that I know will eventually get to its destination, despite Italian bureaucracy and Covid19. You were sent from the United States in January meant to be a February birthday present and finally, after sitting somewhere in customs in Milan, went back to the sender in September. Who knows what you had been doing all these months. I don’t even know your title but I’m sure, dear book, battered though you may now be, eventually you’ll get to me. And if and when you turn up on my doorstep, you will be all the dearer to me, a prodigal son returned for you were given with love.
There are other wayward books. True, I can’t take you in my hands and turn your pages, but you’re only temporarily lost. Actually, there aren’t all that many. Books and memories never vanish completely but are part of who we are now. Our experiences, the people we have loved and never lost, remain forever part of us. Every day we keep adding to this store, to be called up by chance when we can’t sleep, or when suddenly the light changes, or a word we hadn’t heard for years recalls that book we thought had been lost but was perhaps just wandering around in our subconscious. .
And at this point I have come to the conclusion that if you want to be sure you’ll see a book again, never lend it, but give your friend a copy.
2 thoughts on “Lost Books”
I have similar experiences with music. When playing chamber music, I often own both the cello and piano parts. Pianists rarely own the piano parts, so I lend them and very often they are not returned. I have multiple copies of orphaned cello parts. Discretion prevents me from naming the suspected culprits.
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This is beautiful. I enjoyed reading every word, poetic in its own way! The concept intriguing and compassionate. Thank you.