Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Word about Book Guilt

Quick! Take a survey of your bookshelves. Just how many books in your stacks belong to someone else? How long have they been there? I believe book guilt plagues as many of us as the common cold. What are the symptoms? Ask Dr. Nancy.

When someone has just finished a book and offers it to you, do you take it, even though you know you have a dozen others you either need or want to read next?

Do you feel ashamed returning a book unread, for fear you'll hurt the kind owner's attention when you can't say if you enjoyed it because you haven't read it?

Do you keep books indefinitely rather than admit the truth about not reading?

Do you sometimes accept a book loan, knowing full well you would never read that book, that if you were stuck on a desert island, you might use it to learn origami rather than force yourself to lower your reading standards merely because you have no access to a good bookstore or library?

Fear no more! You are not alone. That person who gave you that book is also harboring books that belong to others for the same reason you are. We might all have more room on our shelves for our own books, the ones we bought because we wanted to read them, if we gave back those that belong to others.

For several years, I had a copy of Little Men I had borrowed from a friend that belonged to her brother. I had loved Little Women, but I just never got into the boy book. Here's the gruesome part of the tale: My great grandmother, Mama Cheatham, had a borrowed copy of Little Men. The young man who lent her the book died before she could return it. I am ashamed to admit how many years I kept my copy of Little Men, but before I returned it, my friend's brother, the book's true owner, died in a car accident. When I finally got the courage to return the book, not only was my friend not angry at me for having kept it, but she was moved to have something that had belonged to him.

Because most of us admit to at least a few of the aforementioned symptoms, I hereby declare the last week of October "Book Amnesty Week." Here's how you celebrate: Gather all the books that belong to someone else but that you know you won't read within the next six months. (I'll leave you to your conscience to decide what to do about the books that belong to others but which you love too much to give back.)

If you have an inkling that you might read a borrowed book ever, write the title and the owner's name somewhere, so you won't lose it. Surely you write down the titles of the books you read; write it somewhere nearby.

Now return the books with this kind of declaration: I'm returning some of your books in recognition of National Book Amnesty Week. Please do not ask me if I read them or not; just feel assured that if and when I am ready to give a book of yours my full, immediate attention, I'll ask.

At least two good things will happen: Someone will probably be relieved to have his or her books back. You'll have more room on your shelves. Maybe you'll even inspire someone to return your books.


Cerrillos Sandy said...

Thanks, dear cousin . . . I'll return one particular book this week. Here's a really sad story about lent books. I love Cassandra King's books and had collected all three of them. I lent one to a good friend, expecting her to return it. Several weeks later, she casually mentioned that she had given it to Goodwill since it was a paperback and she was sure I didn't want it back. Heartbreak! But she's a wonderful friend, and I didn't have the heart to let her know my feelings. I can buy another book.


Amber O said...

You crack me up. I will admit to only two on my shelves that don't belong to me. I may never read them, but they belonged to a very dear friend of mine who died in 2006. I like to think he'd want me to keep them. I'm gonna.

How about this? Any of mine that you need to purge, you just go right ahead and put in your stack to drop off at your local friends of the library. I'll pretend like that's what I did with them, since I have no idea what I might have left with you back in the day.

But whoever has my heavily underlined copy of Mere Christianity, I sure would like to have that one back...