I’m a great believer in libraries, as you may have noticed. Not just the idea, you understand — though I know many people do love the idea of a place where books are on tap, just because it’s a Good Thing. (Have you noticed, by the way, that whenever there’s a threat to a library locals get aerated about it? Even though it’s often the case that it’s been years since they last entered one?)
No, I’m a great believer in libraries, and not just as places where I can get free wifi, or shelter from the rain, or get my food recycling bags but as somewhere I can actually borrow books. Funded by council tax (what some still quaintly call ‘rates’) libraries are a wonderful resource for accessing fiction and non-fiction, and taking it away with you. And reading it in your own time. Or not, as the case may be.
However, there are times when I think borrowing books is a Bad Thing.
And that’s when it comes to borrowing from friends — and more particularly them borrowing from me.
It’s been a year since I unpacked my books subsequent to moving house, when they made their way willy-nilly onto the nearest available shelf. A year on and I’m still looking for particular books that I knew I had at some stage before moving and now I can’t find them. In may be that, despite my searching comprehensively through my loose storage system, some have eluded my eagle eye or that my recollection of spine, or colour, or size, is faulty. I have high hopes they will turn up when I commit to a future re-shelve.
But a couple — at the very least — I have a hazy memory of lending to one friend or another, but it’s clear they haven’t come back. (The books, I mean. But sometimes the friends.) And the borrowers, strangely, have no memory of being lent them. This really is too bad. Have they or I succumbed to false memory syndrome? Have they done their own clear-out and sent them to a charity shop? Have they even read the book or books in the first place?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all one way: I too have had volumes pressed on me by enthusiastic acquaintances. If I took a book only out of politeness the object often sat accusingly on the shelf, gathering dust, unloved, unread. Other books were, for one reason or another, never returned (in one case because the person died) or else cost a packet to return when the owner suddenly moved to the other end of the country. You may be familiar with a few of these scenarios.
I’ve decided, therefore, where books are concerned, to act according to Polonius’ advice: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be: | For loan oft loses both itself and friend …”. No, if I’m going to participate in a scene in which a book changed hands it will be because neither party wants the book back.
Except if it’s a library book of course.