A week or two ago I read a terrific book. (“Binstead’s Safari,” a reissue of a 1983 novel by Rachel Ingalls.) And as always happens when I finish a terrific book, I immediately inflicted it on someone. In this case, I inflicted it on one of my editors, Connie.
“You’ll love this,” I said repeatedly, pushing the book at her. She took it, perhaps because she was very busy and it was clear I wasn’t going to let her get back to work until she did.
And after she took it, I immediately said: “But I’ll want it back.” I kind of narrowed my eyes and gave her a hard stare so she would know I meant it.
I do. I want it back. Actually, secretly, I want it back right now. It’s painful for me to give up beloved books, even briefly. And yet it’s more painful not to share them. When I love a book I want everyone to read it and love it, too.
A few days after this, I e-mailed a friend in Florida. (Also, coincidentally, named Connie.)
“Have you read ‘Binstead’s Safari’?” I asked. She had not, so I bought a copy and mailed it to her. And then I bought another copy for myself, just in case.
I am terrible about lending books. I need to share them, but I want to keep them. I lend them to people, but I can’t bear to be without them, even temporarily. I send them off with a rush of generosity and then immediately panic over the empty spot on my shelves.
It is not at all uncommon for me to lend out a book and then buy myself a replacement copy, or two. Authors should love me.
I am not an acquisitive person, generally. I don’t collect stuffed bears, or Hummel figurines, or model airplanes. I don’t have an unusual number of shoes. I have no problem Marie Kondo-izing my Tupperware or my clothes or the junk drawer in the kitchen that holds rubber bands, dead ballpoint pens and scratch paper (or did, until I Marie Kondo-ized it).
But with books, I face a conundrum. When I fall in love with a book, I love it too much to keep it to myself. I also love it too much to give it away.
This is probably why I am in the job I am in: I think of these pages as my leaning in close to you, saying, “You have got to read these books!”
Oddly, this is not the case for my older books. I have friends who regularly shop my shelves when they visit, and this delights me. They pull out a few books, I get excited and find them a few more, they leave with towering stacks. This isn’t just fine, it’s wonderful.
But when it’s a book I just read, it’s as though the connection is too new. I want to hold it close. I might suddenly need it. (Why would I need “Binstead’s Safari”? I just read it.)
Lending books can be fraught in so many ways. Books could be damaged or lost — or, worse, the borrower might not love the book the way I did. Then what?
I’m quite willing to admit that all of this is irrational. But I also suspect that I’m not alone in my book neurosis. Do you have horror stories of lending books and then regretting it?
Or maybe you’re a borrower of books — do you hang onto books because you haven’t read them and there’s no graceful way to give them back? Or maybe you dropped the book in the bath, or left it on an airplane, or right now it’s propping up your coffee table because it’s exactly the right size for that wonky table leg?
Write me. Tell your secrets, and your fears. Let me know I’m not alone in this. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and city, and I’ll run responses in a later column.
(And, hey, while I’ve got you, have you ever read “Binstead’s Safari”?)
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books and president of the National Book Critics Circle. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks