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A Bookish Tragedy

Among the things on my long list of stuff I hate, at the very top are people who borrow books and do not return them. It is just above people who borrow books and return them damaged.

If I had a license to kill, they would all be 6 feet under by now. That’s how much my blood boils every time someone mistreats a book.  The only other ‘inanimate’ objects which evoke such feelings in me are cars.

I am openly crazy about my books. I could go for days without an hour of sleep if I am reading. And I consume books at quite an astonishing rate (at least, that’s what my friends say).

My ever expanding collection of books is quite decent and I am weird enough to have a visual record of every book in my database. Yes, don’t roll your eyes… I do have a database for my books. A full-fledged MS-Access database.

Coming back to my rant… oh yeah… this IS a rant… and it is about some friends who borrowed books from me. I certainly am using the term ‘friends’ quite loosely here.

I have had more than one occasion where I have generously lent my books to people and have had to regret it. At times, the book never gets returned and at times they come back in such sorry states that I need to euthanize them (the books, I mean)… though you could very well guess who I really want to euthanize in these cases. 😀

The classic ‘Gone With The Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell had been with me since my 6thGrade when I was first acquainted with the perils, the heartache and the romance of the American Civil war. I have been smitten by the era and the events ever since. I fell in love with the book and its characters at an impressionable age (and later with the movie).  It was a gift from a family friend who knew that I would treasure a book beyond the most expensive gifts. And I did treasure it and kept it close to my heart. In college, I ignited in a few of my friends the passion to read, or at least borrow a book and consider it a worthwhile way to pass the time.

A friend was so impressed by my tales about ‘Gone With The Wind’ that she decided to borrow the book. All my alarm bells were ringing. But, considering it all for a good cause, I gave it to her… along with a copy of Robert Ludlum’s ‘The Bourne Identity’. My intuitions are never wrong and the alarms weren’t ringing without reason… this ‘friend’ of mine, after she was done with her reading, passed the books on to another common friend (Did I mention this too is one of my pet peeves?… DO NOT pass my books on without my permission!) In spite of me pursuing this other common ‘friend’ to return my book back for over two years… there was no favourable response.

To this day… and we are talking at least a decade after college, I haven’t seen those books again.

I replaced them in my library… Just got myself GOTW in the cover I wanted. But, there would forever be a book shaped void in my heart.

My Latest Stash – The last of 60 books in the last 2 months

I used to borrow books too… it is only now that I can indulge in the luxury of buying every book I want to read. The difference with me borrowing a book was that when I returned the book, it would inevitably be in a better state than when I borrowed it. Loose pages would be stuck or even stitched back, broken spines would be repaired, crumbling edges of the covers would be taped. I generally start on a restoration project before I read the book.

I do have a sincere request to all those in the habit of borrowing books to read from their friends, from libraries and book-lenders. The pages of the books, the book as an object may not be as indestructible as what is written in them… but, an unspoilt book would help pass on what’s inside to a lot more people if it remains in one-piece, without its pages being dog-eared, without its spine being broken by being left around face down, without coffee & other beverages being spilt on the pages, without oily fingers making the pages translucent… and definitely without being used as an insect / spider smasher.

Respect books. As it is, in today’s age, they are soon being replaced by electronic equivalents and for someone like me a whole library at my fingertips in my phone or tablet would not match up to that single book with crisp pages that smell of printing ink and wood-pulp… a book that can be felt in my hands and that can transport me to a world which is all of its own… beautiful, romantic, sly, dangerous, happy, desperate, tragic.

This post is dedicated to all the books in my little library and to all those book lovers who take efforts to preserve their treasures.

© Surya Murali

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