Friday, 20 July 2012

He who lends a book is an idiot. He who returns the book is more of an idiot - Arabic Proverb

Another grey, rainy day here.  And I’m full of cold.  Again.  The trials of a weak immune system following my prolonged recuperation.  Patience, patience.  But my compensation was a quiet afternoon curled up with my cats and 84 Charing Cross Road.  One of my comfort films.  Till now.  One of my comfort reads from here on in. 

As mentioned previously, I love books of letters.  And I am in such awe of Helene Hanff.  She must have been one of the coolest people ever.  A tangible enthusiasm for reading.  An extensive knowledge of authors and books.  Such passion, warmth, generosity.  Such talent.  

I dream of those days of writing letters to a bookshop in Charing Cross Road to source my wish list.  Or rather the 5th arrondissement in Paris, my equivalent of HH's much beloved London.  Luxuriating in the anticipation of the arrival of old, used books that "open to the page some previous owner read oftenest..."  Much as I love Amazon, it's not quite the same somehow.

And, there’s nothing like recommendations.  Her recommendations, in particular.  She delights over authors whose names I know only faintly from afar. I am always so ashamed when I discover how well-read other people are and how ignorant I am in comparison”. Seriously HH, if you’re not well read… 

Finally her delight in the book itself.  The first editions, gifts from friends, special messages inscribed within from special people.  Sentimentality I fully relate to.  The words inside the covers are truly enhanced by the history attached to each single copy: a book bought for me by someone who cared, signed for me by the author (I do have one or two), books from my childhood.  And the couple of first editions I have too.  Nothing particularly exciting to those in the know.  But special to me.

And the reason why I am also utterly against lending books.  To anyone.  I cringe when someone hovers around my bookcase, having found something they've never read, and now absolutely need to.  You want it, buy it.  Or find your library card. Mean, oh yes.  But not even a pretty please will melt my resolve.  I have lost too many good copies along the way through such careless generosity.  I've also acquired a few too, it must be said.

HH says it well: “people who wouldn’t dream of stealing anything else think it’s perfectly all right to steal books”. The word “steal” seems a bit harsh.  But then so is losing your books.  Let's not lead anyone into temptation, eh.

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