A while ago, I decided (in my infinite wisdom), that my dad should really read The Book Thief, and to hurry him along I thought I’d lend him my nice, new, shiny copy. What I’d forgotten was that he was leaving for China the next morning – which wouldn’t have been a huge problem for me (despite my belief that my local library had the right idea when they implemented the rule that library books should not leave the country), if not for what he said to me as I handed over the book…
I’m pretty picky about who I lend my books to: As someone who borrows library books on a semi-regular basis, I see how tattered they can get, and am naturally horrified by it. I don’t need my books to look brand new, but I do like them to stay in good condition. Spines unbroken, no dog-eared pages, and so on. And there are very few people who I trust not to mistreat my books. I’m also, however, very bad at saying no if people ask to borrow my books, and – even when they haven’t asked – if I want somebody to read a book badly enough, then that need will usually overcome my reluctance to lend out my books (but I’ll still end up feeling super-anxious until I get the book back).
This attitude has led to my composing a spiel, which I deliver to every potential borrower. So my conversation with Dad went something like this:
Me: I will lend you this book, but you’re not to damage it at all.
Dad: What constitutes damage?
Me: No dog-eared pages. And you mustn’t break the spine.
Dad: How am I supposed to read it without opening it?
Dad: Just hand it over.
Me: No breaking the spine!
Dad: I make no promises.
But I gave him the book anyway, trusting (or perhaps just hoping) that he was only trying to wind me up, and he took it away to China, and a few days later I received this email from him (or actually, words to this effect, since I deleted the actual message):
I finished the book on the plane, and it’s still in perfect condition. I was wondering if I could lend it to [D] to read on the way back to Berlin. If you agree, then I’ll be able to get it back when I go to Berlin in December, or else I can buy you a new copy.
Just for the record: This kind of message is not reassuring! He might have just told me that my book was still in perfect condition (though I’m not sure that my father’s idea of “perfect condition” completely matches my own), but giving people permission to pass on a borrowed book is a great way to make sure that you never see it again. And what if Dad lent it to [D] but didn’t give him my usual spiel about proper book treatment?! I don’t know how [D] treats his books! And what if he loses it? Or lets someone else read it who doesn’t know the rules? And if Dad bought me a new copy, then what if he didn’t get the right edition (I spent a long time deciding which edition of The Book Thief I wanted to buy…)? After all, this was all the way back in mid-October, and December was still a long way off.
But like I said earlier, I suffer from an irritating reluctance to say no to people, so I was paralysed with indecision for a couple of days, and then I finally agreed, my heart sinking as I resigned myself to the idea of never seeing my book again.
And then a miracle occurred! Dad came home from China, and The Book Thief appeared on the stairs up to my bedroom, all shiny and beautiful and in not-quite-perfect-but-pretty-close condition. Because apparently [D] had already read it.
And all was once again well in the universe, and The Book Thief and I (and my dad’s wallet) all lived happily ever after (until the next crisis occurs).