The last time I wrote about “How I Met My Book,” I talked about some of my favorite inherited books. This time I want to talk about a special variety of book: the unexpected loaner. Sometimes other people get it into their heads that you just have to read a particular book, so they loan it to you, whether you want it or not. The expectation is that you’ll read it, be totally wowed by it, then promptly return it. But, as is so often the case with loaned books, the loan goes on for so long that it turns into permanent ownership. It doesn’t matter whether or not you read the book, or whether or not you even want to keep it. Sometimes the book stubbornly takes up residence on your shelf and never leaves.
My favorite example of that kind of book is the one given to me as a teenager by a boy who, I have to assume now, had a little bit of a crush on me. He was a huge fan of The Beatles, and he wanted me to read his favorite book, John Lennon’s Skywriting by Word of Mouth. So he loaned the book to me.
He and I didn’t move in quite the same circles, though, and it was a while before I saw him again. When I finally did, I was walking out of a restaurant with a group of friends as he was walking in. As we passed by each other, I said, “Hey! I’ve still got your book.” “Keep it!” he replied. Then he turned the corner, and I walked out the door, and that was probably the last time we ever saw each other.
It was not a life-altering event. And, to be honest, I never thought that I’d keep the book. I’d read the first few pages, and they didn’t do anything for me. Once I was free of the obligation to return the book, there was no reason to keep it.
And yet, all these years later, even after purging my library of so many of other books, I still have it. It’s strange how books, even the unread ones, even the ones from people we hardly know, can get strong feelings attached to them. I have a little bit of the hoarder mentality, I guess. Hoarders keep objects that speak to them, not just of the past, but of lost opportunities, missed connections, things that never were but could have been. I recognize that hoarding tendency in myself, and I know that I ought to give the book away.
And I would if it were not for one detail: that boy, long since grown into a man, died in 2014. He was still relatively young when he died, and no doubt he still had countless expectations from life that will never be met. So now, even though I really need to pare down my book collection, I don’t want to give his book away. I feel like it’s keeping some tiny sliver of him alive, just that small moment of time in which our paths crossed. It’s not much, but it makes me feel better. Everybody deserves to be remembered.