Sunday Book-Thought 5

The moment a book is lent, I begin to miss it. According to T.S Eliot, each new book that is written alters every previous one. In the same way, each absent book alters those that remain on my shelves. The complexion of my library, the delicate gestalt, is spoiled. My mind goes to the gap as one’s tongue goes to a cavity. My security is breached, my balance tipped, my affections confused, my barricades against chaos diminished. Until the book is returned, I feel like a parent waiting up in the small hours for a teenage son or daughter to come home from the dubious party. In Zuckerman Unbound, Zuckerman’s brother marries a girl as the only way to repossess a book he lent her. Some bibliomaniacs would sooner give away a book than suffer the anxiety of lending it.

The most dangerous part of lending books lies in the returning. At such times, friendships hang by a thread. I look for agony or ecstasy, for tears, transfiguration, trembling hands, a broken voice – but what the borrower usually says is, “I enjoyed it.”

I enjoyed it – as if that were what books were for.

Anatole Broyard

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