I love reading books about books, and especially so about book lovers and their books. It’s always reassuring to know that there are bigger bibliomaniacs out there. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Such as the one featured in today’s post, Anatole Broyard – author, longtime book critic, book review editor & essayist for The New York Times.
This is what he feels about lending a book to someone.

by Anatole Broyard

Summer vacation is a time for reading and my friends come to me to borrow books because I have more than most people. In their innocence, they have no idea what I go through in lending a book. They don’t understand that I think of myself as offering them love, truth, beauty, wisdom, and consolation against death. Nor do they suspect that I feel about lending a book the way most fathers feel about their daughters living with a man out of wedlock.

This is not to say that there is no pleasure in lending. Each man has a bit of the evangelist in him, and when a book moves me I want to put it into everyone’s pocket. If such a book were widely read, the world would be a better, lovelier place. But it is not these books that people ask to borrow. How many friends have asked for The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, or Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages?

A less noble motive for lending books is a simple curiosity to see what will happen, a throwback to the child who makes his toys collide. To press a potent book on someone is like giving a dinner guest a strong drink that may cause him to act either foolish or exalted. Some readers even “pass out” after imbibing such a book; they dismiss the experience because they can’t handle it.

Occasionally I’m asked, as if I were a doctor, to prescribe a book for a particular condition – for a recently divorced person or one who is suffering from depression. What kind of book a divorced or depressed person might want to read is a nice question. Should it be comforting or a confirmation of their conviction that things fall apart and the center cannot hold? Why doesn’t anyone ask me to suggest a book for someone who has just fallen in love?

It is irrritating to think that others consider reading a leisurely, holiday activity. They enjoy a fling with books while I’m married to them. In their restless promiscuity, they ask only for new books, while I feel that they have no right to the latest Leonard Michaels until they have gone through Chaucer and Rabelais. They are nostalgic about everything but books.

The though of people reading in the sun, on a beach, tempts me to recommend dark books, written in the shadow of loneliness, despair, and death. Let these revelers feel a chill as they loll on their towels. Let Baudelaire’s “wing of madness” pass over them like a scavenging seagull.

There are times when someone will ask for a particular book, and I’ll try to turn them away from it out of a fear that they won’t do it justice. Helen Vendler said that I.A. Richards, one of the great poetry critics, was always trying to protect his favorites against the misinterpretations of a careless world. Mallarme had a severe attitude toward the same issue. He said that “if a person of ordinary intelligence and insufficient literary preparation happens by accident to open one of my books and pretends to enjoy it, there has been a mistake. Things must be returned to their places.”

Not many of my friends are poor, and thus the question arises. If you truly wish to read this book, if you are serious, why don’t you go out and buy it? Why don’t you make the same offering to literature that you make to other good causes? In Loitering With Intent, Muriel Spark’s heroine observes that otherwise worldly people often act as if books were mysteriously difficult to procure. To the doting book lover, the idea of reading a borrowed book is disgusting, an unclean habit akin to voyeurism.

Occasionally I come across a book so extraordinary that I want to keep the experience to myself. Such a book seems to confer an immense advantage, to make the reader more desirable, witty, or profound than those who have not read it. To lend such a book, to give up such a precious edge in this furiously competitive world, would be foolish. The secrets in a book like this ought to be saved for a rainy day, for an exquisite emergency.

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 is 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.


Now I wonder, how much of all that resonates within you even as you were reading it, dear fellow bibliophiles? ๐Ÿ˜‰


6 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Lending Books….

  1. What an interesting piece! I definitely share his anxiety about loaning out my books (I live in horror of cracked spines and can only lend books to people who share this fear) but I can’t say this piece made me particularly fond of Broyard. Statements like “To the doting book lover, the idea of reading a borrowed book is disgusting” irritate me no end, a usual reaction from me to anyone who seeks to define a reader using a very narrow set of criteria.


    1. I do share the same anxiety about loaning out my books too, and cracked spines (as well as dog-eared covers) are definitely the number one horrors!:o
      I don’t think I find Broyard to be the most likeable bibliophile around too, especially with this sentiment of his “In their restless promiscuity, they ask only for new books, while I feel that they have no right to the latest Leonard Michaels until they have gone through Chaucer and Rabelais.”. No one should be deemed to have or not have, rights to any book. I feel it should be for the reader to explore & discover for themselves whether the book is suitable or really out of their depths.
      I had a feeling his statement of the doting book lover regarding a borrowed book would not go too well with you, especially considering the frequent library user that you are. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. I was never too fond of going to the library until I went to NZ for a few years (probably because I never really found Malaysia’s National Library to be too good), but once I got into the rolling of borrowing books every week, I couldn’t stop the urge to go and borrow more, even now that I’m back here and the libraries are still not quite there yet.

    So the part where the idea of reading a borrowed book is disgusting? Well, that got to me a little too. Heh.

    But then again, there were quite a few points that resonated with me. I didn’t buy books last time, I managed on whatever books were already on my shelves thanks to my dad and his friends. And then there were the library visits. Now I buy them. Especially if there’s a sale going on, but even when there isn’t, I buy the books I know I want to keep. And sometimes I do feel horrified to lend them out. Not just the cracked spines or dog-eared pages. It has to do with my thinking, “I wonder if she/he’ll understand the book at all!” I’m afraid that the book will be lost, that the reader won’t get it the way I did, that he/she won’t get as emotionally attached as I did. Funny, that I should think that way sometimes, but I do. So when it comes to lending, I’m sometimes a little selfish.

    And I’m picky about who I lend books to. I lend books to people I think will take care of my books as if they were their own, and then I lend them to people who I think will read the book for what it is, and not as something to pass their time.

    I’m rambling, but thanks for sharing this post. =)


    1. When I was a kid, my source of reading materials were mainly from my sister’s rather extensive collection of Enid Blytons. Back then, my grandfather used to take her on book buying sprees and whole sets of various series were brought home just like that. So by the time I started to read, which was a good many years later since there is a large age gap between my sister and I, there was already sufficient books in the house to keep an average reader like me happy. I used to go to the National Library when it was still located along Jalan Raja Laut but have since stopped after it relocated to its present premises. Maybe I really should pop in one of these days… and bump into you perhaps? ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Those Big Bad Wolf books sale really revolutionized my book buying habits and forever changed the landscape of my bookshelves. By the way, for those who may be curious as to why they are called the Big Bad Wolf books sale, it’s because they take a BIG bite off the prices of brand new books! ๐Ÿ™‚ And IKEA has them to thank for all the additional shelves I had needed to get. :p
      I guess I am rather selfish too when it comes to lending out my books, but like Broyard, there is also the pleasure and desire to press a book that has really touched a chord in me into the hands of people whom I want to share it with. Well, either that or maybe I will just get them another copy so I get to keep mine, intact. :p Hahah. And if they share the same sentiments about the book after reading, great. But even if they don’t, it’s still fine (after the initial disappointment, nonetheless) because I will feel that it’s a privilege to have made intimate acquaintance with the book where others have not.
      Reading is really quite a personal matter after all. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  3. What an interesting piece, thanks for sharing it with us! I think, like the other commenters, my reaction is mixed.

    I don’t buy very many books. My main source for the books that I read is the library. My collection at home is small and made up of really nice volumes of adored books plus neglected/unknown/little-known books that I spotted and know I better snatch up while I have the chance. I don’t do a whole lot of lending out and most people aren’t asking for them anyway. So I avoid Broyard’s predicament and I’m mostly grateful for that (sometimes I wish people would ask because I would love to hear that someone is interested in my kind of books).

    But Broyard seems a bit snobby and that’s what I don’t agree with in this piece. I try not to judge people’s literary tastes (and unless they cite their all-time favorite book as either The Da Vinci Code or Twilight, I usually succeed). I don’t know some of the authors that Broyard cites in his article. Someone in the world (Broyard himself?) probably sees my taste as unsophisticated but it works for me and we all come to books in different ways. He may have taken Chaucer and Rabelais but perhaps a friend took a different path to arrive at Leonard Michaels. I don’t think you have to begin at a certain place with reading…I think every book is an entry point.


    1. Hello Mona, thanks for dropping by! ๐Ÿ™‚
      A small collection of really nice volumes of adored & neglected books sound like a pretty cool personal library to me. Would love to take a peek at your shelves if I could. No worries, I won’t ask to borrow so you can be spared from being put through those lender’s anxieties. Hahaha….
      Seriously now, I really appreciate your honest thoughts and sentiments shared here. It is true, our taste in books should not have to be subjected or conformed to other people’s opinion and judgement. You’re right, as long as it works for us and we enjoy our individual journeys as readers, that’s what matters I think. Every book is indeed an entry point.


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