by Robert Lopresti
At a music event last month someone asked me to sing one of my songs. Well, that was nice, and thanks for the compliment, but I couldn’t do it.
The requester had been present five years ago at one of the only two times I have done performed that song in public. The audience response each time could be best described as “polite,” so I shrugged and dropped it back into a file with many other songs that seemed unlikely to make the Top 40 (or even my Top 40.)
And now, years later, here was a casual listener wanting to hear it again. Since I hadn’t played the song since then there was no way I could dredge it out of my memory banks for performance that night. (My memory banks seem to have invested heavily in subprime mortgages, but that’s another story.)
I told a friend about this and she said “That was a good song. Why don’t you play it anymore?”
“Because no one seemed to like it when I played it the first time.”
My theory is that the song was not as strong as the idea . (Not an uncommon problem for me, alas.) So people don’t remember the words or tunes of this song, but a certain subset of people remember liking the concept.
The song was called “The Booklender’s Prayer” and here is the first fit:
I told a friend about a wonderful book
Even brought it down so he could have a look
He flipped the pages and made my blood freeze
When he said: “this is great. Could I borrow it please?”
What could I do? What could I say?
He was a friend so I mumbled okay
But I didn’t let it go out of my care
Until I had whispered the Booklender’s Prayer
A heartfelt expression
My instinct as a reader and a librarian is to want to encourage people to read the books I love. I am an evangelist and proselytizer for Stout, Westlake, Francis, Pratchett, Jerome, Bryson, Turtledove, etc.
But, damn it, when I lend a book I want to get it back.
Whether you’re paperback or first edition
Books are for reading so go on your mission
Warn him that coffee cup stains are a crime
And if he writes in you, it’s paper cut time!
Rules of circulation
Long ago I set up three rules about loaning books and that was a good idea because I could make it clear that my actions were not about the person in question. “I decided to do this every time I lend a book,” I explain. The rules are: I make sure my name is on the book. I write down the titles and the borrower’s name on a list. And if there is a dust cover it stays home with me. (I do that last one even if I’m the one taking a book out of the house… the jackets are too fragile.)
I also buy cheap extra copies of my favorite books when I get the chance so that I can pass out an extra copy of, say, The Hot Rock, archy and mehitabel, Small Gods or The Guns of the South and not care a fig whether it ever comes back (and since I don’t like figs, that’s saying a lot).
But my cunning plans don’t always work. I am currently missing a copy of My Uncle Podger, a wonderful children’s book based on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat, in which his Victorian characters are all illustrated as rabbits in waistcoats and gowns, and a copy of Roy Zimmerman’s CD Comic Sutra. If you borrowed one of them from me, now’s your chance to improve your karma by sending them back.
A few years ago a friend of ours took ill. She couldn’t do much but read and we were happy to lend her some good books. Then, I’m sorry to say, she passed away.
And we never had the nerve to ask her family for the books back.
Oh my dear friend, guard the treasure you borrow
Read it tonight and return it tomorrow
Use a clean book mark and don’t break the spine
Remember its condition is mint to very fine!
So, how do you do it?
I assume that most of you dear readers out there have an overstuffed bookcase or two in your palatial abode. How do you cope with the friend (or perhaps worse, acquaintance) who covets one and asks to take it into temporary custody? Let’s share our strategies.
Come back to me, though he sell you on eBay
Come back to me, though you’re dropped in the bidet
Be a good read and take care of yourself
I’ll save you a place on my library shelf
Wherever you wander, wherever you roam
Come back to me, cause there’s no place like home
No place like home
For a tome.