Janet (j4) wrote,

I'm booking through you

I lent somebody a copy of Alan Garner's Red Shift recently. It's one of my favourite books, though that's probably a lot to do with when I first read it -- reactions and memories are overlaid like graffiti names on ancient stones. I own several copies of it, so that I always have one spare to lend or even give, while still guarding my own copy (my parents' copy, in fact) jealously.

I re-read some of it before lending it, and found that it felt strange, less familiar, and consequently weaker. It took me a while to realise why: I was reading it in the light of someone else's reaction. It's hard to view something familiar in a purely objective way, to remove your own personal bias and leave nothing in its place; replacing that bias with a specific person's (known, imagined or expected) point of view, though, seems more manageable -- and just as disorientating. I nearly backed out of lending this person the book at all; in the end I just left it on their desk (I'd mentioned it before and promised to lend it), knowing that if I had to hand it over face-to-face and say anything about it, introduce it in any way, justify it, then I'd never do it.

Why all this angst over the simple act of lending a book? I mean, do libraries have hangups like this?

To lend books at all is to be vulnerable. To lend (or even merely recommend) the books you love, to people whose opinions you value, is to lay yourself open to a wealth of wounds. It's like inviting people into your home; whatever they say about what they see -- even if they say nothing (or perhaps especially if they say nothing) -- will be felt, not by the house (ostensible object of their objections) but, metonymically, by the owner. A word of approval may make the heart glow like the hearth of a happy home; but conversely the smallest slight may be felt as a physical blow. It's magnified, of course, by the level of regard in which the visitor is held.

To invite people into your best-loved books, though, is to invite them into your mind. It's asking them to share a piece of your past and your present, to stand for a moment in the place where you are and share your point of view. It's like letting someone lean in close to look through the viewfinder of your camera, or peer through your window. "No, here, look, come here, you have to see it from right here. There! Isn't it amazing?" And if (as so rarely happens) they respond with wide-eyed wonder, if they will look longingly for a moment through your eyes -- or as near as we can manage given the limitations of mind and body, time and space -- it's simply indescribable. It's like the 'ecstacy' of love that Donne describes:
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string
Except that by reading the same words, sharing the same mental landscape for a moment, you're not gazing into each other's eyes; you're not just looking inwards, limiting yourselves to less than one person's field of view; instead you're looking outwards, with the vision and strength of two minds, into the pages of a book -- and thereby into the whole world, into all possible worlds, into infinity.

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