My Friends' Bookshelf


OF the shelves in my library none is so dear to me as the one dedicated “ to my friends’ books.” I do not mean by this that I am an unscrupulous borrower and non-returner of books, and that I keep them all on one shelf, a guilty witness. Who would be so rash as to concentrate his sins in one place ? — for most of us they are bad enough scattered. No, I mean a shelf wherefrom my pride receives constant flattery in the consciousness that I have friends who “write books;” who are thoughtful enough of me to present them, with inscriptions, short or long ; and sometimes, alas ! lazy enough to send them with only the printed slip With the Compliments of the Author. There is excuse for this, understandable enough, — if the author sends in this way, all the trouble he has is to inclose a list of names to his publishers, and they tie up (how few authors know how to tie up), direct, stamp, and mail, — and the charge for all is made against the prospective royalty account.

“ Prospective royalty! ” — ah, pleasant hope ! ah, sad reality! when, after the year goes by, the report comes : “ There is no royalty,” and all those presentation copies charged — at a reduced rate, to be sure — have to be paid for. in cash ! Then does the ebullient and generous author sigh that he had so many friends who “ waited with interest ” his first book — it is the first which circulates so freely to the waiting friends. And yet he has had his pleasure, and his vanity sops, as well as the recipients, — all those notes of thanks ! He tries, in his depression, to renew the titillation of his vanity by re-reading them, and again he almost glows at the warm praises and the burning prophecies of success in his career. It palls a bit, this re-read flattery ; and still it helps to pay with better grace the publisher’s bill.

My pride receives falls from this shelf, too, as well as elation ; for there are spaces in it which ought to be filled with presentation copies which are not. Some of these vacancies have corresponding “ filleds ” on the other shelves — books bought in the ordinary course, because I really wanted them. But if I have to buy my friends’ books they cannot take a place on the honored shelf.

I seem to hear an author say : “ Yes, this is just like people! they expect their literary friends to give them their books ; friends never buy. If an author depended on his friends to start a sale I wonder where we authors would be.” Not so fast — that may be so in actual buying, but can an author know how much talking (and all publishers allow that talk is the best “ advertising medium ”) the grateful recipient does ? I do believe most of us ease our consciences for not buying by making up for it in talking of our friends’ books. It is easy, the talking, and it soothes the conscience, and also it titillates the vanity by adding to one’s reputation among non-“ literary friends.” It is impressive to say: “ My friend Brown has just published this book, — gave it to me, — see what a pleasant inscription ! I tell you, he ’s a man of taste and ability, — bound to have a successful ‘ literary career.’ ” One must always speak of a “ literary career ” to those without the pale. Yes, sir or madame, do not stop giving away your “ works ” to your friends — only don’t, in the beginning, count too much on offsetting royalties. Give away as many books as you can afford to, it pays ; of this I can assure you beyond all manner of doubt, from both sides, author’s and publisher’s ; it pays, it pays. And if a “.crush ” comes, as sometimes happens, and “ remainders ” are advertised for sale, it is far better for pride and reputation to see announced “ one hundred left out of an edition of five hundred ” than “ four hundred ” even if you are conscious that the “ give away ” column on the publisher’s records is long.

The discerning reader can see that I am not professional — not a reviewer, not connected with “ the press ; ” that I have no specific way of helping “ boom ” a book, else my friends’ “ shelf ” would be “ shelves,” or “ side of my room,” or “library annex.” No, I am just “a friend ” of a few authors, mostly beginners ; just enough “ in ” “ literary circles ” to receive occasionally, and to be pleased and flattered thereby, a few presentation copies : one who just wants a hearing for his fancy of keeping a “friends’ bookshelf” — and to explain the mutual excellences of authors’ copies.

And shall I, if the lurking ambition of all the “ fringers ” of the writing guild to “ write a book ” is ever gratified, take my own advice and give away widely? Indeed I promise “ yes,” for I know that the author’s generosity is like the quality of mercy — it is twice blessed, it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.