The Involuntary Borrowing of Books


A FRIEND of mine, who is not only the capable president of a Grade A college, but also a lover and a judge of good literature (he once complimented a piece I wrote), is responsible for the addition of two brandnew resolutions to those I made at the beginning of the year. It is time to replace a couple of the worst-frayed ones, anyhow; and I like these so well that I cannot wait until the first of next year to adopt them. Indeed, they are so good that I want to tell the world about them.

The occasion for the resolutions happened thus. As this friend and I were standing in conversation on the campus of his college, a member of the faculty came up and handed me a book with the remark: ‘This is the book I was telling you about, which I want you to read.’ This prompted my friend to say: ‘I am the only member of a unique society. Its member refuses to be forced to borrow books he does not want to read.’

The tremendous need for such an organization was at once so apparent that I besought him to allow me to be one of the charter members. He refused, on the ground that the society was already organized, hence there could be no other charter member; and he would not recognize my contention that according to the Standard Dictionary an organization is ‘a number of individuals systematically united for some end or work.’

Even though he persists, however, in violating the dictionary in order to be the most exclusive society in the world, he cannot keep me from incorporating his idea into the aforementioned resolutions, nor can he keep me from inviting anyone who will to join me in subscribing to them.

The resolutions are as follows: —

1. That during the rest of this year, and for all years to come, I resolve not to accept the loan of any book I do not want to read, never did want to read, and never shall want to read.

At first this resolution stood alone, but an overactive conscience soon prodded me into the addition of

2. That I likewise resolve not to offer anybody any book which he or she does not want to read, never did want to read, and never will want to read.

The second resolution, it should be admitted, may have been prompted by the recollection of more than one book of mine the loan of which lost both itself and friend. In particular do I remember rather insisting that a Hopkins graduate take home with him the first volume of Cushing’s Life of Osler, while I finished Volume Two. After waiting a year and a half for him to ask for the second volume and return the first, I finally had to demand it of him on the pretense that somebody else wanted to read it. The battered condition of the cover and the excellent condition of the inside made me suspect that its return deprived his four-year-old son of part of his seat at the table; but it served me right for wishing off on the poor fellow something he did not want.

Anyone who has established a reputation for liking to read is a shining target for all kinds of unwanted books. One acquaintance offers Blinkstein’s Life of Anne Boleyn: A Study in Matrimony; others insist upon lending such favorites as Swashbuckling Songs, by Herman Haliver; Professor Pickhard’s The A B C of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; The Prurient Period, by Kathleen Katzin; What a Young Athlete Ought to Know, by Knute Anderson; and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The mere fact that one likes to read is assumed to mean that he likes to read anything. It would be just as logical to think that because one has a good appetite he likes to eat anything, from mush to hot tamales. and is ready at any time to sit down and eat anything offered.

For example, I have had in my possession for at least three months a huge biography of a pioneer missionary, thrust upon me by a minister-patient who knows I like to read. I pleaded lack of time, numbers of other books waiting their turn to be read, and all the other excuses imaginable, but to no avail. He had read the book already, and did not care how long I kept it. There was nothing to do but take it home, and ever since it has been resting in an obscure corner of my library. Lately he has begun to ask questions about it. I have been able to offer the excuse of an influenza epidemic — but that is about over now, and where can I turn? Oh, if I had only been able to look him squarely in the eye and say: —

’Now look here, Jim! I am willing to donate my professional services to you, but my resolution — my New Year Resolution Number One, Second Series — absolutely forbids my accepting the loan of any book that I do not want to read. Your book comes under that classification, therefore I must decline it with thanks, and leave it for you to inflict upon somebody else without will power enough to refuse it.’

As my friend who gave me this idea said, it would not be such a hardship to accept an unwanted book if the lender did not insist upon putting the involuntary borrower through a quiz at every meeting. ‘Just what do you think of Margaret’s reaction to John’s proposal of marriage in Chapter 18? Do you think that Lady de Vere did right in divorcing Sir Lancelot even though she loved him, in order to let him marry Rowena?’

No wonder that the borrower learns to shun the lender as if he had the leprosy. It is interesting to speculate upon the number of friendships which might have been kept intact if only one of the friends had not insisted upon lending books to the other. At any rate, I do not propose to risk the loss of any more friends in that manner. From henceforth, in the matter of unwanted books, my motto is, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’