Saturday, September 12, 2009

Missing In Action

One of the unexpected results of cataloguing my books is the growing number of things I Know I once had, but which have disappeared. I don’t mean the ones that I thought better of and quietly disposed with (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), or the ones I outgrew and passed on (goodbye Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, and Lillian Beckwith – unlikely stable mates that you are). Nor the books that I wasn’t precisely ashamed off, but who’s presence on the shelves jarred a little with the general tone (yes I can be that shallow) so most of Jilly Cooper went, though nothing is going to separate me from ‘Riders’ and I don’t care who knows it. Douglas Adams went too when I moved house once and felt I had to seriously rationalise, I think it was the right thing to do but sometimes I wonder? Tom Holt’s Mapp and Lucia sequels went at the same time with no regrets. Good but not E F Benson.
No, I mean the books I would never willingly have parted from. Books I cherished. Books I would really avoid lending because I wasn’t prepared to lose them. I’m still slightly mortified by the memory of my 8 year old self neglecting to return a famous five book to its rightful owner. He eventually forgot he’d ever had it and got a new copy, I however remember my guilt.
The thing is that although Amazon has made it easy to replace lost and out of print books I find the replacement is not the same thing at all. I love new books; clean smell, crease free pages, unbroken spines - all unsullied and perfect, they are a joy to handle. I love books which have aged with me, I can live with the occasional tea stain, the carrot cake recipe scribbled in the back of ‘To The Lighthouse’, even dog eared pages because it’s what makes them my books. Books given as presents – a battered copy of Angela Carter’s ‘Nights at the Circus’ is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Books from school prize giving’s, the reference books, still used, that chart my formal education. The books who’s lending build friendships. The title which strikes me as just what I’ve been looking for, and the title I see out the corner of my eye – the one I’ve been after for a while – and can’t quite believe I’ve found, can touch, and now read. Books are more than just what is in them.
I love hunting out second hand books, one man’s rubbish being another woman’s treasure, okay the book might come with a bit of baggage and no longer look its best, but there’s a connection. Second hand replacement books however I find strangely unsatisfactory. They look read, but not by me, ridiculously they strike me as imposters. None the less common sense has prevailed, the book I minded most about not having is already on its way, used. I have put aside the dark suspicions I harboured regarding book based kleptomaniacs, and am beginning to feel a touch of anticipation; there is always just the faintest possibility that I’m wrong, and that this will be an unread title by a favourite author...


  1. What is the book, Hayley? it won't enlarge and I can't read the title.

  2. It's Molly Keane's 'Loving Without Tears', but could just as well have been half my Mapp and Lucia books. Very odd things to lose. Even odder is a biography of Chairman Mao that turned up under a chair, from an American university press and deffinatly not mine, but nobody admits to having lost it.

  3. I know, I frequently find that a loved friend has disappeared. Mostly I find it covered in baby goo at my sister's house, and she always apologises and gets me a new copy but like you say it's not the same and people who don't love books for the books themselves as well as the stories within them just don't understand!