Something you often hear cited against the use of an e-reader is that it isn’t possible to share the books you purchase with other readers. Well, I have to say that in general this isn’t a problem as far as I’m concerned because my maxim, arrived at through long and hard experience, is that as far as books go, Polonius got it right – neither a borrower nor a lender be.
I was reminded of this by Michael Dirda’s article this week on essential vacation reading, in which he lists ten general categories of books that you should pack as you prepare for your summer break. The first in the list is a substantial anthology of classic short stories. Now I know just what I would want to take to fulfil this requirement, a compendium of both volumes of the collection of stories by women that Hermione Lee edited as The Secret Self. However, not only do I no longer possess Vol 2, I haven’t even read it because almost as soon as I bought it a friend spotted it on my shelves and borrowed it to save her searching for a copy of her own. That was at least twelve years ago and I have never seen the book again. (Nor for the past five years the friend, but that’s another story.) Lending books you want to keep, either to read again, to have to hand for reference or just to have around as a well-loved companion, is always a risky business. I am happy to give away books I’m not going to need again. I have to if I don’t want to be buried alive. But lending, I’m afraid, is another matter entirely.
However, borrowing is just as problematic. At least, that sort of borrowing that comes about because a fellow reader insists that you simply must read this book and thrusts it into your hands before you can get them into your pocket and make holding said book completely impossible. I have a whole shelf of these volumes which I daren’t give back because I would then have to admit that I haven’t read them and thus insult the reading taste of whichever friend it was that lent it to me in the first place. Presumably those friends now see me in the same light as I see the person who borrowed my short stories, but the difference is that I didn’t ask to borrow the book in the first place!
So, where books are concerned, I say, like Polonius, with whom I don’t often find myself in agreement, neither a borrower nor a lender be. I tell you, it can only lead to trouble.