Reading has always been a part of my life, and I thank my parents for encouraging me to enjoy it with the encyclopedias, comics, and short novels they left hanging around the house. I admit I was a bit slow in catching up compared to my elementary friends who were reading The Prince and The Pauper when I was still stuck with Sweet Valley Kids, but I kept on. I had a dictionary in tow to help me out with words I didn’t understand. And I kept on reading although that meant missing out on my favorite after-school “merienda” (snack) time, or sitting by the beach when everyone is enjoying their swim.
My collection of books
Through the years, I’ve kept books that made a significant impact in my life, and I’ve given away those that I’ve outgrown (so, yes, I gave away my Sweet Valley Kids collection a long time ago). The book that I’ve kept with me the longest is The Handbook of Dog Care, given to me when I was eight years old by my piano teacher. I was also handed the Elementary Spanish Book, published in 1901, owned by my great-grandfather. I’ve won a small trinket back in grade school because of this when we were asked to bring the oldest book we have at home.
I have the complete Harry Potter collection, with every book bought year after year as each is released. I remember the third book, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, as a “pasalubong” (souvenir-ish) from my dad from Manila. It was special in that it was the UK edition when all my classmates had the US version. Price-wise, there was no difference. But it was nice to be asked around in school where I got it from. For that one week since the book was released, it was nice to be that “popular kid” with the “other edition” in hand.
My Harry Potter collection, with the first book bought back when I was in Grade 5 (1999).
I’ve also collected nature-related books through the years, starting with my mom’s Geography book when she was in elementary, a geology book, astronomy books, bird watching books, and, as any aspiring pseudo-archaeologist would have, a dinosaur encyclopedia.
Books that have helped me thread through my darkest moments include Reviving Ophelia and Generation Me, which both allowed me to understand as to why I feel confident yet vulnerable, entitled yet broken.
I have collected language and travel books that have gone passé these days with the rise of language and travel apps. However, I still keep them because I have notes written all over the place. And in time, I intend to give them away to travelers who would want to keep on adding to these notes.
I also keep my law books although I did not even go through one full year of study. I just can’t throw them away because it’s my first biggest investment in my life, and I failed miserably by realizing too late that law school is not for me. I kind of wasted all my savings from my day job by enroling, but every book is a reminder that, thank God, I did not continue pursuing something “just because.” It was a costly “just because,” but so far, it is the last “just because” decision that I’ve ever made.
The value of lending and borrowing
I used to lend my books to family and friends without hesitation. I was happy in doing so since I value the book borrowing-lending dynamic more than the idea of simply purchasing the book. There was one event, though, as you will see below, that changed how I viewed lending. It made me realize that there are memories, emotions, and histories attached to borrowed and lent books. And so, if I know it is an important book for someone else, I must purchase from a store rather than borrow. The responsibility is heavy if taken seriously.
I was once an I-don’t-care borrower
I learned this the hard way. I have a friend, K, whom I’ve borrowed George Orwell’s 1984 book from. This copy was her mother’s. It was torn, sinking in yellow, with pages so brittle they can get scary to touch. I still borrowed the book although I knew at first glance that this copy went through so much. I was still in high school then, and I wanted to have something to read through the Christmas break.
Fast forward to the start of classes. My friend was asking for the book back. I got shocked because I totally forgot about the book. I told her I was not yet through with it, but I was scared as hell. I had no idea where I placed it. It took me weeks to find it, and I found it in our house’s laundry area. Apparently, I left it in my canvass bag, the bag was washed, and the book was placed somewhere “dry.” The book was torn into pieces, and the cover was missing. My heart sank, and I seriously did not know what to do.
The next day, I gave the book back to my friend. I apologized and said that I will replace the book. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was along the lines of “You must not worry about it because this book can never be replaced.” She looked disappointed, for sure, but as a good friend, she tried to understand me.
Karma getting back to me
In college, I have a friend who borrowed a collection of my favorite books. She wanted to read through the summer break, and so I allowed her to choose books from my shelf. She borrowed all my Ayn Rand books and a treasure trove of other copies. Basically, she borrowed all of my favorite books. I did not hesitate one bit because I knew she will take care of these copies as much as I took care of them.
Six months later, she told me my books got infested by termites. There is no way my books can be saved, and she had to throw away everything. I was left in pieces. I did not know how to feel, but I knew I was not angry. I just knew that the experience left me sad because I value every underline and every note I’ve written on those pages. It made me sad, too, to know that there is no way for me to spring back to life these copies ever again.
Why I now hesitate to borrow books
These experiences made a lasting impact on my life. It made me realize that a torn and yellowish book, while an insignificant piece for me, means the world to others. I may not appreciate its value, but if I respect its value beyond its materiality and what it means to me, then, for sure, I will never even think of borrowing something that I choose not to be accountable for.
A book is a collection of memories, and it holds personal value beyond what its owner can express. For every page, there seems to be an experience that falls into place once I revisit the copy– a blot of ink, a drop of oil, or a splash of water. These things make a book completely my own, and indeed, no other copy in the world can replicate that.
And why I now don’t lend my books anymore
The experience of my favorite collection being lost forever was traumatic for me, and I’ve since hesitated to lend my books. I had personal attachments to my copies, and I was afraid that the borrower will not hold much value on my copy as much as I give value to it.
In time, though, I saw beyond this attachment. I may have stopped lending books, but it’s not because I’m attached to them anymore– it’s because I choose to take control of my decisions. I know that it takes two in the borrowing-lending dynamic, and if I allow someone to make the decision for me, then I’m allowing myself to thread along the consequences of saying “Yes.”
So far since I’ve gone beyond my attachments, I’ve only ever lent my books to my grandma and brother. I don’t consider this “lending” per sé since I get to check on these copies in my grandma’s home and my brother’s shelf.
It’s been six years since I lent my copy of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake to my grandma, and four years since I lent Elie Wiesel’s Night to my brother. The former hasn’t been read by my grandma and is currently stuck on her shelf, and the latter is nowhere to be found. But do I feel regretful? No. Because I’ve chosen to lend these books, and with this decision, I’ve also decided to let them go.
It’s weird that I have been using the word “lend” all this time when, in fact, it is not appropriate any longer. I don’t lend my books anymore because I choose not to “lend.” I now choose to “give” and “share.” Books and their memories are impermanent, and I’ve since chosen to keep it that way.