Some people love to cook for their friends. I like to cook for my friends too, and did so just this morning, in fact. But what I really like to do, is to lend my friends books.
A friend is going to the seashore for two weeks, and asked for a couple of reading suggestions. Not fiction, she specified, and not animal-related. She's a serious animal lover/breeder/husbandrywoman (?) and wants a vacation from all things furry, woolly or cuddly.
Well, I thought, that doesn't leave me with much to work with. Ninety-five percent of what's on my shelves is either fiction, or animal-related. But I looked anyway, and came up with a stack for her to choose from.
There's Scott Elledge's biography of E.B. White (my friend likes E.B. White), and David Lodge's biography of Henry James. (James, to whom nothing much ever happened, must have been a challenging subject.) There's Updike's painfully honest memoir, “Self-Consciousness.” And a couple of How I Survived My Mother autobiographies by women: Jill Ker Conway's “The Road from Coorain,” recounting the path from the Australian outback to the presidency of Smith; and Ruth Reichl's “Not Becoming My Mother”--her mother served moldy food to guests; Ruth grew up to become the editor of Gourmet Magazine.
I pulled out Kathleen Norris's “The Cloister Walk,” about a Protestant woman's discovery of monastic life and spirituality somewhere in the Dakotas, and added it to the pile. And because my friend is a sailor, I picked Steve Callahan's “Adrift,” about being lost at sea (I hope it will make her want to be prudent). I suspect she already knows Anne Morrow Lindbergh's “Gift from the Sea,” but I put that in just in case.
I found crazy, fabulous Anne Lamott's “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith,” another of her accounts of her lurchings through life, writing, and spirituality. What I really wanted for my friend was Lamott's “Traveling Mercies,” the first and best of her spiritual odyssey memoirs. But I couldn't find it anywhere. It was gone.
This is the dark side of my passion for lending out books. Some of them—usually the best ones—don't come back. (Please note that the friend for whom I'm compiling the present stack has promptly returned everything I've ever lent her.) People forget that they borrowed books. I forget I lent them out. This is what happened to my favorite David Lodge book, “Therapy,” and to many others.
But what can I do? The pleasure of lending out books far outweighs the regret of not getting them back—if I'm ever aware of not getting them back. I love pushing books on people as they're walking out my door: “Here's Konrad Lorenz on dogs. And he actually has little drawings on the margins! Here's A.S. Byatt”s “Possession.” Can you believe she's Margaret Drabble's sister? And Barbara Pym? She was popular for a while, then nobody would read her. Then she was rediscovered and was a wild success, and died soon after. Her novels have the smell of damp English wool in them...”
My friend will have to do with Anne Lamott's “Plan B.” But if she comes back from her vacation saying she loves Lamott, or Reichl, or any of the others, I will feel just as good, just as pleased and satisfied as if she'd smacked her lips after a serving of my chocolate mousse.