Many readers have strong feelings about their books as physical objects—the slew of articles from the late 2000’s and early 2010’s about the pros and cons of ereaders vs physical books prove that.
The arguments for physical books generally center around the attachments people create with those physical objects—the smell of the pages, memories of how, where and when the object was acquired, whether the physical object holds notes or dog-ears or cracked spines or the weight of previous reads.
But what about when one loses that physical object? Recently, as I reorganized my shelves, I realized my ten-year-old copy of City of Bones was missing. I remembered lending it out to someone, but not who. I posted on facebook searching for it, but whoever I lent it to has not responded.
Some people would likely be enraged at the loss off such a valuable object—a couple years ago, I might have been. City of Bones is one my favorite books, and that copy contained a litany of notes and underlines from the many times I read it, as well as the key to my colored tabs for the entire series. Quite a loss.
And yet, even as I asked on facebook for the identity of whoever I had lent it to, I was peaceful. Even as others commented on the post, working themselves up on the loss of the book, I was surprisingly okay with it. That object, while precious to me, did not contain the joy it had given me. I contain the joy it had given to me. And the joy I have yet to take from the story—well, that will come from another copy. Another physical object, that might hold just as much or more meaning than the previous one had.
I find myself actually excited to encounter this new physical object. Will I buy it or will it be gifted to me? Will I borrow it, from a friend, or the library? Will I shell out an extra ten dollars or so to get the UK paperback, with the really pretty cover, or will come across it at secondhand bookstore and pick it up for two bucks? Will it be a new copy, or a used copy? Will that used copy contain the weight of its previous reads and readers, just like my lost copy, wherever it is now, does?
In this way, thinking about the lost book in this way, has allowed me to let it roll off my shoulders pretty easily, though I question how applicable this approach is. Would my reaction be the same if I lost my paperback copy of Divergent, or my Collector’s Edition of Divergent, both of which hold vale to me more as physical objects than receptacles of the story, which I am quite critical of? What if my copy of City of Bones had cost me 20 or more dollars? I’m pretty stingy, so I think I’d take issue. What if it had been a signed copy, or a copy given to me by a friend who’s now gone? How much value do certain objects hold?
I can’t be sure of the answer, or how I’ll react the next time I lose a book. But this experience, this particular way of approaching the loss of the book not as a loss of it’s story or a loss of it’s memories, but a loss of the object alone, has taught me a lot about how I regard books and stories and memories.
As for the saying "a book lent is a book lost", the solution is very simple: never lend a book, always give it away.
-Jacques Bonnet Phantoms on the Bookshelves