Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lost Books

I can't be the only reader constantly in search of her latest read. Loving husband says I need a beeper for my book and one for my coffee-- if I'm not searching for one, I'm searching for the other. Where do they go? I finally found my coffee this afternoon (in the gents' closet) and sat to watch them play. My mind wandered to books. What better way for a mind to wander on a chilly afternoon when you just can't bear to play Legos again, and you can't find your book, or your other book, and your other book is in the car? Which led me to ponder lost books in general, and all the different kinds of "lost" a book can get.

Books that are lost because you haven't looked very hard. You know the ones. Maybe a book you thought you should read so you started it but it's just not your cuppa. Or maybe a book that you don't hate, but you don't particularly like. As a matter of fact you can't seem to summon up any particular feeling about the book at all, certainly not enough passion or interest to look for it hard enough to find it once you have the good fortune to misplace the darn thing. I may have glimpsed a book like this on the floor of my closet behind the laundry hamper. But I haven't really looked, so it still counts as lost.

Books you seem to keep losing even though you think you want to finish. Mental block, anyone? I can't even remember how long I've been reading C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. It's charming and amusing and insightful. It provokes deep thoughts. But I can't seem to finish the book because I never know where it is. Last time I found it, I put it aside in a safe place so I wouldn't lose it. You know the safe place, right? The book is safe all right, tucked cozily away in the safe place along with the spare housekeys, tickets to an event long past, a couple gadget parts that absolutely cannot be lost or else, and a few dozen phone numbers on scraps of paper.

Lost on the bookshelf. Some enterprising soul decided to put your book away. Who might have done such a thing is anyone's guess, especially since no one else in the house picks up their own belongings so why in heaven's name are they putting away your stuff? You've got a double whammy here. Bookshelves are for storing books we're not reading. You already know that you left it out, so out is where you look. And it's like hiding a straw in a haystack. A book is noticeable on the coffee table, on the nightstand, the back of the toilet or the side of the tub, in the hammock, under the bed even. Now it's hidden in plain sight. You won't see that book again until you're combing the shelves for something else entirely, or until you winnow your book collection.
Off on a tangent...what about finding books that belong on the shelf but simply aren't there? I can't be the only one who, in lost book frustration, finally finds the book I'm looking for on the fifth or sixth try when I resort to standing in front of the bookshelf I've been staring at for the last twenty minutes, saying the name of each book out loud as I touch the spine. Or try this helpful hint: Make sure that while you're looking there's someone else in the room. Maybe someone who you want to impress. Or someone you've just met. Or a person who loves to rub it in when you goof up, like your sister. Look for the desired book on the appropriate shelf. Look again. Look on all the other shelves. Look in the other bookcase. Go upstairs to look at the bookshelves up there. Come back downstairs and start over on the original shelf. Swear and ruffle your hair. Give up. The by now amused bystander will walk over to the shelf, pull off the very book and hand it to you with a casual, "Is this the one?"

Lost library books. You comb the house top to bottom. You take every single book you own off the shelves one at a time. You even look under the ladies' and gents' beds, and really really wish you hadn't.You look crazy places, like in the pantry and sock drawers and the drawer under the stove. On library day your stomach flops like you're in second grade and you have to tell the teacher that you didn't do your homework. Unless you get the crabby library lady, it's all right, though. Only the crabby library lady acts as though you are the only patron who would be careless enough to lose a library book. Usually it turns up before the next visit anyway. And if it doesn't you smile and apologize and pay for the book. But while you're paying, well, underneath that casual "my bad"smile there's nothing quite like a lost library book to bring that anxious little kid feeling to the pit of your stomach.

You'd rather read than look for your book. You know it'll turn up. You could probably find it if you actually looked. You just don't know where it is at the moment, and the bookshelf is handy. How many people actually read just one book at a time anyway?

Library book mix-up. I wonder how many inadvertent donations the library gets each year.

Got kids? Kids will do the weirdest things with a book. Books are so handy! Flower press, weight for fort blankets, writing surface, booster seat, Hot Wheels ramp. Last fall I lost a book for about three weeks because the fine young gents decided to use it for a stepstool while rummaging in their closet.

Book thieves. Not burglars in black with excellent taste in literature who creep silently into your home in the dead of night. These sneaky book thieves are usually our nearest and dearest. "Oh, I didn't know you were still reading it." Ha! I can see how you could get confused by a book splayed face-down on the arm of the recliner, really. Give it back. A slightly less blatant variation on this theme: One of the lovely ladies might forget entirely that she picked up this cool-looking book from the table and took it upstairs, just for a while. The lovely and contrite young borrower meant to put it back, honestly she did.

Sometimes a book is just plain lost. Books fall in cracks. They get left behind. Slide under the bed. Fall out of the bookbag. Sit in the suitcase. Maybe the book fell in the trash can or the Goodwill box or the donations to the library sale.

Oh well. If you want to finish a lost book, there's always the library. Unless you checked out the library's only copy.

1 comment:

Sara Lewis said...

Yes! I have another problem - the book I wanted to take to the bathroom while I hide from the kids, and I just can't find it! It usually turns up just when things are getting crazy and there's no way I can read anymore.