Friday, March 16, 2018

On Return of Books Lent to Friends and Other Special Books

inscription in a favored book on the bookshelf
"On the Return of a Book Lent to A Friend"
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor use it as an ash-tray for his burning cigar, not as a teething-ring for his mastiff.
WHEN I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never thought to look upon its pages again.
BUT NOW that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.
PRESENTLY, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed." --Christopher Morely, The Haunted Bookshelf

Adah at 16 (1919)
When I came across this Christopher Morley quote, I immediately thought of a book I have on my shelf: The Greatest Story Ever Told, by Fulton Oursler (Doubleday and Co. 1950). This is a cherished book to me not only because of the story it tells but of personal family history related to its specific volume. For, in 1951, my grandmother, Adah Johnson, wrote these words in the flyleaf: "This book is mine. I will gladly loan it to anyone who would like to read it. But please return it. It tells the story of the New Testament so simply and yet so beautifully I wish everybody would read it." --A.E.J.  Truly the book was special to Adah, and one that she would have wanted returned to her if she loaned it out. Having been passed down to me, it holds a special spot on my bookshelf as well. 

And Christopher Morley (American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet,1890-1957), what more might he have had to say said about books? I was not familiar with Christopher Morley's works before, and I've never read his book, The Haunted Bookshop (written in 1919). One reviewer described the book as "primarily a novel of suspense, though throughout it Morley proclaims the value of books." Knowing all this now, maybe I should find myself a copy and check it out.

Want more on Morley's thoughts about books? Goodreads includes additional quotes from The Haunted Bookshop, including:

"That's why I call this place the Haunted Bookshop. Haunted by the ghosts of the books I haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it."

"Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world--the brains of men."

"I wish there could be an international peace conference of booksellers, for (you will smile at this) my own conviction is that the future happiness of the world depends in no small measure on them and on the librarians."

"There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it."

I don't know if my grandmother ever read any of Christopher Morley's works, but I think she would agree with his ideas, especially that of this last quote. What if we did have a cherished book that we would want returned upon loaning it out but, with its loss, held out the hope that it was just what that person's soul needed? Wouldn't it be worth it?

What book/books are on your shelf that you would hate to part with? Do you have any books passed down to you from previous generations that you treasure? Do you have any books you need to return to someone else? (Ha!)


  1. Interesting questions!

    My "keep" test for books is whether I'll read them again, so much of what's on my shelves has been read multiple times already. Can I really say I'd hate to part with several hundred books? Yeah, maybe. Of course, there are some I REALLY liked - especially sets like HARRY POTTER, GAME OF THRONES, and THE RAVEN BOYS. I'll likely read them all still again!

    I do have some old books of my mom's, and an aunt gave me an old volume of Andersen's fairy tales that I'll never give away. I don't THINK I have any to return, but something could easily get lost in my many shelves of books! :-)

    1. Oh, Peggy--you've got several hundred books you'd hate to part with?? Wow, that truly is a lot. My shelves might hold a few hundred books but I could probably part with most of them. I even purged a bunch last year but still have more to go :-)

      Wondering what kinds of books your mom read--did she lean toward fantasy like you, or was she drawn to a different genre? And as for books we might need to return, I'm sure I've got a couple here and there but I really try to return to owner before they get lost in the piles! Good to hear from you--have a great rest of the weekend :-)

  2. I finally returned a book to a friend that I’d had for a couple of decades—and had never gotten around to reading it. I have over 1700 books on my IPad, and about as many sitting on shelves in various rooms in my house. I tended to “dearly love” books when I was younger and more naive about their construction (in terms of the author’s skills at evoking emotion, etc). Two books that I dearly loved decades ago were The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carlton and At Weddings and Wakes by Alice McDermott. I was going through a very lonely time in my life and both resonated with me in a big way.

    1. I shouldn't be surprised at the number of books you have on your IPad since you were a librarian, but 1700 titles is an amazing number! I never did get too comfortable reading on my kindle so I don't even have 100 books stored there :-) But I am making note of the two books you recommend, especially since they resonated with you so much. My reading right now is a re-visit of the classic "The Robe," by Lloyd C. Douglas, a good read during the days leading up to Easter... :-)