There is a particular quality of reluctance felt when, having finished a novel, you close it for the last time. I thought about this the other day between chapters of, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
I believe that even the inanimate objects share the feeling. The bookmark that will no longer serve its purpose. The spine, that can finally relax from flexing and extending, will miss the exercise. Even the pages are reluctant to flatten forever- their bent corners having marked the best places within- they knew they were loved.
Ultimately, it is best to realize that any brilliant story doesn’t have to stop telling itself just because you have finished reading it. Another bookmark deserves a place between its pages. And the spine should stretch again-vigorously or delicately, in the hands of another reader.
Our reluctance can be recycled. The good books we read and finish should get passed along immediately. Despite the temptation to shelve them and say, I’ll read this again so I better keep it, good books deserve another go with another reader. We should say instead, I should send this book to Someone-I-Know as soon as I’m done.
The anticipation of an ending may replace the reluctance of its impending.
Lending and Borrowing Books
We must acknowledge the quiet trouble of recycling books. Whether it means putting a book in a box to mail or bringing it over in person, recycling books is difficult. Suddenly confronted with the fact that we are giving a good thing away we feel betrayed. At the last minute, stabbed with possessiveness, we hesitate to let go. Recycling is much different than lending or borrowing. This can be a hard truth when it comes time to taking action.
In reality, lending a book to a friend assuages these attachment issues in the short run. Borrowing is a temporary condition that effects the same gesture as giving. The difference is believing that you’re going to get the book back in the long run. If this mindset makes it easier to part with and pass on great literature, so be it. It doesn’t matter that most people lend books and ultimately forget about, or give up on, retrieving them.
How To Give, Receive and Recycle Gifts
Recycling a book is the act of giving a gift. Gift giving turns all of us into givers and receivers, depending on the occasion.
With these roles in mind, I recommend the following etiquette and advice for gift exchange in general and recycling books in particular:
- Recycle a book to someone you think will enjoy it specifically. The tendency in passing along a good novel is to pass it along to a good reader. If the story reminds you of someone, send it to them accordingly. Forget their preference for non-fiction and give them fiction anyway. Who cares if you don’t really know what they like to read. Recycling isn’t about accuracy.
- Make it decorous. A used book is special for always being brand new to the recipient. The cover might have a few miles on it but it still deserves a big red bow and wrapping paper for presentation.
- Don’t give it away. Let anticipation have a chance. You may think you’re building anticipation by saying something before they open it like, I hope you don’t have one already, or, I can return it for something else. In fact, you’re ruining it. And you’re being an apologist which is a selfishness; the subtlety of turning gift-giving into something you control- by thwarting the outcome before (the gift) comes out.
- Open it right away. Stop being a slave to manners and pleasantries. (Recall when, as a child, you couldn’t keep your eyes off an unwrapped present. You’d beg to shake it and guess what’s inside. You were genuinely excited about the mystery.) Don’t set the gift aside to sip your cocktail and catch up. Acknowledge it and say politely, Can I open it? Proceed to scratch and tear away at it. Never request scissors or a knife. You wouldn’t give a child a knife, just as you shouldn’t be delicate in destroying the concealment of what’s contained.
- Let them have a moment with it. Once unwrapped, it may incite instant delight. Or, the sight of a book (and not another similarly shaped item) may reveal their disappointment. No matter the initial reaction, once unwrapped, allow them to sum it up, read the back and inside flaps. Avoid diving into explanation as in, I think you’ll like this, or, if you don’t like it, I understand...
- Say thank you. As the beneficiary of a recycled book, regardless of your enthusiasm, express simple graciousness. Faking your appreciation of the gesture is telltale. Avoid overdoing it. Sprinkling in, That’s really thoughtful, or, I’ve heard good things about this book (when you haven’t) isn’t necessary.
- Say you’re welcome. Again, keep it simple and sincere. Insecurity urges so many of us to include something thereafter like, I hope you like it, or, (the worst) I wanted to get you something else but… If you must say something, try instead, Let me know what you think when you’re finished.
- Recycle again. Receiving, reading and giving is a limitless cycle of gift giving. Once you get a good book, give it away again!