I once lent a favourite book to a friend. After being mauled by a doberman and dropped in the bath, it was returned with profuse apologies and the offer of replacement.
I declined. I’ve long known that borrowed books are accident-prone.
Before my family emigrated from Britain to Sydney, my father brought home a library book filled with scenes of our prospective country. Dad gave it to me to browse before he left for work, warning that if I damaged it he’d get into trouble. In that neighbourhood, “trouble” usually meant a sojourn at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I carefully examined each photographic paean to the beauty of our chosen land. When I turned the page ready to be delighted afresh, the paper caught on a button and tore. Just a tiny tear but, like any five-year old, I was inclined to make a lot of a little. Hot with panic, I snapped the book shut and carried it to the table.
When the book was returned, my anxiety rose. With every knock at the front door I expected the police to barge in, looking for Dad. Later that summer, with my father still at large, I doubt that any passenger was more relieved than I was to be sailing from Southampton.
The bookmobile that rolled up to my primary school with its dog-eared cargo tempered my fear of inadvertent damage. At high school I borrowed age-inappropriate books from the municipal library, returning them with nary a blemish but with a propensity to fall open at a certain page. My phobia was in remission. Until recently, that is, when I joined the local library. On a whim I borrowed a mint-condition Napoleon’s Last Island by Tom Keneally.
Then I drove to the shops. It was a hot day. I threw a water bottle on to the seat before heading off to linger near the freezer section. Returning an hour later, I was horrified to find that the book was wet through; I hadn’t re-capped the bottle properly. I frantically mopped and fanned the pages. At home I Googled “book restoration”, and as I carefully ironed each page (silk setting, no steam) between sheets of kitchen paper, I revisited my anxiety over that torn book of sunlit Australian scenes.
I returned the bloated mess to the library and described my effort to fix it. “Accidents like that happen all the time,” the librarian said. And with that she fined me the price of the book; Napoleon’s Last Island was mine to take home. It’s one of the best books I’ve read, thoroughly absorbing (and, dare I say, absorbent). Sadly, its exile to the compost bin is imminent.
Since then I’ve borrowed magazines, CDs and DVDs from the library, but not another book. For now I’m content with the worn-out books I bought at a library sale. Now that someone owns them, they’re safe.
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is one of the best-known ballets by which composer? Napoleon Bonaparte was king of Italy during which century?