Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Lending Library

Most of the books that line my shelves can jog some memory of the place where I originally acquired them: Used Book Stores, Museum gift shops, online retailers and so forth. But there are a handful of books that conjure up not only a place, but a corresponding twinge of guilt whenever I catch a glimpse of their spines. These are the books I am indefinitely “borrowing” from lending libraries on three different continents.

I could have titled this post “Books I’ve Stolen In My Travels,” but that wouldn’t exactly be accurate. Not, that is, if you believe like I do, that lodging-based lending libraries are more akin to the “leave a penny, take a penny” cups at your local convenience store than they are to your nearest municipal library. I have always tried to leave a book when taking one, but in the grand reckoning of my lending library balance, I suppose I have withdrawn more than I have deposited. So it’s with some remorse (and zero intent to make restitution) that I publish a list of my permanently borrowed books:

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad:

This book was picked up this past summer in a small penzion off of Campo San Polo in Venice, Italy. It was the third day of an unexpectedly long stopover while we waited for a standby flight back to Atlanta. I snatched it from the common bookcase and laid it on the nightstand with all the best intentions. But I’m sad to admit I didn’t even try to start this one. Three mornings of standby hell followed by three afternoons of lugging little kids through the tourist-packed streets of Venice will crush the desire to read anything out of just about anybody.

The Red Dancer, by Richard Skinner and Why We Want You To Be Rich, by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki:

Both of these were picked up in a Buenos Aires youth hostel in 2009. It was admittedly very slim pickings. I was in Argentina for a business school Colloquium and didn’t think I’d have time for any reading outside of the assigned business cases I brought with me from the states. Turns out I was right, but I took them anyway. The first book, historical fiction about the life of Mata Hari, wasn’t read until this past year, and the other has not been cracked open as of this writing.

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes:

Nestled beneath the Air Traffic Control Tower at the Salt Lake City airport, there is a squat, beige building that houses a Delta Reservations call center. It’s where I worked for the last two and a half years of my undergraduate program. Inside that building is a fairly robust lending library filled with all kinds of the regular crap you’d expect people to take on a weekend trip to Paris and promptly dump in the break room upon their return. Still, I’d scour the shelves for anything remotely decent, and was surprised one evening to find something that actually struck my interest: The above named Nebula Award-winning novel by Daniel Keyes. Unfortunately, I must have been engrossed in another read, because seven years later it still sits unread on my shelf. (By now you’re noticing a pattern…)

Stop-Time by Frank Conroy:

In June of 2003, the woes of stand-by travel once again reared their ugly head. Instead of luxuriating in a business class seat on an overnight flight to meet some friends in Eastern Europe, I spent a very long night folded across two benches at Gate 12 of JFK’s Terminal 3. As a consequence, I burned through my reading material much faster than expected, and had nothing to read by the time we left Budapest for Prague. Luckily, future Shelf Actualization co-blogger Tucker McCann reached into his ‘already read’ pile and tossed me what is still quite possibly the best memoir I have ever read. (He’d picked it up for a dollar out of a clearance basket at the University Bookstore). I never returned the book, and now that we live in separate cities, I imagine I never will. Sorry Tucker.

What about you? What have you taken, and where? Spill it.


  1. I've never forgiven you for stealing Stop Time.

    To be honest, though, I do specifically remember reading it that summer in Europe, but I do NOT remember giving it to you. You probably could have escaped, if not for your honesty.

  2. I didn't finish it before we dragged our sorry, bearded faces back to the Frankfurt airport. I think I probably offered it back, but in the light of my effusive praise for the book, you just told me to keep it until I finished it.