I like to lend out my books, providing they are treated well and returned at some point. It makes my shelves seem more ‘alive’ in a way. New Finnish novels especially tend to get passed around like the treasures they are when you live somewhere else. When I lived in Pfaffenhofen, there were five Finnish women all about the same age living there, and I remember that one Leena Lehtolainen novel I owned – I can’t remember which one – was read by a total of six different people; first passed around in Pfaffenhofen and then taken to the US by my mother.
Which in turn reminds me of a book which could almost have applied for its own frequent flier card. My mother had given her sister Kipa Fifty Miles from Tomorrow. A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People by William L. Iggiagruk Hensley as a gift. Soon thereafter, my mom and I were both in Finland at the same time, and she had borrowed the book from my aunt in order to read it herself, but when I expressed interest in reading the book as well, my mom said “well, take it home with you, read it and then send it to over next time Ralf comes to Seattle on business (Ralf travels a lot back and forth between Seattle and Germany and so he gets used – he sometimes uses the word ‘abused’ - as a courier between my mom and me. I don’t know how many jars of Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing he has schlepped over, but that’s a whole different subject…). So anyway, this book was sent from Seattle to Finland, came back to Bavaria with me, and then travelled back to Seattle before being returned to Kipa in Finland again!
Now, one could argue that it would’ve been a helluva lot simpler to just buy three copies of the book, one for each of the countries we’re scattered about in at least (we won’t even get into the states and cities), not to mention more lucrative for the publishing industry! But there is something very appealing about the thought of this single copy passing through all of our hands, being read by all these women in our family in these different countries.
(Having written all this, I remember that it was a very good book and kind of wish I owned a copy of it now…)
Jakob Arjouni died a little over a year ago and I was extremely sorry to read about that. His first crime novel Happy Birthday ,Türke!, starring the Turkish private detective Kemal Kayankaya, was the first book I read in German without using a dictionary. It was a paperback copy and I had paid about twelve German Marks for it, probably the last of my money back then. Unfortunately I do not own it anymore, because shortly afterwards somebody borrowed it to read on a short trip. When this person returned, it turned out that the book had been forgotten in a hotel room or train, and instead of apologizing, the loss was shrugged off with the words “it was a shitty book anyways”, leaving me speechless. Even after twenty years, I still have not forgotten the dismissive tone of those words, nor have I bought a new copy of the book, because it could never replace the actual volume which I finished reading back then, so pleased by the fact that I had understood the entire story without having to look up a single word. Now I don't think something like this would matter much to me, but back then...any book but that one!
(However, it was not until after I read Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain – also without a dictionary), that I really believed my German was fluent.)
I also remember a book which I once borrowed and never returned. I felt horrible about it for years. It was Der Untertan by Heinrich Mann (The Man of Straw is one of three English titles it has been translated under) and I cannot recall why I felt unable to return the book, or even to just drop it in this person's mailbox. Years later, I finally gave it away, not wanting to keep it on my shelves constantly reminding me of my shameful behaviour!