The first time my lodging came with a lending library I was in Turrialba, Costa Rica at a bed and breakfast. The bookcase was centrally located near the dining area. Don’t imagine a Victorian cottage when I say this, rather something elegantly rustic with open space, cool breezes, hammocks, tropical plants and a lot of fresh fruit on the menu. The large bookcase had a sign the said “Take one, Leave One”, permission for which I was grateful because I found a book that I couldn’t put down and didn’t have time to finish. Later I stayed at the lodge in Volcanoes National Park on the “big island” of Hawaii and there was a bookcase headboard. These books were hard bound and didn’t seem to offer themselves up the way the books in Costa Rica did, but I appreciated the more temporal loan none the less. I decided that staying in the kind of place that offered books was the ultimate luxury. Then I didn’t see it much anymore for a long time.
I remembered how much I enjoyed the loan of books while away from home when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I was collecting donations from around my home. I was cash poor and beyond that, I don’t like to throw cash indiscriminately at a problem when I don’t know how it will be spent. I had been through hurricanes before. I knew what kind of things you need when your front porch is two blocks away and there’s a tire on your bed. I sent the obvious things. Linens, first aid supplies, air mattresses, extra travel toiletry kits that the airlines gave away on international flights, spare suitcases. I also went through all my bookcases and pulled out every book I was willing to part with, and a couple that I knew I would replace. They were books that I would enjoy reading if I were stuck in the Astrodome or some other shelter for an indefinite period of time.
I was reminded of these things on a recent trip to south Florida. We were camping in the Everglades without electricity, thus no radio. The sky was clear, but just as we were leaving a storm came quickly and we were caught in the rain, a cold wind driven rain leaving us soaked and shivering. (Now we have a wind-up solar radio with NOAA channels). Places to warm up and dry off are few and far between on the Tamiami Trail. When you do make it to civilization, you find yourself in the high rent district just as suddenly as that storm rose, and we drove north along the interstate for some time looking for a place to stay for a price we’d pay. Beyond tired and not quite dry, we finally stopped at a mid-level chain hotel. They had the standard free breakfast room adjacent to the lobby, and in the corner beside a built in bench seat was a book case. Seeing that unexpected bookcase was the emotional equivalent of a warm fire.
My love of a book borrowed probably started in childhood. My father had a particular book that he liked to share with anyone who seemed interested. We joked about how many copies he must have bought over time, and still I have no idea what that number might be, only were it was that we looked to see if a copy was currently residing in the bookcase. There has been a borrower’s bookcase at the YMCA where I work out for many years. I am seeing them in more and more places and they are filled with promise. The promise of a good story or idea shared, the promise of recycling, the promise of a little enlightenment or levity. The last book that I put into a borrowers bookcase was given to me by a roommate from Canada while I was traveling in Japan. Her other book went home with a Czech. It is not just a shared book, but a well traveled book. I wonder if the books in these cases were tracked like dollar bills on “Where’s George?” or a Geocoin if the story of how the book came to be in the bookcase might be as interesting as the book itself.
Here’s my suggestion. If you are in charge of a space where people linger, if there is space, even for a small book case, put one there. If you are on a low budget, get the bookcase at Goodwill and do a good deed while you’re doing a good deed. If you do not have books to share, you can get your seed books there too, or get them when the public library has its annual purge.