Here’s a question you won’t find popping out of a Christmas cracker any time soon: What do Winnie-the-Pooh, Japanese haiku, Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and the complete works of Shakespeare have in common?
At first glance, not a lot. But as it happens, they are all books that have taken up illicit residence on my shelves. Most of them belonged to my parents. Did I use the past tense there? Guilty! Over time, I have borrowed, read, enjoyed and learned from these books.
I just somehow never managed to return them.
I could pretend they are the only ones I’ve nicked, but sadly it’s just not true. There are more. Many more in fact. Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style is one. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is another. I’ve got novels by Kafka, Melville and Camus, along with poems by Janet Frame, e.e. cummings and a wondrous bunch of others.
Even my trusty copy of Roget’s Thesaurus – the subject of a previous post – belongs in this list and is not, strictly speaking, mine.
In saying this, I am in no way endorsing any raids you may be inclined to stage on the next well stocked set of shelves you find. It’s just that when I reflect on the various volumes I’ve stolen over the years, I see there’s a reason I’ve never returned them and it’s more than mere inertia.
Sure, some of these books now get contentedly left on the shelf. But others I refer to and return to often, whether I am seeking to write or just seeking delight. They’ve become my companions and I value their presence. For all their inherent treasures, they contain additional gems of discovery and memory for me.
More than anything, I think it is through this curious collection of filched literature that I first began to read like a writer. That’s a lesson worth learning but it needs repeated practice. Maybe that’s why I hang on to these books, why I keep reading them and why I treat them like my own.
It’s because each has in some way contributed to making me the writer and editor I am today.
So I’m sorry, Mum and Dad and anyone else I may have appropriated books from, but I’ll be keeping them for now. You’re welcome to borrow them of course.
Just as long as I get them back.
Confess. Which books do you have that are not quite entirely yours? What led you to steal them and why do you keep them? What love or learning have you found through being a book thief?