Never-Lend Books

The writers in our Red Wheelbarrow Writers Book Club have come from many and varied, circuitous paths to convene the second Sunday of every month in the Pickford lobby. In April our topic was Books You Cherish, also known as Never-Lend Books. This write-up cannot possibly convey the great camaraderie generated that afternoon because all/each of these books had a story that went with it, and its significance in the writer’s life. Though our numbers were rather diminished that day (nice weather) our meeting took longer (and more popcorn) than usual when, as a close group we listened to these tales, too many, alas, to recount here.

But imagine our collective surprise—given our varied pasts–when we discovered that several of us shared the Never-Lend titles, THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER and Mao’s LITTLE RED BOOK, and PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, by Annie Dillard. What does that suggest about our Writerly clan? I will leave our amigos to guess who among us shared the overlap.

Jes began, as it was her topic, and as usual, and as passionate reader, writer and traveler, she had a truly unique title, shared by no one else, a battered book, WORLD CRUISING ROUTES. This is a big, thick hardcover she (or even a landlubber) can open anywhere and find out how to get there–wherever There is. It suits Jes’s wanderlust, as does Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. Some of her other choices suggested her commitment to writing, THE WAY OF THE ARTIST by Julia Cameron, a signed copy of Priscilla Long’s THE WRITER’S PORTABLE MENTOR, as well as the lyrical Leonard Cohen’s DEATH OF A LADIES MAN. Jes always brings books the rest of us do not know, and this Sunday was no exception. None of us had even heard of JOURNAL OF AN AMERICAN PHILOSPHER CHANNELING WILLIAM JAMES.

Carol’s choices highlighted her broad swath of interest and experience. HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER by James Tiptree (a woman), THE SPIRAL DEATH, THE EARTH ALIGNS by Starhawk, ANOTHER WAY TO LISTEN by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnell, TRUTH OF THE HUMILITY, and CALLING DOWN THE MOON.

Pam’s choices included novels that were important to her, Rita Mae Brown’s famous RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE, and THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison, and oddly, a big, fat anthology textbook: THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF LITERATURE BY WOMEN; its debut in the late-80’s was a heady moment for young literary women who lit up to discover all those voices, and all between two covers! Two Anne Lamott books were on her list: BIRD BY BIRD and OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS. She also cherished and would not lend out a signed book of poetry by Olga Bromus.

Perhaps oddly for a philosopher, Frances’s Never-Lend choices were all novels: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Graham Greene’s THE HEART OF THE MATTER, Carson McCullers’ THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER and Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL.

My own choices had less to do with the books themselves and more to do with the people who gave them to me, who wrote in them (or not) books that have proved important to me over the years. However, whenever I see copies of my friend Kathy Frank’s fine biographies, I buy them up to give away, especially her first book, A VOYAGER OUT, a biography of the intrepid 19 century African explorer, Mary Kingsley. The book I buy most often to give away is Ludwig Bemelmans’ MADELINE first published in 1939. I’ve given one to nearly every child of my acquaintance. Our hardcover copy (inscribed by my mom) stays put on our shelf.

Bob’s Never-Lend books all reflected his life-long love affair with Baja California. Many times between 1983 and 2000 he had his late wife sailed down there, and long before that he made many driving trips, up and down the peninsula when there were no roads. We listened, rapt at his description of some of his Baja travels and the way these books carried him back to Baja, beginning with the mission pamphlets put out by the University of San Francisco and BAJA CALIFORNIA by Ralph Hancock (his adventures falling in love with the people and lifestyle in the ‘50’s when assuredly there were no roads!). THE CALIFORNIOS MOUNTAINS OF BAJA by Harry Crosby and the BAJA SEA GUIDE all figured hugely in Bob’s adventurous life. We all urged Bob to write his own Baja memoir—that would surely take him back to those adventurous days.

We would each buy the book, and he would sign it, and we would never lend it out.

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