A grumpy booklover’s guide to lending books to others



A long time ago – please bear with me – when I studied issues of cultural identity and its imagined and real boundaries, I came upon Chinese Australian author Ding Xiaoqi’s short story “The Angry Kettle” (collected in her Maidenhome [South Melbourne, Victoria: Hyland House, 1993]). In this story, the protagonist/narrator “I” is a nameless Chinese woman who shares the kitchen in her rented apartment with an Australian man named “Michael”. The two of them constantly clash due to their different backgrounds. Eventually they have a big fight – yes, you’ve guessed it – over HIS kettle, as the story’s title suggests:

“It’s dirty,” he said. “It’s been dirtied.” He was pallid and there were dark circles round his eyes. He spoke as though he was making a public statement that his beloved had been violated, although it was only a kettle and not a person.

“I haven’t used it,” I said. “I haven’t used it for a long time.” I congratulated myself on not having even laid a finger on it recently.

“But you’ve dirtied it.”

“I haven’t touched it.”

“But I’ve told you, it has to be kept away from oil, and when you cook, you use oil.”

“It’s at least ten feet away from where I cook.”

“But it isn’t shiny any more, it’s all blurry.”

“Maybe, but I can’t stop eating just because of that kettle.”

“You could eat a sandwich.”

“But I’m Chinese.”

“Do Chinese people have to eat fried food?”

“Do Australians have to treat their kettle like sweethearts?”

“If you don’t like sandwiches you shouldn’t have come to Australia.”

“If this kettle is worth some much to you, you should take it to bed and hold it tight, not leave it in the kitchen.”

“I will.”

“Thank God for that!”

That was the longest exchange I ever had with Michael without him correcting my English mistakes. (p.196)

Well, today, a friend of mine finally returned a set of four books he borrowed nearly two years ago. In fact, I hassled and hassled him, and had to go to his house this morning to retrieve the books myself.

I love my books and would not normally lend them to others. In this case, I did so reluctantly, as I know he loves reading and appreciates the values of books. With that said, throughout the past two years I was constantly worried what my books would have to endure in his hands. Would he treat them nicely like I do? Would he eat and drink while reading them, and even take them to SLEEP? Would he choose a nice bookmark for them?

The books came back alright, in relatively nice condition. However, as I held them in my arms – I am holding them dearly RIGHT NOW – the character Michael’s words as quoted above automatically came to me. These books are not “shiny” any more! They look “blurry”! Their corners are worn, their pages a bit yellow, and there are even creases in their spines, which look like wrinkles on people’s faces!

So, as a booklover – and an extremely jealous and narrow-minded one at that – my so-called life’s resolution from now on, regarding leading books to others, will be one word and one word only – DON’T! That’s what libraries are for.

Image thanks to: “Reading a book” by LUNARIX-PIX.


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