I'd already found out that one of the secrets to happiness was never loan your
books. But I loaned it anyway. We were all of us poor and living
on ideas, stumbling home late to basement apartments, talking to ourselves.
What did we own except books and debt? When the time came
we could move it all in the trunk of a car. Tom knew what a book was worth—he
brought it back a week later, seemingly unhandled, just a little looser
in the spine, a trade paper edition of The Death of Artemio Cruz, required reading
for a course in postmodernism we were suffering through.
The book's trashed now, boxed up and buried in the garage with a hundred other
things I can't throw away. When I moved back south I loaned it again
to a girl I'd just met. At some party I'd said it was the best novel since Absalom,
Absalom!, which may have been true, but mostly I was trying to impress her,
and convince myself, still testing all I'd been told about the matter of a book
is best kept separate from, well, matter. Months later it turned up
on my front steps without comment, the cover torn in two places, the dog-eared
pages of self-conscious prose stuck together with dark, rich chocolate.