Writers have very large and extremely fragile egos. This is why we go into bookstores and look for our books, pull them face out, and get our days ruined if the store doesn’t actually carry us. It’s also why every time I go to my local library I hop on one of the computer terminals and perform a catalog search for my book. After noting with pride the long-ish request queue, I walk away, leaving my search result up on the screen in the hopes of tantalizing another library patron with my “ungettable-for-now” book.
The other day I was performing this biblio-ritual of mine and discovered that one of the copies of Suffering Succotash was listed as “missing stock.” It took half a second before it sunk in: “OH MY GOD HOW COOL IS THAT? SOMEBODY STOLE MY BOOK!” I walked out of the library prouder than if my request queue was as long as Maria Semple’s.
I was musing over how stealing a book from a library somehow seems far less criminal and far more intellectual than stealing from a bookstore when I abruptly remembered the time my mother stole a library book for me.
I was probably about 11 or 12 and deeply in love with Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy-Tib series. I had bought and read all the way from Betsy-Tacy to Betsy in Spite of Herself, but beyond that, I could not buy. The stores didn’t have the rest of the series, so only Minneapolis’ Walker Public Library could satisfy by providing copies of Betsy is a Junior and Betsy and Joe.
I checked Betsy is a Junior and Betsy and Joe out multiple times, but it soon became clear that it wasn’t enough to simply borrow those books, I needed to possess them. Really, I needed to posses Betsy and Joe because I thought it was the last of the series. (Don’t get me started on how I didn’t even discover Betsy and the Great World and Betsy’s Wedding until many years later and was so traumatized by the Betsy-Joe split in BATGW that I skimmed over all that Europe crap just to get to their [SPOILER ALERT] reunion [/SPOILER ALERT] at the end.)
Always one to support my bookworm habits — from not getting too mad at me when she caught me sneak-reading with a flashlight under the covers to sacrificing space in her own suitcase for more of our vacation books — my mother was sympathetic to my wails and whimpers about the unfeeling publishing companies that didn’t seem to think it was profitable to publish such an old book. (The book was first published in the late 40s, and this was the 80s — what did I know from old?)
After checking out various used book stories for the book, my mother “stole” Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and Joe from the Walker Public Library for me. She reported it lost and paid the fine, which came to $20. Small price to pay to acquire a book that was never going to get republished, I figured. Since it was clear she wasn’t 100% comfortable with our little heist, I didn’t dare press my luck by suggesting my mom finagle Betsy is a Junior for me as well.
Of course in that self-centered way kids have, I never once considered that since the library had only the one copy, me tucking my precious, library-laminated hardback of Betsy and Joe into my bookshelves meant that other kids wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. Or, if I did allow that thought to spirit through my mind, it was squelched by my fervent belief that no one would love and provide for that book as much as I would. (In retrospect, I do realize that it’s that sort of thinking that leads to baby-snatching.)
And I did love that book. It was the jewel of my collection, and I read it and the other Betsy-Tacy-Tib books at least once a year. I loved that book so freaking much, I took it to college with me. After I moved back home and then subsequently relocated to Boston without Betsy and Joe, my mother picked a day to gently tell me that she gave the book back to the library. Sort of a donation, I think. Though I still believe it was the height of literary badassery to love a book so much my mom “stole” it for me, of course I see that returning it was the right thing to do.
Maybe my mother’s return of Betsy and Joe restored some sort of karmic balance to the Maud Hart Lovelace book world because a few years ago, Harper Perennial Modern Classics republished every single one the Betsy-Tacy books, including three Deep Valley books I didn’t even know existed, Carney’s House Party, Emily of Deep Valley, and Winona and the Pony Cart. I still love Maud Hart Lovelace as much as I ever did, so even though it meant duplicating part of my library, I immediately bought all of them. I still read the entire series at least once a year, and I ecstatically recommend the series to adults and kids alike.
Now that someone has gone and stolen a copy of my book, I can’t help but feel kinship with the thief. If that person loves my book as much as I’ve always loved Betsy and Joe, I really can’t ask for anything more as an author.
I think I’ll go ahead and donate one of my author copies to my branch to make sure there are always copies when people want them.