I’ve been thinking a lot lately about books, which anyone who knows me knows is not unusual. But specifically, I’ve been pondering all the books I used to own which have been lost over countless moves in the tumultuous past few years of my life. Doing so invokes an intense nostalgia in me. I know I’ll never see these particular books again—a different copy, maybe, printed with the same words yes, but with none of the circumstantial meaning that the copies I owned became imbued with.
The one that comes readily to mind was the thick hardback H.G. Wells treasury my friend Laurel gifted me one Christmas, back when I lived with her family. It was the first book I’d ever received with an inscription, which seemed shockingly bold to me, to write directly into a book with a black ink pen. The inscription said she’d likely borrow it from me at some point in the future, and I’d laughed, because buying gifts for a friend is funny that way. You buy them things you like because you have an inkling they’ll like them too, since the things you like overlap in places. Me and Laurel’s place of overlap was most definitely sci-fi, hence our late-night Star Trek marathons all summer long, spent splayed on the couch in her living room.
Unfortunately her inscription never came true; she was never able to borrow the book back from me. Lost along with the H.G. Wells was the brand-new copy of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath her mom gave me, which I regrettably never got to finish. I can’t remember if they were lost when I moved out of my dorms the first year, due to a lack of storage space, or if I was forced to leave them behind during my first bout with homelessness, but regardless they were lost forever, a fact which saddens me.
To hold that hardback now would be to hold a relic of a formative time in my past. It represents all the chaos that coming out as bisexual before I was really prepared to brought on, and all the uncertainty, fear, and instability that came with claiming my sexuality for the first time. (Though I doubt it’s even possible to ever be fully prepared for such a thing. I can’t wait til the day that “coming out” becomes an outdated concept.) It’s a warm reminder of the kindness of her family, who became like my second family when my first let me down, and the antics of a lifelong friendship: our Netflix and Tumblr addictions, the delicious five dollar pizza place right down the road we were mutually obsessed with, and that time her parents went out of town for the weekend and left us twenty dollars, so we decided to buy a birthday cake for absolutely no fucking reason at all other than that we could.
I especially lament the books I was forced to abandon at my parents’ house, which I still picture neatly lined up on the white-painted plywood bookshelf, though I know they’ve likely long since been thrown or given away. In particular I recall my childhood copy of Stuart Little with fondness. Though well-worn and missing its cover, all those memorable little black-and-white illustrations were intact. My Little House on the Prairie collection was also left behind, along with a copy of Peter Pan, which I’d been delighted to discover was much darker source material than the Disney movie would have you believe.
The base of the collection was books I’d loved and reread many times as a kid, but others had been added as I grew up: The Trumpet of the Swan, given to me in a white elephant gift exchange by a girl I once did a science fair project on birdhouses with. A copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I chose based on its minimal lime green cover and the optimism of the title, daring to hope it would show me the supposed perks of growing up painfully shy. Then there were two I bought for myself on a rare trip to the mall, back when Borders was still around: The Book Thief, whose premise of Death as narrator intrigued me and the ending of which would make me cry, and Ender’s Game, a sci-fi novel about an outcast boy genius who ends up saving the earth, recommended to me by my friend Webby who all but forced it into my hand in high school saying, “You have to read this!”
She wasn’t wrong; I loved it. The ending plot twist blew my mind, and I identified heavily with the protagonist Ender, who doodled in class when he was supposed to be paying attention. He wasn’t trying to be contrary, but it was always perceived that way. The teacher would call on him as a sort of punishment, but it backfired because he always knew the answers. I could easily relate, seeing as so many times in my life I’d done the same, resorting to reading a book during a boring lecture or while waiting for the rest of the class to finish an assignment I’d blazed through. Often I was scolded for the habit.
I understood and empathized with Ender, because he was like me: his intelligence set him apart from his peers and even made him hated by some. He was a prime example of the blessing and the curse that is intelligence, because for all of his smarts and strategic gifts, he was still an easy target for bullies, despised by his own brother, socially isolated, and achingly lonely, with his sister Valentine being his sole confidant. I liked him because he was strong, but he wasn’t invincible: in many instances he was vulnerable, and in the end massively gullible, manipulated by adults into committing an unspeakable crime. Ender was the first truly accurate portrayal of a gifted child I’d ever read, which had a profound and lasting impact on me. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite books.
While it’s sad I no longer possess the original copies of these books that so affected me or came to encapsulate an era of my life, no matter how much I might wish I did, I know it’s not the physical book that’s most important but my experience of it, which has clearly remained with me. I’ve been calling them “lost” books, but really they haven’t been lost, because the beauty and power of the printed word has been seared forever into my memories and mind. I have to wonder if this is a universal experience. So guys, I’m curious: what books have you “lost”? What made your copy so special? What impressions did it make on you, and how’d you end up losing it? Comment in remembrance, if you wish.