Friday, 1 July 2011

Borrowed time

Whenever I visit someone's house for the first time, I always head straight for their bookshelves.  You can tell a lot about a person by the book-company they keep.  The libraries of old friends aren't free from my scrutiny either, and I recently sized up the collection of my friend Sonya.  A fellow York English Grad, her shelves were creaking with righteously-good tomes, and I quickly turned into a child in a sweet shop when she said 'borrow whatever you like.'  That night I took home with me An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay, What I loved by Siri Hustvedt, and Sunset Over Chocolate Mountains by Susan Elderkin.  What a haul!  

The pleasure of borrowing a book is quite different to buying one for yourself.  After peanut butter, chorizo sausage and extra-shot-cappuccinos, books are the thing I buy the most, and the thrill I get each time never diminishes (the same can be said for the other mentioned items). But borrowing a book from a dear friend, or perhaps even more tantalizingly, a newish acquaintance 'of promise', offers a pleasure all of its own - as indeed does lending. As a teen I thrust The Catcher In The Rye upon several potential boyfriends, thinking, 'are you, like Holden, the sort to care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row?'  Then I met a boy at university who already had a copy all of his own on his shelf...  Reader, I married him.

I've just finished the last of my borrowed books, and each were enjoyable and impressive in wholly separate ways.  But it was Sunset Over Chocolate Mountains that captured my imagination the most.  Perhaps it was the Arizona desert setting, conjured with such drama, beauty and a magpie-like eye for glinting detail.  Or maybe it was the dark fairytale-ish feeling that's evoked; don't be swayed by the saccharine title, Elderkin's is a book with its fair share of gruesome, a heady mix of idyllic and uncomfortable that smacks of Grimm... or, sometimes, just plain grim. Or it could even have been the dual storylines that run parallel all the way through and then criss-cross beautifully when you least expect it.  All I know is that I loved it.  And once I've returned it to Sonya, I'll be squeezing a new copy on to my own shelves.  After all, I might want to lend it to someone myself one day.