On the way home, I’m telling a friend about the book I’m reading. When I end my 30-second review, I catch myself. I usually wrap up any enthusing about a book with I can lend it to you when I’m done… I can’t lend this to anyone. My Special Topics in Calamity Physics is in Sony’s proprietary format. If had some other kind of e-ink device, they couldn’t read it. Even if they had a Reader, I couldn’t lend it to them. I would be breaking the law, violating the license that goes along with the book.
In truth, I don’t actually lend books that often, but I offer to lend books a lot. It’s part of the implicit promise that you take with you out of the bookstore: Mine to lend. It’s the reason there are book plates, a slightly fussy custom I’ve never really been into, but that I now find myself wishing for. At the same time, way back in some part of my hind brain (the convenience-loving piece of cortex that loves iPods and cable TV and timeshifting PVRs and Gortex(tm) rain gear) I know that it isn’t enough to hold me back. People will trade a lot for personal convenience. Lending isn’t an integral part of reading, but it’s a good part regardless of its frequency.
Let me reach for a generalization here: there is probably a stage in the development of any passionate booklover where lending is a big deal. Think of those books that get passed around from hand to hand: Kerouac novels in European hostels, VC Andrews books in Grade 7, your older cousin’s copy of Tropic of Cancer with the dirty bits dog-eared, your friend’s King Lear Coles Notes. But like I said, it probably isn’t enough on its own to hold back the tide, any more than album art could save vinyl or the smell of movie popcorn could bring back the theatre marketshare lost to DVD and Pay-per-View movies.