Books and Friends


Money ruins friendship.  That’s a universal truth.  The friend who gave me money when I was in a fix yesterday becomes my enemy, when she wants her money back, without interest mind you.  We should add books to that list of things that freeze friendship.  I regularly discover this when I go to my library to find a book, to double check whatever I’m writing, only to find that a certain book is missing.

I was reminded of Maya Angelou two years ago, when I bought Beauty Shop, directed by Billie Woodruff.  The star line-up includes Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard, Djimon Hounsou, Keisha Knight Pulliam and Kevin Bacon.  The stylists at Gina’s beauty shop rap about many things, including Maya Angelou and her poem Phenomenally.  I hope this is the correct title. 

I don’t know for sure, for the simple reason that a friend of a friend borrowed my poetry book and never brought it back.  I tried to trace her through her workplace but she no longer works there.  I will go on line one of these days and replace it but it makes me angry because I did not come back with much when I left Columbia University except for the journalism degree, some clothes and my books. 

Book shopping in New York is a pleasure, whether you are combing book stores in the Village or mid-Manhattan.  Canada is even more of a book-loving country, because of the long crisp winters and their coconut snow flakes, definitely an inducement for reading.

The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a book that has gone missing twice.  I first lent it to a friend when I still at Columbia.  I’ve forgotten who it is.  I bought another copy, and I also lent it out.  Call me the Private Lending Library.  I’m stuck now because I don’t have a copy and I want to be amused from time to time.  Song of Solomon is both sad and hilarious, especially the debate whether the street is called Dr. Street or Not Dr. Street. 

What is frustrating about friends willing themselves my books before I even write my will is that I cannot go to the police because there is no crime.  I gladly give the book over to the friend after singing its phrases and I never see it again.  What is also strange is that I don’t have anybody’s books in my library. 

The size of my library and where it is located in these four walls I call home is another post, another time. I lived on campus in New York, but I spent most of my free time in Harlem with my friend Sue Fung, marching against apartheid and other causes, catching some jazz, restaurants and book shopping.  That is where I came across the works of Langston Hughes and his Harlem character Simple. 

I still have his poetry book, Langston Hughes Selected Poems, which has the Freedom Plow, a poem that could have been written for the men and women who put Barack Obama in the White House.  The Negro Speaks of Rivers is also one of my favourite poems. What is missing is the book on Simple, a fictional character based in Harlem who observes life in the community and also writes about his own, trials and tribulations.  I forget the name of the book but I saw myself in Simple, his love problems, landlady problems and his articles on summertime, which is extra wonderful when you are in New York.

I do remember though who I gave my books by Phillip Roth to.  What is funny is that she never read them.  That is why she couldn’t answer my questions about their content and characters.  We are still friends and I never broached the subject again.  I suppose I put a premium over the friendship and shelved Phillip Roth.  I can always walk into a bookstore and replace his books.

What happened to my book the Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir?  It is a very special book because Fazila, a dear friend introduced me to de Beauvoir’s work and books of her partner, Jean Paul Sartre.  Come to think of it, I lost the Second Sex twice.  I must replace it because it is a good reference book for my non-fiction writing. 

I have nobody to blame but myself.  I buy books because I need them.  We all have budgets for our cravings.  Some people need shoes.  Others need fancy electronic devices to listen to their music.  People who love their cars have budgets for the gadgets that make their cars stand out in a night club parking lot.  My friends who borrow my books and don’t return them obviously don’t love books, so why do I give them mine?

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