The Little Lending Library of My Heart

photo via Robert Harding

Words as love.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon the Little Free Lending Library. A series of free-standing huts, filled with books to take or lend, the Take A Penny of prose. It’s on the next block over, sometimes covered in Christmas Lights during the holidays, standing alone, hoping to take visitors.

I’ve gotten many great titles over the four years. I always pause as I walk to the grocery store, or go out with friends, and on the way back, tipsy from a date or exhausted from a long day. I’m always sure to take a pause and look into the little window, opening the small door to see who and what might be there. Maybe it’s a pile of crappy LSAT books, but usually there is one book sitting there that captures my attention.

My heart is a little lending library. And the men are the books I lend them that come and go, some with tattered covers and margin notes, some with beautiful cover art and no arc. Some of them rip out pages, some highlight passages.

I realized this earlier this year in the wake of a false start, you could say. Constantly swiping, and no page turning. No getting past the introduction and table of contents.

I went through the usual scope of deleting the digital evidence — texts and gchat interactions. I deleted emails, funny photos and gifs sent through the stratosphere as a way of saying, “hey I like you”. Shared song links and articles. Then I remembered he had my copy of the Insanity Defense. Take a penny leave a penny. Take a book, leave a mark. Before I left for Los Angeles, I gave a man a book a friend of mine wrote that he never returned.

Words are power, but they are also love.

I started to think about my little lending library and all the books I given to men who didn’t deserve them. It is my way of showing affection, an object of permanence that allows for me to share a world with someone else. “Read this”, I say, as a way of showing someone inside my head, letting the pages speak for me. When I couldn’t find my own words, I used someone else’s.

It’s not just these men that have taken a book and not returned it — I’ve done it too. I too have paged through the prologue of another person, and gotten bored. I wanted a juicier read or a more popular title. I used to get swayed by great reviews from others, instead of reading the book for myself.

I remember mistreating a guy right after the end of a serious relationship. He wanted to give me his entire library. Every book he owned. I wasn’t interested in the same way. He still has my tattered hand-me-down copy of Bright Lights Big City, an original paperback, with pages that had fallen out jammed between the soft covers. He was a fast talker and thought a lot about the world of finance. I was the bright lights and the big city, spitting him out onto the pavement.

Words are affection and care for me. They have been my entire life. I am the child of two writers, and the grandchild of an English professor and another teacher who helped kids with special needs write. My grandmother’s loopy handwriting lines my refrigerator, she sends me letters full of article clippings. I imagine her hovering over the paper, looking for style references or women in business images, carefully skimming and cutting.

Words are the currency of my family, with which we show feeling. The kindest words from my father to me came in the form of an email, written to someone else. He wrote about the shape of my eyes, and the way I thought about the world. The power of his observations set in paragraphs left me stunned, deeply moved, and truly seen. I sat in my college dorm bathroom reading it over and over, unable to go to class, lost in the words.

I yearn so deeply for love, that I give what I know how to give — words. There was a long time ex-boyfriend whom I gave a sad and poignant novel from my grandmother. It mixed themes that reflected what I thought he wanted from me, particularly when it came to religion. It was beautiful and sad and poetic. Towards the torturous end of our relationship I wrote him distraught late-night emails.

Love for me came in the form of written attention, and as I dated in my early twenties I chose to chronicle them. I formed a humorous and very popular website called Fifty First (J)Dates, which was no coincidence. I wrote about trying to find love, because I was scared and observant, a combination that yielded attention, some for good and bad. Words in some ways, held me back from feelings. I wrote them instead of experienced them. But words are how I know how to do feelings — for better or for worse.

I drown in words from men. I constantly create many hidden infinities of prose, and it gets me into trouble. I calculated all the times I’ve had written chemistry with men, that doesn’t follow through. Nine times. My little lending library has been robbed.

It happened not long ago in the form of another writer. We wrote each other sweeping statements and complex, swirling, twirling sentences, unable to turn them into actual feelings of love. I got drunk on his words, I lent him a pile of books within my heart. It was toxic, but it was gorgeous. A series of paragraphs that evaporated, a cover jacket. He too spun words, but they were just words. It left a mark.

There was the man in college who wowed me with his command of the English language. Older, manipulative. Our emails turned into an emotional affair that lasted months. We obsessively wrote to each other. I got drunk again. I lent more books.

Over a year ago there was a man in New York who mailed me his favorite book and a little typewriter jewelry box, sharing his books too. It never got past that, but the typewriter jewelry box remains one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.

I wonder how often I’ve lent my words and my books, unspooling myself, to a lending library for someone who didn’t leave one as well.

These physical manifestations of my understanding of affection don’t always warrant the best results. But it doesn’t stop me from writing or from lending. I’ve spent ten years writing online, chronicling my starting a business and navigating the world. Writing about my year in Argentina, my relationships, and then my longest relationship — the sweat and tears of my company. It’s how I evolve and it’s how I live, it’s how I process. I continue to house the free lending library in my heart, for better or for worse, letting those who want to stop by every so often pick out a book.

But in 2015 we want the spoilers. We want the summaries, we want the abridged version. But with the abridged version we miss the details that make up the story, or the story of me, of you, of any of us. A character is built through nuances in prose, in the meat of the middle. Now we just want to know without reading. We want to know in 140 characters, or an image.

How does it end?

Can’t I just watch the movie?

Who wrote the blurbs?

Where does it sit on the best seller list?

What’s hard to find is someone who reads past the first chapter.

Someone who doesn’t skip to the middle. Someone who reads through the hardship and the work and the time and the effort and the love, to truly read from start to finish. And so the door to my lending library and my heart, remains open, hoping someone will stop by and spend the time to read, all the way through.

Meredith Fineman is the founder of FinePoint. You can read more of her writing here. To Donate to the Little Free Lending Library, click here.

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