Guilt. We’ve all felt that slimy creature slithering up from our bellies, disturbing our sense of self-satisfaction and complacency. My guilt comes in the shape of a little, black book.
At my library, there’s a wonderful booksale shelf, regularly replenished through donations from the library’s very generous patrons. There, I’ll often find treasures that have been long on my “to read” list or books that I’ve been salivating over for awhile. Frequently, I’ll find books that I can give to others, ones that almost miraculously suit their specific needs. There was the What Color is Your Parachute that showed up at the time one friend was undergoing a massive career change. Another time, I found a rare copy of a screenplay for my mom’s favorite Star Trek episode.
Last week, I was perusing the selection, and I noticed a beautiful, black, hardbound copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. I’ve been meaning to read Rushdie’s works for awhile now, and this looked like a good opportunity to start. Plus, the title was intriguing and seductive.
I opened the book to familiarize myself with its contents, to see if anybody had written in it or rendered it otherwise unfit for my purchase. I noticed that someone had indeed written in it, and that person was the author. Salman Rushdie’s signature was scrawled across the title page.
Aghast, I quickly closed the book and glanced around me to see if anyone was watching. No one was around. Slowly, I reopened the book, and carefully turned to the copyright page. There, my hopes were confirmed. It was a first edition, signed copy. In my hands, was a rare and expensive book.
Let me tell you a little about Salman Rushdie. You’re probably vaguely familiar with his most famous book, The Satanic Verses. That book, about the prophet Mohammed, got him into a lot of trouble with Islamic countries, especially Iran, who in 1989 declared a “fatwa” against him, a death sentence. Basically, for the following 10 years, Rushdie was in hiding with armed body guards. In 1995, he published The Moor’s Last Sigh. Getting a first edition, signed copy isn’t an easy task when the author is in hiding, lest an Islamic terrorist find and murder him.
With this treasure in my hand, what did I do? Did I go to the librarian and show her my discovery? No. I closed the book cover and paid her the 50 cents for the used book and left the building, still aglow from my discovery but faintly guilty about the concealment.
Looking back, I think about how many brand new books this one book could purchase for the local library. It reminds me of the annoying people who go on Antiques Roadshow and brag about ripping off an old widow at an estate sale, who obviously didn’t know what she had, and clap with delight when they confirm that their $10 purchase holds a $50,000 resale value.
Now, guilt overwhelming me, I’m left wondering, what should I do? Should I go back to the library, tail between my legs, and confess that I willfully underpaid for the book? Perhaps I should simply anonymously re-donate the book, with big arrows pointing to the signature, so the staff will be sure to see it. Maybe I should just sell the book, and give the library the funds. The problem with that last scenario is that I’d rather not part with it, all the same. It’s a lovely book, and I’m anxious to read it, which was the whole reason I took it off the shelf in the first place.
If we still lived under the old covenant, I’d probably have to offer a “guilt offering” of a ram, a sheep, a bull, or something like that. Maybe five doves would do. I don’t think the librarians would like it very much if I showed up with bloodied livestock.
There’s one more option, a little sneaky, and perhaps a tad passive aggressive. That’s certainly my style. Why don’t I hold onto one of the 20 library books I have checked out at the moment for an obscene amount of time, let’s say about 30 years or so. By then, I should have enough fines to warrant repaying the full worth of that book.
You know, there is the possiblity that the library wouldn’t want the book, even if I showed them the signature. Those librarians aren’t too fond of people scribbling in their books.
For now, I’m committing the issue to prayer, to my God who understands, my Jesus who stood as my ultimate guilt offering, in place of all those rams and goats. But that’s not stopping me from reading the book. I’ve at least purchased that right, with my 50 cents.