‘A Bible with a bit cut out! […] It don’t bind no more’n a ballad book.’
I flew back to Edinburgh from Brussels via Heathrow yesterday, and on the bus into town I realised that on the second flight I’d left the book I was reading in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. Now despite all the obvious reasons — tiredness, general traveller’s disorientation, and the lingering effects of three days of trappist-related beer consumption — which would seem to excuse such a slip, this upset me. Having rung the lost property people twice, I am now trying to reconcile myself to its permanent loss, and wondering why it should make me feel so gloomy.

It’s not that I want to know what happens. I’ve read Treasure Island several times, and will certainly read it several times again this year, if the essay collection I’m supposed to be contributing a discussion of it to goes ahead. Besides, I can download a copy of the text from one of the databases my university subscribes to whenever I want (in fact I did so earlier today). It’s not the cost of the book, since I seem to remember it only cost me a few pounds, even for a new Penguin Classic edition. It’s not even the pages turned down or marked with post-it notes, or the few inked additions to the text (rare for me to write in a book, and testimony to the haste with which I was preparing a lecture on Stevenson last year): many of the memorable passages are also documented in some notes elsewhere, and the text I wrote contains a much more complete account of what I was thinking last time I read it. I’ve lent books out and not got them back, but take that to be part of the life of a book, so it can’t simply be its physical absence. Nor am I sure it’s even anything to do with being that particular novel, but something to do with that particular object, and its specific trajectory through what passes for ‘possession’…

Do we ever think quite hard enough about the curious combinations of circumstances which bring books into and out of our lives? Anyway, if anyone’s sitting in Seat 13E on a British Airways 737, have a look for a copy of Treasure Island: there’s no reward, but you will cheer me up!