Sometime in my long-ago youth I once received a small box of 20 bookplates. They were about the size of a 4 by 5 photo, and each one depicted the same colorful illustration of the Earth divided into two hemispheres. Below the drawing were the words “This book belongs to” and enough space for me to write my full name in cursive.

Gregory Greenleaf has learned that you don’t always get something back just because you’ve written your name on it.

Though I owned a lot of books, none of my friends ever asked to borrow one, except one time. It was “Where the Red Fern Grows,” by Wilson Rawls. Here is what I remember about that book. I remember reading it all night and finishing it in the early morning darkness. I remember it was a story about a boy and his hunting dogs. And I remember this is the ONLY book that has ever caused me to cry hot, terrible tears of anguish because – spoiler alert – the boy’s dogs died.

Someone must have heard me raving about that book. Someone must have wanted to cry hot, terrible tears, too. Whoever it was, I gave them the book and was confident it would come back to me because within its pages was a bookplate that clearly stated – if you could read cursive – I was the owner.

I never saw that book again.

I ask what is the point of bookplates – their raison d’être? Simple reminders of ownership? Or maybe bookplates are meant to be weapons of psychological warfare employed to guilt-trip so-called “friends” into returning your property. The book “borrower” might hear the bookplate whisper into their ear as they start to put the book into its new bookcase –

Gosh, you’re actually going to keep a book that contains physical evidence that Gregory owns it? You’re that kind of friend? How do you even look at yourself in a mirror and go about your day knowing you are holding onto something that isn’t rightfully yours? You disgust me! You need to bring me back to Gregory, right away! If you keep me, just know, you will truly never own me. Never! 

Bookplates are naive to think that a guilty conscience can goad people into returning property. That because something has my name on it, I will always hold on to it. If that were the case, then my name would be embossed, engraved, tattooed and stenciled on all my possessions. This baseball mitt belongs to: Gregory Greenleaf. This bike belongs to: Gregory Greenleaf. This wallet belongs to: Gregory Greenleaf.

Bookplates need to grow up and understand that not every reader is a morally good reader. Alas, Bookplates, there are some people who would even take up their pen and on the page you are stuck on and in the area where it says “This book belongs to” would scribble over my name – maybe even white it out – and then sign their own name. Some people, Bookplates, have no qualms about changing the status of a book from “borrowed” to “on permanent loan.”

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