“You renewed the same book for how long?” she asked.
In June 2005, my then-husband and I joined a gourmet group, which took turns hosting dinner. We were first up and planned an outdoor meal. Looking for inspiration, I borrowed a half-dozen cookbooks from the library. We kept coming back to The Culinary Institute of America’s Gourmet Meals in Minutes.
We made crab-and-avocado salad, beef tenderloin with bleu cheese–and–herb crust, and pan-steamed lemon asparagus. The group loved the meal, and I became hooked on the 372-page cookbook. It was perfect for us: photos, foolproof recipes, step-by-step directions, and nothing that required days of preparation.
When the “Due Today Reminder” email popped up, I hit Renew—as I would again and again, every three weeks. I began holding my breath, anticipating an “unable to renew” message, but it never appeared. After the cookbook and I had been together for half a decade, I began to wonder if I was a hoarder. My Depression-era father had saved everything: rubber bands, broomsticks, vacuum-cleaner hoses. Did I have the gene? It was just one book, but I had become territorial. Possessive.
I knew I’d have to return the book someday, but instead of thinking about the last meal, I always focused on the next one.
I knew I’d have to return it someday, but instead of thinking about the last meal, I always focused on the next one. Panzanella. Pesto-stuffed chicken. Molten chocolate cake. I never mastered tofu or attempted chocolate crepes with brandied-cherry filling, but tarragon green beans and herbed basmati rice proved easy and delicious. Friends teasingly threatened to put in a hold request for the book, but they knew better. And they were eating too well.
I became completely enamored of The Culinary Institute of America. I learned the CIA was founded in 1946 by a group of women to help returning World War II vets get jobs as cooks, chefs, and bakers. There are three locations in the United States, and I once made a pilgrimage to the Napa Valley academy. I laughed when I found a gazillion cookbooks identical to the library’s stacked up in the gift shop. But did I leave with one? No way. By then, it wasn’t just about the cookbook, but how long I could keep it.
I wondered why on Earth the library had a policy that lets someone like me borrow a book indefinitely. (Nytes’s explanation: “As long as everyone plays by the rules, it works.”) But what I really wanted to know was, did I hold the record for most renewals? Sadly, no. Another patron has renewed a medical dictionary since 2004, beating me by a solid year. Still, I promised to return the cookbook on June 28, after we celebrate our 10-year anniversary. The library has had a second copy all these years, but after 195 renewals and not a single overdue charge, I was ready for a fresh start with a new CIA cookbook a friend gave me. This one has no return date. It is mine for keeps.