I belong to the foolish kind, though. I have trouble saying “no”. And I’m never smart enough to record what I lend to whom.
Then again, at times, it gets worse. There is this friend of my father’s. He borrowed my copy of Fred Uhlman‘s Reunion, to take with him on a trip. And left it behind in some hotel in Sicily. And half-heartedly tried to recover it, and ended buying me the whole trilogy in a different translation, instead. Next year, he wanted to borrow Schiller’s plays – to take to Sicily again… and do you think either of us had learnt anything? He got the book, went to Sicily, came back without my Schiller, bought me another one – and had the gall to tell me Schiller was a dead bore anyway.
Then there are the ones who borrow, misplace, then find again and give back years later. This happened to me with Mann’s Buddenbrook. The borrower was a school friend, who kept it for ages, then blushingly confessed to losing my book – and what do you do? Much as one may wish it, one cannot very well kill a girl over a lost book – can one? Then, say, three or four years later, she informed me my Mann had been in her dad’s library all the time, and did I want it back?
Another time, out of misguided zeal, I lent a copy of my beloved Lord Jim to my uncle’s then fiancée – and then forgot about it*. Apparently, so did the fiancée, because a couple of years later, while browsing her library, I came across this familiar spine, and asked her where she’d got the book…
“Oh, who knows?” she said breezily. “Must have borrowed it somewhere, I don’t remember. Such a dreary, boring, stupid thing. Never went past page ten…”
“You borrowed it from me,” I informed her. “It is mine.”
Well, it’s not as though we’d liked each other before…
But these are the stories with a happy ending. Another schoolmate lost – irretrievably – my very vintage Ivanhoe. And a cousin still swears she gave me back a collection of short stories by Tolstoj I never saw again. And who knows who has still my copy of Durrell’s The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemoniums?
Yes – I’ve said it: I’m foolish, and I don’t even keep a list of my loans… To my credit, I’ve become slightly warier with the years. Now I choose with care who is going to walk away with my books. If I lend you a book, it must mean I trust you. Please, though, remember you had it from me – because I might forget…
But, as a happy ending to this post, I’ll relate one last little story. A couple of years ago, I lend Crane’s The Little Regiment to a pupil. Then the course ended, and we all went our separate ways, and my book never reappeared. We kept loosely in touch through Facebook, and I’m afraid I rather pestered the fellow for my Crane… Well, either he’d misplaced it and then found again, or I don’t know what happened – but last week I received a small, flat parcel in the mail, and what must it contain, but my (presumed) lost Crane?
As Miss Prism would say, I was delighted to have it so unexpectedly restored to me.
So, what about you? Do you borrow books? And lend them? And how do you go about getting them back?
* It was not *my* copy, or I would have known.