If my friend Lynette is looking for her copy of Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety,” I can tell her exactly where it is: It’s on the second shelf of the narrow wooden bookcase that fits in the recess between the window and the wall next to my bed.
That bookcase is my spillover spot, where books migrate when the pile on my bedside table gets dangerously high and threatens to collapse on me in the middle of the night.
Lynette’s book has been on that shelf for, oh, I might guess about 10 years. Maybe 15. It’s kind of dusty. Don’t worry. She’ll get it back, just as soon as I read it.
So here’s a question: If someone lent you a book, and you didn’t return it, and now it’s been years and years and years (and years), and you happened across it by chance, what would you do?
Would you return it with a note, saying, “You lent me this book in 2007 and now I’m done with it; thanks”? Or would you just quietly put it in the Goodwill stack, or maybe slip it into a Little Free Library?
I asked this question on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and got quite an impassioned response.
“Return it!” most people said, with vigor, maybe with a little anger because, they, like Lynette, have been generous with their books only to have them disappear.
These people suggested that an apology is not enough; I need to absolve myself. Take the person to lunch, they said. Include a handwritten note, or a gift card, or, oddly, a pie. (I say “oddly” because nobody on Earth would want a pie I made.)
One respondent hinted darkly that she keeps a list of people to whom she has lent books and who have never returned them. I hope I’m not on such a list; while it’s true that I have had Lynette’s book for a long time, it’s also true that that is because I haven’t read it yet. I loved “Angle of Repose,” and I look forward to “Crossing to Safety.” Someday.
A couple of commenters were more diabolical: Destroy the evidence. Donate the book to a library, or sell it at a used-book store. It’s been too long to gracefully return it.
But my favorite comment came from someone who said she once returned a book after 30 years. Thirty years! That’s twice as long as I’ve had Lynette’s book!
“Return it,” she advised. “I did. And it is now considered a rare book. So I’m glad I did. The owner and I are friends forever.”
So where, you might wonder, is Lynette in all of this? Has she been silently seething for the past 10 years? She tells me: “Please don’t worry about returning it because at last count I had three copies of ‘Crossing to Safety.’ ”
Wise woman, who knows her friends well.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 612-673-7302. Twitter: @StribBooks. Facebook: startribunebooks.