You lend books — sometimes freely, sometimes begrudgingly. You assign return dates and issue stern reminders. Even then, you have discovered books of yours donated to a local sale, or returned in tatters, or never returned.
In your many, many responses to my column about my reluctance to lend some books, it’s clear that you are passionate about sharing — but also about getting back — beloved books.
Anne Ulmer of Cannon Falls, Minn., lent two of her favorite books to a friend, first “giving her the hard stare you mentioned in your column,” she wrote. “I asked, ‘Are you reliable about returning books?’ She assured me that she was.”
A few months later, another friend found one of the books among donations for a sale. “It had my signature in it!” Ulmer said. After a bit more digging, she found the second one. “I bought it back,” she said. “I never did hear whether my friend enjoyed them.”
But Mark Rosenbaum, who teaches in South Korea, is glad when students take his books. “I really don’t mind them stealing a book they like,” he wrote. “If they enjoyed it, then I’m OK with it.” One book that consistently disappears, he said, is “The Bad Girl,” by Mario Vargas Llosa. “So now, I own a digital copy on my Kindle, but I have kept three printed copies ‘just in case’ in my classroom this year. One went missing yesterday. Hope they enjoy it.”
Lending books is baked into Nancy Battaglia’s DNA — she was a librarian for 35 years. “I love sharing the joy!” she said. “I keep a stash of books I’ve finished in my laundry room and my daughter-in-law checks out the offerings when she comes over. I take a stack when I meet up with a group of friends.”
But even Battaglia, who lives in Eagan, has her limits. She will not lend her copy of “Gone With the Wind.” “I have read it about five or six times,” she said.
The other problem with lending books, of course, is that the borrower might not love the book.
Joanne Smallen of Richfield has been “hoarding a neurotic grudge for years after a dear friend snubbed my beloved ‘Red Azalea,’ Anchee Min’s memoir,” she wrote. “My friend proclaimed it ‘shallow,’ and, noting that I had ‘raved’ about it, she declared she had higher standards for books. She is still a dear friend, but really, higher standards than mine? Shallow? I’ll never get over it. Never.”
Barbara Ankrum of Vadnais Heights now knows that not everyone treats books with care. “Once I got a book returned with a square cut out of the front cover,” she wrote. “Another book was returned with evidence of chocolate and cheese puff fingers on the pages.” Such misbehavior has turned her into “The Cranky and Stingy Book Lender,” she said. “It is rare now that I lend out books.”
But if someone wants to borrow a book from Diana Abu-Jaber of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., “I’m happy to give it away. My philosophy, as both a writer and a reader, is that if you love something, set it free.”
Jennie Hakes in Aitkin, Minn., makes note of her loans on a calendar. She neglected to do this when she lent out two Louise Penny mysteries, and now she has no idea where they are. “On the bright side, someone has these books and I hope loves them.”
And oh, beware of borrowing books from Jean Jacobs of Minnetonka. She sends books out into the world inscribed with her name, address, phone number — and a medieval curse.
“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy … and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever,” it reads.
“People seem startled by it,” she said, “but all books have been returned.”
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks