I’ve never confessed this to anyone–until now. Decades ago, I borrowed a book from a friend. She was adamant that she wanted it back. She even wrote her name, address and phone number inside the front cover. Yet, I never returned it. Never. I’ve been wracked with guilt ever since. Why didn’t I return it? I never got around to reading it. As more and more time went by, I got more and more embarrassed about how much time had gone by. We lost touch. Then I moved away, packing the book up with all my other stuff. Wanting to avoid any recurrence of that guilt is one of the reasons I rarely borrow books from other people. Only from libraries. Another reason is the sense of obligation I feel as soon as the book is in my hands, the sense that I must read this book and no other, just so I can hurry it back to its owner. I’m not comfortable with the weight of that burden. I’m also afraid I’ll damage it. Once I borrowed a mystery from a friend. Brand new hardback with a dust jacket. I read it right away without any mishaps. But, just as I was putting it in the car to return to her, I accidentally put the tiniest tear in the dust jacket. I felt awful. She, of course, was forgiving. But I was full of chagrin. She had entrusted me with this possession, and here’s how I treated it. Yes, I know I’m a bit extreme about this, but because I am, it’s safer for me not to take the chance.
On the other hand, if I lend a book, it’s never really a lend. Since I know there’s a good chance I won’t get it back, I let it go. Even if I haven’t read it yet, I say, “oh, just take it. Don’t worry about giving it back.” I don’t want that burden myself, so I won’t obligate anyone else. If it’s something I must keep, I won’t lend it in the first place. And when I do borrow, I try to be very clear. “Do you want this back?” I give myself a two-week time limit. Read or return. No exceptions. No guilt. And no more packing up and leaving town with other people’s books.