Book Borrowing Guilt

I borrowed a book from someone in the late 1970’s and I never returned it. She specifically told me she wanted it back and it has haunted me for years. I still have it, but she died in 1991 so I can’t return it now. I recently discovered a thank you card inside which references the war. A little bit of googling, and I’ve confirmed the writer is referring to WWII. The card was marked “benefit of the War Orphans for the Chinese Women’s Relief Association Inc., 5 East 57th Street New York City,” and that organization sold these cards in the 1940’s. The card reads:

Dear Mrs. Farr,

We are all so grateful for your kindness to Aunt Tillie and your wonderful helpfulness generally. I hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing more of you after this war is over.

With every good wish,
Eleanor S. Kleinschmidt

I love the Aunt Tillie part. Who is ever named Tillie anymore, and what is that short for? Oh, Mathilda probably. Here is Bleecker, inspecting the evidence of my shame.


Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “Book Borrowing Guilt

  1. I understand. I have the first 3 hardback volumes of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children that someone lent me so many years ago. I would like to give them back but we no longer see each other, like ever. I suppose I could just drop them off at her house but it has become too weird.

    We are not alone. In “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow”, written by Peter Hoeg, there is a great sentence:

    “One of the signs that your life needs tidying up is when your possessions have come to consist mainly of things that you borrowed a long time ago but which it’s now too late to give back because you’d rather shave your head than confront the bogeyman who is the rightful owner.”

  2. Or “Otilia”? I knew an Otilia who went by Tillie, she would have been born in the 1920s or 30s.
    I’ve had a few items in my life that I borrowed and was then ashamed to have kept so long…finally gave them back a few years ago (during a massive house tidy and a very uncharacteristic surge of energy). It wasn’t weird at all and it felt good for all concerned, I think. So if it’s possible, mail something back or just drop it off. Do so with a box of fudge or cookies or flowers and that tends to cover up a lot of the awkwardness. No one ever really minds getting a treat, however it arrives.
    That said, Stacy, everyone understands that it happens. Part of book loaning has to be the book zen to understand that the book might not ever come back to you.

  3. That’s my position when I lend books. I assume I’m never getting them back. But I agree, send something back with a treat, who could resist??? I’d be totally fine with that.

    Thanks for the great quote, Julia!

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