It's never too late to return a borrowed book

You know you have one on your shelf. The book you borrowed twenty years ago. But you moved/broke up/whatever and fell out of touch with the person who lent it to you.

My brother went to a reading by William Burroughs in the late eighties and had the author sign a copy of Cities of the Red Night.

But he lent it to someone.

And never got it back.
It kills him to this day. (So whoever borrowed it send me an email so I can return it to my brother!)

Anyway, about twenty-five years ago I worked in an art supply store in Baltimore. A guy used to come in now and then (let's call him John) and we would talk about books, mostly science fiction. He asked me if I had ever read Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand, by Samuel R. Delany. I hadn't, so he lent it to me.

Flash forward, oh, twenty-some years. I moved a few times. The book sat on my shelf all those years and I never even read it. It used to bug me every time I saw it. It taunted me. It knew what I had done. As a book lover, I had committed the ultimate bookish sin: not returning a borrowed book.

To make matters worse: the book was SIGNED. Not just the author's signature but one of those personalized: "To John (insert witty author bon mot) from: author's scribble.

So a few months ago I thought about the book and had an idea: Hey, I could look this guy up. Today is the age of the Internets! The YouBooks and FaceTubes all the kids use.

So I, uh, Googled John.

I thought I found him. He had the same name. No pics though. I decided to write an email:

Hey, I borrowed a book from you twenty years ago and would like to return it.
Nada. No reply.

So we moved back to Baltimore a few months ago. Within our first week here, I see the guy in the grocery store. (I'm like a crow; I never forget a face. What? You didn't know crows had that ability? Ah, another post, then.)

So I see the guy. That's him. The beard. The glasses.

I stop him in the deli section:

Me: Excuse me, is your name John Smith?

John (bewildered) Yes.

Me: My name is Ron Smith.

We shake hands. He's very pleasant meeting a stranger.

Me: Well, about twenty years ago I worked in an art supply store, Nyborg's?

John: Uh, yeah?

Me: And you lent me a book?

John: Raised eyebrow.

Me: Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand?

John: Oh, yes.

(I really wasn't sure he remembered. I couldn't really tell)

Me: So I've had guilt over not returning that book for years.

John: Laughs

Me: So if you give me your email address I can return it.

Anyway, he gave me his business card and since we just had bookshelves built, we finally unpacked our book boxes. Sure enough, there it was. I'm going to send it out this week.

Uh, I think.


K. M. Walton said...

Cool story, Ron. And yes, I've been traumatized by un-returned books as well and I remember every single one that's still "out there".

Michele Thornton said...

Great story...that would make an interesting start to a novel, don't you think? hmmm. Oh, and DO tell us about the crows.