My stepfather suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Is it okay for my mother to date someone else? When I was a kid, my parents got into a big quarrel about some books my father took from the magnificent library of the institution he attended on the G.I. Bill. It was a set of ten bound volumes of Harper’s Bazaar from the nineteenth century. As a child, I devoured them all and found them enthralling. My father died when I was 20, so I finally approached my mother about returning the books. She pursed her lips and murmured, “I’ll think about it,” which was her typical manner of avoiding dealing with something. I tried to talk to her about it several times over the years and discovered she was concerned it would reflect negatively on her because she hadn’t persuaded him not to retain them.
My mother passed away four years ago, and I informed my sister that I wished to return the books. Because she resides in Mom’s house, she has physical power over them. She says that her father informed her that he received them for an essay he authored. I have no doubt stepfather told her this, but she will not realize it was a lie. I’ve pointed out to her that the volumes aren’t in order, which makes no sense for an award like this. I informed her about the battles our parents had about it, and she still doesn’t believe me.
Theft of communal property, which includes library books, is especially regrettable. It has the potential to devastate an entire community. As a result, I understand your sense of guilt. It must also be vexing that your sister refuses to accept the difficult truth and fights your ethical inclination to return these items to their proper place. There’s a lesson here about the human proclivity to align what we believe to be true with what we want to believe to be true. We may object to substituting an enthralling narrative about a prize-winning essay with a depressing one about library larceny. Our beloved lies will not budge in the face of new evidence; we will tie them with hardcovers.
Still, the fact that the entire run of this magazine is digitally available in many libraries, almost definitely including the one you name, may provide some solace. (I just looked at the inaugural edition, which came out in 1867, on the website of the university where I teach.) It promotes itself as a “repository of fashion, pleasure, and instruction,” which sounds a lot like my classroom when it’s full with students.) Scholars who require tangible copies of the pages can find them somewhere in storage. Another unsettling fact: Libraries frequently choose bound publications like these for deaccessioning, a procedure that sometimes results in their destruction.