Dear Mary

Dear Mary: Help me hunt down my priceless missing book

Plus: Is it ever all right to remove an unflattering photo of oneself from someone else's album?

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

Q. A scholarly book of great importance to me appears to have gone missing from my library. It was heavily annotated so it is irreplaceable. I lend books all the time and I have a strong feeling I have lent it to someone, but I just cannot remember to whom. I can remember the last time I saw it and have emailed all those who signed the visitors’ book since, asking whether by any chance they have borrowed it — but it seems that none of them has. I feel it would be a tad accusatory/Alzheimery to send a round robin to all friends and colleagues to ask whether they have by any chance been to my house in the last six months and borrowed it.
— K.N.H., Oxford

A. Instead, send a round robin email asking if anyone happens to have a copy of the book that you could buy. Say that you are offering a large sum of money. This incentive will stir your slacker friends from their stupors and, if someone does have the missing book, he or she will come forward — naturally offering to return it for free. In future, use the following method to keep a record. Photograph the lendee holding the book open at the title page, and email the snap to both parties with ‘book loan’ in the subject box. Next time you are searching for a missing book, go to your email inbox and alphabetise the subject column by clicking on the word ‘subject’ so you can see who has borrowed what. This method will also make the lendee more conscientious about returning the loan.

Q. I am staying with a long-term friend in Normandy and have noticed for the first time that an imposingly sized photo album has contained, for many years, a very unflattering photograph of me. By now it must have been seen by most of our mutual friends. To remove it would undermine the integrity of the historic, collage-style layout it forms part of, but is it acceptable for me to do so?
— A.L., London W11

A. No. Leave the unflattering photograph in situ. The fact that there have clearly been no adverse repercussions from its existence over all these years is an eloquent testament to the futility of vanity.

Q. You gave good advice on the question of the unwanted portrait painting (Dear Mary, 26 July). A simpler solution, however, would be to make sure that you rehang your collection frequently so that there is no usual spot, and also to have a spare picture to hang most of the time and the offending portrait handy for when the artist is expected. For obvious reasons, an easily accessible spot is best. We own several paintings that have made a slow journey, over decades, to the attic by way of the stairs and spare bedroom.
— Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for suggesting this more commonsensical approach.

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