My stepfather has Alzheimer's disease. Can my mom date someone else?

When I was a kid my parents had huge arguments about books my father stole from the wonderful college library he attended on the GI Bill....


When I was a kid my parents had huge arguments about books my father stole from the wonderful college library he attended on the GI Bill. These were 10 hardcover volumes of 19th century Harper’s Bazaar. Growing up, I studied them all and found them fascinating. My dad died when I was 20, so I finally broached the idea of ​​returning the books with my mom. She did what she said with her mouth in the purse and said, “I’ll think about it,” which was her usual way of not handling something. I tried talking to her about it a few times over the years and realized that she was afraid it would reflect badly on her because she hadn’t persuaded him not to keep them.

My mother passed away four years ago and I told my sister that I wanted to return the volumes. She lives in mom’s house and therefore has physical control over them. She insists that dad told her he rewarded them for an essay he wrote. I’m sure daddy told her that, but she won’t admit it was a lie. I pointed out to him that the volumes are not sequential, which makes no sense for such a price. I told her my memories of the arguments our parents had about it, and she refuses to believe me.

I feel this great guilt that these books, which might help someone’s academic research, are just sitting on a shelf. I don’t know if I should do something or just let it go. Name withheld

Theft of shared ownership – a category that includes library books – is particularly unfortunate. It can make an entire community worse. So I understand your guilt feeling. It must also be maddening that your sister refuses to face the embarrassing truth and resists your decent urge to put these things in their place. There is a lesson here in the human tendency to align what we think is true with what we would like to be true. We may hesitate to replace an enchanting story about an award-winning essay with a disenchanted story about the robbery of a library. Our beloved lies will not bow to new evidence; we link them with hard covers.

Still, you might be reassured that the entirety of this magazine is available digitally at many libraries, almost certainly including the one you mention. (I just looked at the first issue, which appeared in 1867, on the library website of the university where I teach. It bills itself as “A Repository of Fashion, Fun, and Teaching” – sort of like my classroom when it’s full of students.) And researchers who need to access the actual pages can locate physical copies stored somewhere. Another embarrassing truth: Libraries have often selected bound periodicals like these for transfer, a process that sometimes ends in their destruction. You can’t be sure the library would even accept their return.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at NYU. His books include “Cosmopolitanism”, “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity”. To submit a request: Send an email to eticist@nytimes.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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