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On Lending Books To Others

A photo of three books I would lend to anyone: Saturday Night Widows, Eat The City, and Bitter Greens

I rarely lend my books to anyone. Although I’m not overly concerned about the overall condition of books as Jamie has discussed, once I have a book, if it was new and in a fair condition, I’m loathed to lend it.

I like my books to stay in a good condition. I’m one of those people who try not to bend spines or cause those crinkles on front covers (inevitably it happens sometimes). I am less worried about hardbacks (hence the choice of books for the photograph), but then they do have dust covers.

Here I must admit that in the past I haven’t taken care of others’ books. If I’m to present myself as such a perfectionist it stands to reason that I should be honest. At school I let a friend’s book – given to her for review nonetheless – become creased, and with another book I let the edge get bent.

Yet for all this I have a second reason that is just as ‘important’ – I fear never getting the books back. Again, it may relate mostly to younger years, but I had a favourite book lost forever when I lent it to someone who lived a few hours drive away. I’ve seen them since, but the book hasn’t been returned. And likewise I am missing CDs and have a broken board game. I could make a rule only to lend books that could easily be replaced, but it’s uncomfortable asking people to pay for losses and I don’t have the money to pay for second copies unless there is a major reason.

Looking at it from an avid reader’s perspective, I can’t help but think that it feels worse when someone didn’t like your recommendation if you lent them the book, than it does if you bought them a copy or they got a copy themselves. It becomes not only an ‘affront’ to your recommendation, but to a beloved possession as well.

In the last several years I have borrowed Pride And Prejudice from my boyfriend’s mother. Reading it caused the start of my love of Austen and I am grateful to have been able to read the pretty old Penguin edition. Being that it belonged to my boyfriend’s mother I was very aware of how I was holding it and so forth, and thankfully returned it in the same condition. I was also lent a battered copy of The Alchemist by a friend who wanted me to read it. It was her favourite book, she was onto her eighth copy, and we had just reconnected. I didn’t have to worry about the condition as she was about to buy number nine, and following my reading I’ve gone on to read Eleven Minutes, Veronika Decides To Die, and Manuscript Found In Accra. Had I not borrowed my friend’s book, I likely would never have read Coelho.

I think, all things considered, I sound a hypocrite, but then I do (at least since my teenage years) treat others’ books how I’d want them to treat mine. I am as fastidious with theirs, and ‘managed’ to lend my spine-breaking boyfriend Pratchett. Being that he’s my boyfriend, it returned in perfect condition. (My copy of Mort, lent to Dad, didn’t fare so well.)

In summary I suppose I lend books to those I’ve vetted, and with reluctance.

How do you go about lending, and lending in conjunction with recommendations?

Today I’m also at Alice’s blog talking about the Relative Worthlessness of Book Lists.



June 17, 2013, 2:50 am

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

I think Shakespeare said it best :)

I’ll GIVE books to friends or family members but I do so with the knowledge that I won’t be getting them back.

Tanya Patrice

June 17, 2013, 3:50 am

I’m the same as Jennifer in the comments – when I “lend” books I don’t expect them back, nor do I ask for them back. And it doesn’t bother me if the person doesn’t like the book.


June 17, 2013, 7:34 am

This touched a chord! I very, very rarely lend books and if it’s a book I particularly love then I’m even less likely to let it out of my sight. I can still remember when I was about eleven and I lent Dick King Smith’s ‘The Water Horse’ to the daughter of a family friend. She kept it for *months*. In more recent times, I’ve learned the same lesson with DVDs, as my copies of both “Russian Ark” and “Orlando” have vanished into colleagues’ homes. There’s only so many times you can ask for something back before you decide you just have to buy it again.

Having said that, wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to lend and borrow books without having to worry about whether or not you’d get them back, or whether the borrower will sit on them or spill coffee on them? :-)

vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas)

June 17, 2013, 9:23 am

Absolutely no lending. I learned my lesson the hard way… twice…


June 17, 2013, 9:44 am

I’m afraid I am self-confessed spine breaker! Although I would not break the spine of someone else’s book. I am not too bothered about the condition of books. Our family copy of The Hobbit is in an old and battered for which I think I love it more because it well loved and read. As for lending books I tend to lend out to family and close family friends. Only two have never come back but they weren’t books I particularly intended o re-read.


June 17, 2013, 12:10 pm

I tend to give away a lot of books these days. Now I have kids, space is at a premium! Funny though how you remember the books you didn’t get back. My daughter was reading my Harry Potter series and I recalled that I’d lent the first novel to a colleague and never got it back…bitter, moi?? You bet!


June 17, 2013, 1:33 pm

I lend books quite a bit, but I’m not picky about their condition and I have close book-loving friends who keep track of what they’ve borrowed. Also, I’ve learned not to push books on people. If they really want to borrow one, I’m all for it, but I not longer urge them to read something I think is good. This is partly because I get tired of people saying “oh, you read a lot; you should read this one” when it’s something I’m not that interested in.


June 17, 2013, 6:20 pm

I am totally with you on (a) wanting to keep my books nice and (b) wanting to get them back! I have a third problem too, which is that borrowed books have come back smelling like smoke or perfume, which totally ruins them for me. Now, I never lend out a book although I give away a lot! :–)

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

June 17, 2013, 6:57 pm

One of the reasons I like to own books is so that I can lend them out to friends and family — HOWEVER, the people I generally lend to, I know will return them. I am much more concerned with getting my book back than whether or not it gets slightly dinged up. If I know a person will return my book, I will happily let them borrow it :)

I’ve occasionally had a friend insist I will love a certain book and lend it to me, even though I know I don’t have time to read it any time soon. I warn them of this, but sometimes they persist. I do keep track though and I KNOW that I have another person’s book and I would never lose it on them. Most recently when I moved, I finally returned two books that fell into this scenario because I felt so bad that I still had them. I promised my friend I would borrow them back another time when I could actually READ them :)

Jenny @ Jenny’s Books

June 18, 2013, 2:48 am

I lend out books when my eagerness for someone I like to read some particular book outweighs my fear of losing that book. I don’t lend any books I truly couldn’t replace, and I try to resign myself to the fact that any book I lend out might never return.

(Hence I don’t lend books that often.)

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

June 18, 2013, 3:45 am

I’m about the same as Jenny — I lend when I really want someone to read a book and when I could replace it if necessary. I’d rather have books out in the world, I suppose, unless they have an added value like a signature or special memory.

On the other hand, I hate when books come back in bad shape. My boyfriend borrows my books a lot and is not very careful with them. It drives me batty!

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

June 18, 2013, 8:08 pm

I loan but not books I will be upset about not getting back. I think it’s okay to share the love, but you’ve got to be aware, you may not get the book back.


June 19, 2013, 9:04 am

I’m selective as to who I lend too – I know some friends will treat my property well and others won’t. I’ve lost books to friends and had them ruined by friends, so they won’t get lent to again.

I’m not bothered by bent spines, I see that as a sign of a book well devoured – however, I don’t want my books back water stained or with food all over them. There is regular reading ware and then there is not respecting my trust in you.

So I suppose I am similar to you, I lend selectively.



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