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When You Are Given A Book You Already Own

A photograph of two copies of Elizabeth Chadwick's Shadows And Strongholds

I’ve spoken before about having multiple copies of books (and will always remember Jeanne’s comment about how she and her husband gave away any duplicates they had when they set up home) and I’ve spoken about that gift-giving situation where there’s discomfort if you ask if the person’s read the book yet. Today I’m combining the two topics.

There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve been given a book I already own and almost all those occasions have involved people thinking about what I’d like and simply not knowing I already had the book they chose for me. The gifting presents a question: what should you do – give away the new copy, give away the old copy, or keep both? The last is usually a bit much but I’ve a story about that in a moment (this is besides the research copy/reading copy I mentioned in my multiple copies post). I’m personally not fond of the idea of saying, ‘thanks, but I already own this,’ as it’s asking for hurt feelings – whatever you choose to do, between the choices of giving away a copy or keeping both, you’re going to end up with an item that the person will presumably spot on your shelves and positive assumptions should be made.

My most recent story, then, the one mentioned above, is one I’ll always remember. I once read a book series in order and didn’t read any other books in between volumes. I mainly read them in the living room, a common room. That Christmas, I received, from someone who didn’t live with us but was often around, the next book that came after the one I’d just finished. But I already had a copy of this book waiting for me, just not in a common room.

The thing is, this present showed me how much effort the person had gone to in choosing me a suitable present. We had briefly spoken books but not about the series; they had obviously noted not just what I was reading but which was the next book in the running order. In terms of effort and thought, it is the best present I’ve ever received and the person was more acquaintance than friend. Both copies were the same but then they weren’t – one was just a book on my shelf, the other was a thoughtful gift. That the person passed away shortly afterwards made that copy all the more special to me and so I have kept both my own previous copy, which I use as my flick-through, and the one they gave me which will be kept for sentimental reasons and because I will in due course pass it on to one of their relatives.

Another story: a friend who, during my ‘Lisa Jewell phase’, when I was just re-entering the world of books as my post-school hatred started to wane and I was following her career in earnest, bought me Jewell’s latest. I’d already read it as I lapped up every new release within the first week of publication, but the gift showed a lot of thought. I passed this copy on.

There is a time and a place for multiples and things you wouldn’t normally keep. There are also times to pass a book on.

Have you any book present stories you’d like to share?


April Munday

September 21, 2016, 9:15 am

I would never dream of saying I already had it if I was given a second copy of a book. When I was given a second copy I kept both. They were different editions and one had a better index, the other better pictures.

It is a difficult question though and book space is limited.


September 21, 2016, 2:56 pm

I have two duplicate books I received as presents this summer still sitting out in their Amazon envelope. The friend lives far away and has been going through a difficult time, so is not keeping up with much. I’ve thought about sending the books back to Amazon, because they’re not ones I can easily pass on to others. I haven’t done it, though, even though I figure her intent was to give us something new to read.


September 21, 2016, 4:27 pm

No one but my husband and one good friend has given me a book in ages. I think everyone I know is afraid because they don’t know what to choose.


September 21, 2016, 8:36 pm

I can honestly say, I have never been given a duplicate copy of a book. The story of your acquaintance’s book is touching, by the way.

However, I have often received through the years books about cats. You know those “what life lessons I learned from my cat” or “my cat talks, how about yours?” I have always had cats, special critters I’ve loved dearly, but I am not nor have I ever been sentimental about them. And though the people giving me these books are good friends of mine, I have been shocked they would think of me this way!

But I never show my shock and quietly stick the copy away somewhere in the far recesses of my bookshelves. Because even if I wanted to return or give them away, they are usually inscribed….argh…. :)

Tracy Terry

September 22, 2016, 2:20 pm

Every one who knows me is incredibly careful to check whether or not I have a book before they buy one for me. That said, we have been caught out by books that have been published under several different titles.

Jenny @ Reading the End

September 24, 2016, 11:12 pm

I’ve given duplicates of books I already own before, and I mainly just try to keep the gift-giver from knowing! I think my typical strategy has been that if the edition they give me is the same as the edition I already own, I stick with the one I already own (since they won’t be able to see the difference). But if they’re different editions, I’ll most often keep the gift one.


September 25, 2016, 8:07 pm

I don’t have any book stories to share because I am one of those awful people who like to make it clear what I like or don’t like – or I’ve read so much that no one knows what to pick.

I think if I got a duplicate I’d regift it unless it’s from someone close to me and then it would come with a memory and I’d have to keep both.


September 30, 2016, 3:30 pm

April: It would be rude, that’s for sure. Interesting about the index and picture difference – it’s one that wouldn’t usually occur. Non-fiction?

Jeanne: That sounds a difficult situation. I suppose if she’s likely to see them at least one should be kept, but then if you have the book already, two copies or not…

Stefanie: I had a friend recently look at my shelves, openly looking to see what she could get me as a present, and she said it was difficult to know what book to choose. I went through a ‘I read widely so there’s lots of possibility… ah, I have lots of authors, so she’d have to make a note of many and then worry about getting a book I didn’t have’. We’ve stuck to blunt recommendations where we know the book hasn’t been read. I think she’s the only one to have given me a book in a good while.

Laurie: That’s quite an enviable situation. It’s a story I’ve wanted to share for a while, I found it important (sharing the person and so on) and it’s relevant here.

I’ve had similar experiences with hobbies where it’s seemed, ‘oh, Charlie likes X so she’ll like this somewhat related book/thing’ over and again, and it’s not a bad guess, I suppose, and there’s definitely thought behind it, but on occasion I’ve thought ‘I’m not obsessed!’ Not sure what to suggest in your case, maybe a request for a book called ‘The Accidental Cat Lady’?

Upshot of inscriptions – you may look back on them fondly in the future?

Tracy: That’s another way round it – pick a book then check. Yes to different titles! I’ve only done it once myself but it would really help if they could add a note on the cover, ‘previously published as…’

Jenny: Yes to that. It’s an awkward situation!

Alice: That’s fair enough, I can’t fault your idea. Memory is a good reason.



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