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Bookish Pet Peeve #5: The Book Borrower

If you’ve ever loaned a book to someone and never seen that book again, then raise your hand.

Wow, look at that. Lots of you are raising your hands sitting alone in front of your computer screens. You madam, the young lady in Portland, please shave your armpits. I know it’s Portland, but come on.

To the point, though. Here’s the thing you should know if you loan a book: You’ll never see that book again.

Am I right or am I right? We’ve all done it. We feel bad saying no. Even though we hate to let go of that book, and even though we’ll worry about its ultimate fate if we loan it, we loan the book anyway.

That’s got to stop.

I have a rule about loaning books.

First off, if I don’t really like you—translated, if I don’t really trust you—then I’m not loaning you my book. My circle of trust in regards to books is only slightly larger than my circle of trust when it comes to who can watch my kids.

That book loaning circle of trust will look different for everyone. For me, I trust my immediate family. I would loan a book to my brothers, sisters, parents, and in-laws. And I would loan a book to a few of my friends.

That’s because, not only do I trust these people, but I see them often. I know where they live. And, if need be, I can crash through their windows under the cover of darkness to exhume my book from the depths of their dusty bookshelves.

But here’s the catch: If I don’t see you that often, then I’m not loaning you my book. Because if my sister lives in Seattle and I loan her my only copy of Gatsby, then I’ll never again see that copy of Gatsby. You think she’s going to ship it back across the country?

If you’re outside of my circle of trust, you’re not borrowing my book. Don’t ask.  I’ll give you a book. I’ll even buy a book for you. But I’m not about to let you borrow my book. Not happening.

So how do you know if you run into one these untrustworthy book borrowers? How can you spot them in your circle of literary friends?

Here’s how you’ll know you can’t trust a potential book borrower. You’ll know them by this question: “Can I borrow that book?”

You see, the untrustworthy book borrower is the one who has to ask. They’re not patient enough to wait for you to see the need. “Hey Joe, I’ve noticed you’re a big fan of Amish crime dramas. Would you like to borrow my novel, “The Bearded Assassin?”

They have to butt in, long before the relationship has reached the level of trust needed to loan a book. The untrustworthy book borrower is like your crusty uncle who calls every year asking for $500. “You know I’ll pay you back this time, buddy. I promise. You know I’m good for it.”

Back at home, the untrustworthy book borrower’s library is filled with loaned books. The book borrower looks well read, and he very well might be well read on someone else’s dime, but all those books organized on that bookshelf are like trophies in a trophy case—each book, a trophy representing a little white lie, a subtle manipulation, a severed relationship.

You can’t trust these serial book borrowers. Once you place it in their hands, you’ve lost. You’ve placed your beloved first-edition Imperial Falcon Lego set into the greasy, peanut-butter-stained claws of a rabid four-year-old.

You’ll never get that book back. And if, by some miraculous occurrence, the book is returned, you can bet it will be covered in coffee stains, smell like stale spaghetti and have more dog ears than a truck full of dog ears.

Establish a book borrowing circle of trust and only loan to people within that circle of trust. Don’t let one of your beloved novels become another trophy on the book borrower’s bookshelf!

Previous Bookish Pet Peeves

#4: The One Upper

#3: The Book Snob

#2: The Nosey Over-The-Shoulder Reader

#1: Bookstore Cell Phone Blabbermouth

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86 Comments Post a comment
  1. In my case, for years I was the one borrowing books (from my mother), and, even though it probably would have been pretty easy to keep some of them (because she has so many books she wouldn’t have noticed), I can proudly say that I have returned every single one of them. I don’t want to be THAT person! Thanks for the laugh.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  2. EddieB #

    I let a co-worker borrow the first four Dark Tower books by Stephen King. Never saw them again, even though I asked repeatedly for them. I think she must have sold them in a yard sale and was ashamed to admit it. On a side note, with Amazon Prime you can borrow books on the Kindle for a month, and them POOFFFF, they are returned. Another good reason to own a Kindle!!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  3. I totally agree – loaning books is like loaning money.. don’t ever expect to see it back.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  4. This used to wind me up so much. Last year I decided to let this particular annoyance go. I checked my shelves for all those amazing books that others had nabbed and ordered new copies for myself. I also stopped lending out books. If I make a book sound so good that a friend wants to read it then I now offer to buy them a copy. Funnily enough, no one has yet taken me up on that offer.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  5. I was just mourning a book yesterday that I lost in this fashion.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  6. deweydecimalsbutler #

    My students are bad about this. I finally resigned to letting them borrow ones that had no notes in them. I’m still ticked about a book a student walked out with, without my saying she could, and losing it. She did buy me another copy, but the one she lost had all my notes from college in it. That’s the one that bothers me the most. The book I can replace, but the notes? Geesh!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  7. I loan books to anyone I would loan money to, if asked. This list is small.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  8. A good selection there.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  9. This made me laugh. so true. I recommend books all the time, but to be honest, I never loan them, except to my sister. We have a system with books and movies. No borrowing without some collateral. I loan her a book if she loans me one. we don’t get our book back until we return the other sister’s book. this has worked great with movies. I never got my movies back until we started this system.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  10. uh oh! I am one of those books borrowers who even forgets from whom I borrowed! But also, sometimes I will “lend” out a cherished book just because I am marketing it – and feel it is important enough to release it from my grasp so that it gets read. It is worth the loss.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  11. Ha! I know you don’t see the ad I do— the shot is of a BOOK titled “HOW TO LET IT GO”

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  12. I won’t loan anyone my books except for my mom and sister. I’m too broke to be replacing books!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  13. This is one of my biggest pet peeves right now and I have learned this lesson the hard way. I only loan books to my roommates and family because book borrowers have taken quite a few well-loved books of mine.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  14. I leant my sister-in-law one of my favourite John Lahr books, which is now out of print, and she never returned it. The killer? I see it sitting on her bookshelves when we visit and I don’t like to ask for it back!!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
    • Oh man. You’ve got to step up and get that book back!

      Like

      January 17, 2014
    • Susan #

      Don’t even ask…next time you’re there say in a delighted voice, “Hey! I was wondering where this went!” Then take it off the shelf and take it home.

      Like

      January 17, 2014
  15. Books and pens are on my no share list. A few – literally two people – are trusted enough to borrow either. As it is, my older sister took my copy of The Hunger Games without my knowing a few days back. I know I’ll never see it again and if I do, hello stains of all kind, markings, tortured spine, bent pages, and worn cover. She has single handedly made me a selfish book owner.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  16. I belong to a book club where all the participants each bring a book to the meeting and present a recommendation of it to the group. Well naturally some of those books are borrow-requested. I am about to start the no-loan rule for my books because I rarely see them again. Suzie borrows from me and then loans it to Mary, and she loans it to Mike, and Mike insists he loaned it to Jake, but Jake says he never got it. I never see it again and since I’m bringing my favorite rec’s to the group it is usually a book I wanted to keep for rereads.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  17. How true…Some people don’t know the value of books in one’s life!!! I was aghast to receive my book in exactly 3 different pieces sometime back…rest assured I am not in touch with that person!!!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  18. The only thing worse than not getting a book back, is getting it back with the spine cracked! Or coffee rings, or folded corners! I would rather never see the book again!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  19. I’ll loan any and/or all of my books to anyone. I guess I don’t care if I ever get it back as I take pleasure in knowing that another person may enjoy it. It feels like recycling to me.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
    • Good

      Like

      January 17, 2014
    • Don’t be difficult, Greg.

      Like

      January 17, 2014
      • As a devout contrarian I find it hard not to be “difficult”. Ha!

        Like

        January 20, 2014
    • One of my brothers is like that and will happily pass books on to other people without fussing about their return. But I’m much too possessive to do that with my books, unless they are ones I didn’t especially like and therefore don’t mind lending without a promise of return.

      Like

      January 18, 2014
  20. I am so glad to know that I’m not the only stingy one when it comes to my books! I’m especially protective of those priceless paperback classics from my college literature classes that are filled with highlights and margin notes that were SO insightful at the moment.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  21. Verity #

    This is a biggie for me. My parents enjoy a number of book series and have always prided themselves on full series collections. Every now and then they’d be furious about a book lent from a series that had been ‘lost’. I made the mistake of lending a friend my favourite book and I never saw it again despite many pleas for its return and finally I felt their pain. Never again.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  22. Yes, it happened. I think many can relate to that one – the borrower 🙂

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  23. I have one of those rubber press stamp things (similar to those used by notaries) that imprints my name in a seal on the endpapers of my books. Anyone who doesn’t return a book has to live with seeing that seal every time they open the cover. Guilt guilt guilt. I thought it would work. But I’ve found that some people have no shame. Now, I just don’t offer a book to anyone unless I never want to see it again.

    And, yes, I have to admit, I still have two books that were lent to me in the dark ages. We moved 20 years ago and they came with us. My own trail of guilt spans decades and North America.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
    • Hope they aren’t library books. If they are, you might just have to deal with this:

      Like

      January 18, 2014
      • Hilarious! Thankfully, the two books are from old boyfriends who are no longer in my life. 😀

        Like

        January 18, 2014
  24. My mom allows others to borrow her library books. With the money she has spent in overdue/replacement fees, the library could open a new wing.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  25. Sissy #

    I bought this book once that was full of really fun test answers. My mom thought it was so funny she brought it to work to show everyone. Goodness knows who has it now.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  26. i learned years ago never to lend books, as there are too many I’ve never seen again … if they were just books I had bought for myself, it wouldn’t seem so bad, but I have – like a fool – lent books that were given to me as presents. It feels like an act of betrayal.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  27. I don’t loan books that have sentimental value — inscriptions and such or are one-of-a-kinds to me (my 1917 Arden Henry IV Part 1, for example). Everything else I’ll “loan” but I consider it gone, and buy myself another copy if I really love the book.

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  28. I hope I am part of every book lover’s circle of trust… (frantically thinking back over all book loans) But the thing is, it’s almost impossible to say, “no, you cannot borrow my book.” It seems so mean. Books are my lifeline in many ways so it’s hard for my mind to just block giving someone else the opportunity to experience the sweetness I experienced with a great book. Suggestions?

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  29. Reblogged this on Autumn Stay, the Rest Can Go..

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  30. I now live by the maxim, ‘neither a borrower or a lender be’. I don’t even like letting my parents borrow my books, and we live under the same roof!!

    Like

    January 17, 2014
  31. I don’t mind loaning books, even if they don’t come back, provided that I’ve read the book first and it isn’t a sentimental signed copy. The book isn’t doing anyone any good if it’s sitting on my shelf not being read, and I want other people to read and enjoy them if possible. Then again, I also live right next to a public library… 😛

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  32. I don’t loan dvds, books or money. I figure trying to get them back is way too much of a waste of energy. If asked and I feel compelled, I will just give them the money or the book with a condition, “Pass it on.” If they don’t pass it on, then they have to deal with the karma. Now under know condition do I give a pen to another person. So don’t even ask. This is one of my all-time pet peaves. When I was in college, I always carried spare pens. You never know when a pen will run out of ink. My fellow students would ask to borrow one of my pens. (I wanted to say, “You’re in college. Why would you not come to class prepared. Oh, it’s cause you’re an idiot.) And you know what? I didn’t get my pens back. My mantra became: “Don’t ask.” I still don’t loan out my pens. Get your own damned pens at the pen store.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  33. The worst is when someone asks to borrow a book, and then months go by without them even opening it.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  34. I loaned a book to a girl I’d just met a while back. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – I’d just finished reading it and was singing the praises of how the story was told only through the exchange of written letters. She managed to spill Coke on the book then spent a couple of weeks trying to track down a replacement copy before “fessing up”. She’d thought it was some rare edition and was really worried about the damage done and how I’d react; it was actually a $5 bargain basement copy I’d purchased on a whim.

    We’re married now… and the Coke-stained copy sits proudly on the bookshelf, now a truly rare edition.

    ;))

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  35. I have a friend who is a serial book loaner. Every time I go to her house she tries to pass books along. We couldn’t have more different tastes. I used to take them to be polite, keep them till she came to see me, and hand them back. Problem was she started asking what I thought of them and got offended if I hadn’t read them. Or had and didn’t enjoy them. I now refuse any offers…neither a borrower or a lender be is the phrase I think.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  36. lekanyousooph1298 #

    This is so interesting, i once observe this long ago when i check on a friend and find my book and other friends on his bookshelf, i went home to examine my bookshelf only to find three book i had borrowed in there. i took the courage to return them back and strive to get mine back too but i could only got back four of my eleven books i had borrowed out. i then proceed to write a post titled ” The Book Thief” on my blog www,readingrecipe.wordpress.com which share the same opinion as your post. thanks for this piece.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  37. I don’t loan books either. If I recall correctly, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once wrote that he never loaned books to anyone because he made notes in the margins and couldn’t stand to lose them. So, if someone showed a real interest in reading a particular book he would by them their own copy.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  38. I learned this lesson early on and if I hand a book to someone it is with the understanding that it is really a gift – thus there are not many books that get handed over to others from my personal shelves.

    Happy Ending: My love of reading began in middle-school with the book Hunters by Jack Lovejoy. I talked about it so much that my father borrowed the book from me and then he liked it so much that he re-lent it to a friend. As you can imagine, I never saw THAT book again. Twenty some odd years later, my father gave me a copy of the book for my birthday. Apparently, he felt so bad that he looked for a copy in every bookstore that he visited in the intervening years. So, a copy eventually came back to me with the story memorialized in my dad’s inscription. THIS book will not be be leaving my possession.

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  39. I hate loaning my books out for this very reason. People dont realise how annoying it is when they dont give them back. X

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  40. Hands up if you looked up The Bearded Assassin… Just me?

    Like

    January 18, 2014
  41. My problem is not the rare first edition signed by the author (don’t have any) it is loaning the tattered battered book which i read and re-read and underlined and annotated. I would RATHER lend the non-existent signed first edition than lend the bit of my past thinking tied up with the book, the history of the train ticket used as a bookmark, the receipt tucked into the pages (ditto) with some cryptic comment in my handwriting on it. The pleasure of books you keep is that, when/if you read them again you revisit the person you were, and the memories of your early reads come flooding back.

    That’s something KINDLES (there that word has arrived again) can never reproduce. No train tickets sandwiched between the pages, and Kindle underlining – well you have no idea when you did that underline and adding comments is just far too long winded and tedious.

    Here’s to the lost books, here’s to the books others have lost which are hiding sadly on MY shelves (blushes) – I don’t think there are many of these, as I am wary of borrowing, and here’s most of all, tot the dusty tomes remaining, and the pleasures to discover on re-reading. A train ticket to TASHKENT??????? but I’ve never been to Tashkent in my LIFE. And what’s with the mysterious phrase ‘under the cupboard – tomorrow’ in MY WRITING. What does it all mean???? (Okay writers, your free story start for 10!)

    Like

    January 19, 2014
  42. Charles Gray #

    I’m bad at this but I tend to bring it on myself. Getting too passionate about a book and insisting that other people read it to the point I force my copy of whatever it might be upon them is my bad habit. I’ve been wanting to re-read my copy of Brave New World for ages as well 😦

    Like

    January 20, 2014
  43. I never lend a book unless in my mind I am prepared to part with it. If for some reason I really want to share a particular book with someone I wait for an occasion; Christmas, birthday, dinner invitation and buy a new copy as a gift. Not everyone considers books precious, some people think of books as recyclables and just pass them on. I have this crazy friend who leaves books behind on the bus thinking in a saintly way she is sharing the joy. I love the physical presence of a book. Stupid I know but I don’t even open a book wide enough to wrinkle the spine and I never write in the margins, I love books too much to do so. I am horrified by those who use their paperbacks as coffeee coasters…. that seem so disrespectful. So, this is a very simple rule only lend a book about which you can bear saying to yourself, “It is gone forever.” because you never know, it may be.

    Like

    January 20, 2014
  44. great post…found myself nodding along and cursing the last person that has borrowed a book from me. (Okay, maybe that last part was a bit exaggerated and harsh ;D).

    Like

    January 20, 2014
  45. I’m a bitch about this. I won’t loan out books (if they crack the spine I start shooting daggers) but I borrow books from friends by the plenty. So hmmm.

    Like

    January 20, 2014
  46. Thanks for the laugh…I stopped loaning my books out to people after someone “lost” my To Kill A Mockingbird. To say I was pissed is putting it lightly.

    Like

    January 20, 2014
  47. I wonder why this happens? People are far more likely to return an article of clothing than they are a book, in my opinion. Do you all find this to be true, too? What is it about books?

    Like

    January 20, 2014
    • As a guilty book thief, I speak for myself when I say the problem is the book doesn’t always get read right away! If I read it immediately, I’ll give it back quickly. But, if it sits on my shelf, waiting for that opportune spare moment, chances are it will die with me.

      Like

      January 29, 2014
  48. mmmm i like it
    nice book

    Like

    January 21, 2014
  49. Alexandra #

    I had to stop letting people borrow my books also. I let a friend borrow a few books that I never saw again, but I always made sure to return things that she let me borrow. So much time has passed that I had forgotten them, and when I finally thought to ask for them back, I was discouraged to ask because I’m sure she doesn’t know. I’ve decided that if anyone asks me for a book I’ll tell them I only have the e-book version and tell them where to download it. I can’t be bothered anymore.

    Like

    January 21, 2014
  50. Sadly I am reluctant to even loan to my family members – my mother has a habit of forgetting it was a loan and so the book ends up in the charity shop. I suppose its better than just sitting on a shelf unread but still, I would prefer it was on my shelf

    Like

    January 21, 2014
  51. Art3misSmith #

    *raises hand*

    I let a friend borrow Rant by Chuck Palahniuk and even though I asked for it quite a few times I STILL DON’T HAVE IT. It makes me mad, and I hate it! I will never let anyone borrow a book again. There are only two people I would let borrow my books, and thankfully they don’t ask very often.
    I am ][ this close to putting bookplates on all my books so people know they are MINE. But, I hesitate to add something so permanent to my books. I take really good care of them!

    Or, how about the people you loan books to, and when you get them back a year later all the corners are folded!!!!!!!!!!! I just can’t deal with that.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  52. I stopped loaning my books because they never came home. Some people amaze me.

    Like

    January 22, 2014
  53. Haha, I can totally relate to this. To make matters worse, my sister steals from public libraries! Whilst cleaning out her room I discovered several books in her bookshelf with tags reading ‘property of Bull Run Middle School’. She’s in college. I don’t know whether to be mad or impressed that she’s managed to harbor these fugitive books for so long.

    Like

    January 24, 2014
  54. I am ashamed to admit that I am an unintentional book thief! On my bookshelf sit 4 books that were not only borrowed, but remain unread! Now, I would never ask someone to borrow a book, I know I am not to be trusted! But people insist on thrusting their books upon me not realizing the criminal that I am. To try to make amends, if someone gives me a book to read, I will attempt to give them one of mine to hold hostage in its place! Oh, the shame!

    Like

    January 29, 2014
  55. Yup, I stopped loaning books out years ago. I seldom got one back and the few I did were in horrible condition. The final straw for me was a family member who begged and pleaded to borrow my hardcover edition of a dearly loved series I spent years collecting. I finally agreed with the understanding that should it not be returned in the agreed upon time frame, or was in any way damaged, I got a brand new hardcover replacement or the cash to go get one.

    Never saw the book again. Nor the money.

    So nope, if you want to read something I have, you know where both the library and bookstore is.

    Wordsgood

    Like

    February 22, 2014
  56. I agree that it is terrible when you let someone borrow a cook and they never give it back.The worse is when you let someone in your circle of trust borrow a book, and they never give it back.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 20, 2014
  57. Araveea W. #

    I think that it really depends on who I am letting borrow my book and if I [;’ really turst them with my book
    araveea w.

    Like

    October 20, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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