Books Magazine

Bookish Pet Peeve #5: The Book Borrower

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

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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