The etiquette of book borrowing

May 26, 2010 at 12:00 am 19 comments

Courtesy of the Times Recently, I entered into that unique social contract of book borrowing. Since I’m such a fan of bookstores and libraries, I can’t say it is something that I usually do; I’m far more likely to receive a recommendation from a friend and then get the book by some other means. But last week, a friend simultaneously recommended a book to me and slipped the volume easily enough into my hands. Personally wanting to read the book and having just lent her one of my own, I thanked her and took the book home. Then what? Well, I suppose the obvious answer is that I should read it, like any other book, but I had now entered the perilous etiquette realm of book borrowing and I was a bit at a loss.

The dicta of book borrowing are not entirely clear to me, but it seems to this casual observer that the following three rules should be maintained:

1. Upon receiving the book, you should read it as quickly as possible so as to return it to its owner in good time.

2. The book should remain in whatever condition it was in when you received it. (This means no casually tossing it in your bag to do battle with everything else in here as you would with any other book.)

3. You must finish the book and, if at all possible, you should like that book.

I’m not sure why, but book borrowing has this aura about it beyond book recommendations where I feel like I must like whatever it is that I’ve borrowed. You can’t just give up mid-way through and decide it’s not for you. Finishing is mandatory, liking is equally desirable, and having something to say about it in any event to the person you borrowed it from is absolutely necessary.

Now, I suppose these rules are not particularly arduous or taxing, but I’m getting all tripped up on them anyway. You would not believe what havoc is wrought upon my “to read” list by having this interloper unexpectedly thrust into its midst and forced to the top! And it is unfathomable to me how hard it is to carry around a book all day whilst fretting about it possibly getting a new, unintentional crease in its pages! Not to mention the pressure of that last rule.

So I wanted to ask you all, what do you think the etiquette of book borrowing involves? Do I have the rules right or as a book borrowing newbie have I missed the point entirely? As a lender, are there things you wish of the borrower? And as a borrower, are there things you wish of the lender or the borrowed book? Sound off below!



Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , .

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19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Natalie  |  May 26, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I have a few friends with whom I occasionally exchange books, and our (completely informal, unwritten) rules are:
    1) There is no pressure to read the book immediately, unless someone else is lined up to borrow it next, in which case it would be polite to read it quickly. Either way, the expectation should be laid out to the lender: “I plan to read this book this weekend” or “I’m still working on another book, but I’ll have this back to you in a few weeks.”
    2) (This is the same as yours, Corey.) Books should be returned in the same condition. I’m pretty careful with my books anyway, but I wrap borrowed ones in a plastic grocery bag when I travel with them so they don’t get mangled.
    3) If you don’t like the book, sugar coat your review a little bit when you tell it to the lender.

    The women with whom I exchange books have pretty similar taste to mine, and are similarly obsessive about the condition and tracking the whereabouts of their books. Because of this, I don’t think any of us worry much about the rules – they seem to just work out that way. I think the key is to exchange books with people you know well, and who know you, as it makes for a much more relaxed borrowing/lending scenario.

    • 2. Corey  |  May 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

      I think you’re right that lending to and borrowing from the right people is key. Then the rules can be looser! But I’m glad to hear that your general rules align generally with the ones I came up with.

  • 3. Britney  |  May 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    When I lend, I usually don’t expect to see the book again. Back in October or November, I let my roommate borrow one of my books, and when she finished it she was away for the weekend. I got the text message “Can I let so-and-so borrow it?” and I’ve seen so-and-so a good number of times since then.

    Unfortunately, I still haven’t read the book myself. I should probably casually drop a hint about it so I can read it.

    When I borrow, I do try to return a book in the condition I receive it. I recently put off reading one of my roommate’s books because I thought it was a pristine hardcover. I was so relieved when I saw the book already bore the way pages from getting wet!

    • 4. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 6:51 am

      Oh no! I hope you get your books back! I’ve had this experience too, so if I’m not 100% sure I’ll get it back, I only lend things I don’t particularly care about. (I think a high school friend still has my copy of 1066 and All That!)

  • 5. bernadetteinoz  |  May 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    I definitely agree with rule 2 -no wriggle room or shades of grey on that one

    Rule 1 is something I try to do but I don’t think it’s quite as important as rule 2 – I have loaned books to people that have taken months to come back to me and honestly that’s fine with me so I’m hoping that most people feel the same way – but I do put books borrowed from friends ahead of books from my own TBR pile (but they come after library books and ARCs)

    On rule 3 though I disagree with you – if I thought a friend of mine would be upset because we didn’t feel the same way about a book I don’t think that person would be that good a friend – life is all about accepting the differences between us – be it race, politics or opinion about a book. Among my reading friends we might argue, cajole, persuade but in the end we’d just agree to disagree and be all the better for it.

    • 6. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 6:54 am

      I guess in terms of rule 3, I probably wouldn’t bother lending a book to a friend if I thought she wouldn’t enjoy it and I would hope that my friend would recommend books to me she likewise thought I would enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing or passionately discussing a difference of opinion about a book, but I wouldn’t bother recommending something to someone if I thought they’d hate it! It seems like a waste of time on both ends.

  • 7. Violet  |  May 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    I’m hesitant to loan books to other people now, after having some come back in poor condition. I think that taking care of another person’s book is important, and not keeping it for too long. I don’t think it matters if you like it or not. If you don’t like it you have more to discuss. :)

    • 8. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 6:55 am

      Totally. You’d think returning a book in good condition would be basic to everyone, but alas it does not seem to be the case! And I actually agree that it’s more important just to have an opinion than for it to necessarily be a positive one at the end of it. I think it just makes the lender feel happy if you liked the book they lent to you!

      • 9. KT  |  May 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

        If it makes you feel better, I STILL feel guilty about cracking the spine of that book you lent me in sixth grade! I have much better book borrower etiquette now, I promise :(

      • 10. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

        You did what?! I have no recollection this whole episode; refresh me! Which book was it? Clearly, I bear you no ill will since I didn’t even remember! :)

        • 11. KT  |  May 27, 2010 at 12:18 pm

          It was definitely one of the Tamora Pierce books, probably Wolf Speaker, but all I really remember is that you were horrified! Either I got so into the book that I did it without thinking, or I genuinely didn’t realize how big of a deal it was — but anyway, I’ve never cracked the spine of a book that wasn’t my own since.

        • 12. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

          God, it’s remarkable you stayed friends me with despite the apparently huge stick up my butt. Can I offer a retroactive apology? What can I say, I was apparently an eleven-year-old courtly lover of books!

        • 13. KT  |  May 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm

          No apology needed — being an 11-year-old carnal book lover myself, your reaction was undoubtedly justified! The ironic thing is that now my mother and sister feel awful about borrowing books from me, for fear they’ll crack the spines. Turned tables and all of that :P

  • 14. silverseason  |  May 27, 2010 at 12:26 am

    I try to avoid borrowing books because of rules 1 and 3. (Same with lending, but then it is rules 1 and 2.) I don’t mind if someone I lend to doesn’t care for a book, but am always curious to know why. Going the other way, I feel only an obligation to give the book a fair chance and to be honest about the outcome.

    • 15. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 6:56 am

      You’re right; rules 1 and 2 aside, giving a book a fair chance is probably your only duty in terms of being a borrower. You can’t make yourself like something!

  • 16. KT  |  May 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Excellent rules! For my part as a lender, I generally make sure that I have already broken in the book or it’s a secondary copy I don’t necessarily need again. I would also say that I don’t mind if the borrower doesn’t like a book, but they must be prepared to discuss it! At length, possibly, depending on the book.

    • 17. Corey  |  May 27, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      Thanks! As a lender I realized that I expect far different things than I do as a borrower. As a lender, I really don’t mind if the borrower keeps my book for ages and ages as long as I eventually get it back (unless I don’t really care about it, in which case I’m willing to let it go…fine line, I guess).

      And, yes, I think the consensus here is that you don’t have to like the book! I just feel compelled to like it out of niceness since the lender did me a favor by lending it to me in the first place. Misplaced niceties perhaps!

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    […] we Googled “book borrowing etiquette” and stumbled upon a delightful post at the blog Literary Transgressions – hope you like it as much as we […]

  • 19. Dialogue Through Blog – A Bit of Whit  |  January 19, 2016 at 11:28 pm

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