Friday, November 11, 2011

Reading Recommendations and the Lending Thing

Every so often friends force books upon me, which I hate. I hate being forced to borrow and read a book out of a sense of obligation, and I usually hate the books, too. (The most recent disaster was The Da Vinci Code and I thought that had cured me.)

Why is that? Why is it that people I like a lot in real life are hardly ever reading anything I am remotely interested in?

Perhaps I need to develop a more literary set of friends. But I like the friends I have, for many other reasons.

Perhaps I am a complete book snob. Guilty as charged!

Perhaps I just need to develop a fool-proof excuse to refuse. Ah, now we're onto something.

When I was in law school I managed to avoid a whole lot of questionable social obligations by simply saying, "I'm sorry, I'm just not accepting any invitations until after the semester is over." It worked like a charm. In fact, I kind of miss having that excuse at the ready. So I guess I could vary it by saying, "I'm sorry, I'm just not adding any books to the TBR list right now." I bet that would work.

But of course that is a big fat lie. Just the other day I was adding to the old wish list, not to mention bingeing at the bookstore on books that were pure impulse buys.

I have one of those forced-to-borrow books on the nightstand right now that I will at least attempt over the holidays, from a sense of obligation only. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the recommendations I get online from the bookish folks never create this same feeling of guilt and obligation. The extra layer of anonymity helps -- no one will ever know if I don't act on their "you must read this" recommendation. The idea of the review is essentially non-coercive: "I read this and here's what I thought. Take it or leave it." And frankly, a lot of the bloggers I read are rather book-snobbish themselves -- in a good way!

I guess that's probably the key: book blog friendships are primarily based on common reading taste. I might not have anything else in common with those folks in real life (though it seems pretty unlikely!). But my real life friendships begin with something besides books, so it's too much to ask, perhaps, that we share the same bookish tastes.

And then there's the borrowing thing in reverse. This same friend who recommended for me was also mildly offended when she asked to borrow a book of mine and I declined. Awkward, that.

We had dinner in a coffee shop that has a large section of ancient and modern classic used books for sale. (Not a Dan Brown in the lot! Boy, was I impressed!) She was asking me for reading recommendations, and of course I included The Feast of Love, and lo and behold, there it was on the shelf. I offered to buy it for her and she said, "No, you can just lend me your copy." And uh, no, I really don't lend out any book I want to get back, particularly one of my Top All Time Ten in all its hardback, first edition, mylar-covered glory. Of course, I didn't SAY that, but it may have showed on my face. I tried to cover with "Well, I'm really not much of a lender."

What I didn't say was that I learned a long time ago never to lend anything that you want to see again. Having no expectation of return removes all the potential for disappointment, but it means that some things are simply off limits for lending.

I guess that makes me a mildly selfish person and a bad friend. But a serious book owner.


  1. Oh I hate the forced lending! I can usually head people off by saying something like, "I have too many books I need to read at the moment, but I'll keep it in mind and get a copy from the library when I'm ready to read it." I did once have an office mate leave a book on my chair even after I expressly told her I didn't want to borrow it. Grrr. (It was something like the 4th in a series I'd expressed interest in, and I'd *told* her I wanted to read the others first.) I kept it for like three months and then left it on her chair with a note saying "Thanks. Still haven't gotten to the earlier books, so I'm giving this back."

    And I've had the same dilemma about lending out books. My policy is the same as yours, and I don't mind if I never get most of my books back, but there are a handful I won't lend because they can't be easily replaced.

  2. Totally with you on the recommended reading selections. My taste is eclectic but I do have some standards. I am generally honest and tell people that I couldn't get past the first chapter - if that's true. I do say if it's good, of course. And, no, books I want back are never lent.

  3. I hate lending my books! I'll do it, sometimes, but I hate doing it, and I wouldn't lend a book I truly loved and would have a hard time replacing. My excuse is always "Oh gosh, I don't know if I can find it right now!", and then I conveniently forget about it. Fortunately most people who offer to lend me books forget about that too.

  4. Whew! I am clearly not the only one! I will be adding "Thanks, but I still haven't gotten to it (so here it is back)" and "Sorry, it just wasn't for me" to my repertoire of stock phrases.

    Funny, too, that many times I will happily give you a book, but lending is another matter entirely. And yes, some books are simply Off Limits.

    Thanks, y'all!

  5. I have gone so far as to pretend to lend a book when in fact I've bought it for that person. I just got found out at this. Luckily, the friend was delighted when I suggested she keep it.

  6. Jeanne, that is a fantastic idea. Glad your friend took your ruse in the right spirit!


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