Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

Something you often hear cited against the use of an e-reader is that it isn’t possible to share the books you purchase with other readers.  Well, I have to say that in general this isn’t a problem as far as I’m concerned because my maxim, arrived at through long and hard experience, is that as far as books go, Polonius got it right – neither a borrower nor a lender be.

I was reminded of this by Michael Dirda’s article this week on essential vacation reading, in which he lists ten general categories of books that you should pack as you prepare for your summer break.  The first in the list is a substantial anthology of classic short stories.  Now I know just what I would want to take to fulfil this requirement, a compendium of both volumes of the collection of stories by women that Hermione Lee edited as The Secret Self.  However, not only do I no longer possess Vol 2, I haven’t even read it because almost as soon as I bought it a friend spotted it on my shelves and borrowed it to save her searching for a copy of her own.  That was at least twelve years ago and I have never seen the book again.  (Nor for the past five years the friend, but that’s another story.)  Lending books you want to keep, either to read again, to have to hand for reference or just to have around as a well-loved companion, is always a risky business.  I am happy to give away books I’m not going to need again.  I have to if I don’t want to be buried alive.  But lending, I’m afraid, is another matter entirely.

However, borrowing is just as problematic.  At least, that sort of borrowing that comes about because a fellow reader insists that you simply must read this book and thrusts it into your hands before you can get them into your pocket and make holding said book completely impossible.  I have a whole shelf of these volumes which I daren’t give back because I would then have to admit that I haven’t read them and thus insult the reading taste of whichever friend it was that lent it to me in the first place.  Presumably those friends now see me in the same light as I see the person who borrowed my short stories, but the difference is that I didn’t ask to borrow the book in the first place!

So, where books are concerned, I say, like Polonius, with whom I don’t often find myself in agreement, neither a borrower nor a lender be.  I tell you, it can only lead to trouble.

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16 thoughts on “Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

  1. Sounds like a good advice. I share your position regarding precious books we love. I’d never lend them out. You don’t know the ‘reading habits’ of another person… So, it’s risky indeed. Mind you, for some reasons, I seldom have people asking me to lend them books. So, that’s not a problem for me. As for eBooks vs. real books, I’m afraid I partial to the tactile/visual experience… to put it more bluntly, I’m a die-hard, traditional book lover. 😉

    1. Well. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels this way:) As for the eBooks question, I have a back problem, so they are a blessing as far as I’m concerned because they mean I can take several books with me when I travel again. At home though, it’s ‘real’ books because I have a reading desk to hold them for me.

  2. If someone wants to read one of my books, I give it to them, even if they say they will return it, for me I set it free, I rarely reread and if it is a special book, I just know it will cross my path again. I used to suffer from lending books until I realised I had to just detach and not even think about their return. What a relief, its so easy now.

    I am a book lover, an addict, but I’m over the need for eternal possession, I like that they continue to be reread and passed on. 🙂

    1. I can cope with the idea of giving books away but only when I’ve actually read them. I think it was the fact this was a new book that really rankled!

  3. I have a “no borrowing” policy for my special books, but I’m not bothered about the rest. I never expect to get a book back if I loan it to someone. My mother once loaned all my childhood books to a friend of hers for her children to read and she left the box outside in the rain and they were all ruined. Lesson learned! 🙂

    1. It’s interesting, Violet, the more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realised that it is the books I’m loaned that bother me more than those I’ve lent. Perhaps I have visions of the same thing happening to them as happened to your childhood books, which I’d have to admit to – a blow when I’d not really wanted them in the first place.

  4. I’ve had both of the situations you describe, and so.I understand the dilemma. I have a few trusted friends to whom I will lend, but only if I’ve read the book and feel I could live without it should it not find it’s way home again!

    1. To be really truthful, Becca, I have two friends to whom I would lend anything, mainly because I know I can ask for them back without causing any offence.

  5. There are some books I readily pass on, and others I only lend to trusted friends on the understanding that I get them back again.
    My mother-in-law treats my bookshelves as a lending library, but this is not a problem as she’s a very good borrower. Occasionally she ‘returns’ ones that weren’t mine to start with.
    Sadly, my lending library is suffering due to my growing Kindle habit. Now I tend to buy paper books only if they’re ones I’d like to share.

    1. Hi Karen, yes Kindle is changing my lending position as well. There was talk at one point of you’re being able to buy a book on a memory stick so that it could be passed on, but nothing seems to have come of this. Too likely to hit profits, I expect!

  6. I used to never lend books, as I am more than a little OCD about condition – and they never returned with spines unbroken, so except for my late Mum who I trained (!) I stopped lending. Nowadays, unless it is a special book, I give them away rather than lend.

  7. I keep duplicate copies of some of the books I love most, so I can give them to people. But you’re so right about people insisting on lending books to me–I hate it when they won’t take no for an answer. Especially when it’s my friend who keeps trying to give me books that she says “weren’t that good, but you might like them.” Yeah, because I read everything. Or so she thinks.

    1. Oh my goodness! At least no one has ever tried to give me a book on that basis. It’s always people who fail to realise that I already have a tbr pile the size of Mt Everest and really can’t add any more to it.

  8. A member of my family borrowed a book, lent it to a girlfriend, broke up with said girlfriend and didn’t get the book back. I think this is a good case of BUYING ME ANOTHER COPY, but, no, it just didn’t get mentioned. But I remember… Totally in tune with your post!

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