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Well-Read: To Lend (Or Not to Lend) Books

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Introducing Well-Read, GoLocalProv's weekly column of all things related to reading, from best-selling books and authors both local and national, to the best reading-related events. At the keyboard: none other than Robin Kall, whose Reading with Robin show on WHJJ has delighted readers both here and far.

To lend or not to lend... For me, this is no longer a question. Generous by nature, I used to enjoy sharing not only the titles of wonderful books but also the books themselves.  If a friend seemed excited by my description of a book, I would have it in their hands before they could change their mind. I had a system for keeping track of which books were out and who had them. This worked well most of the time, although once in awhile I’d need to check in with the reader to see how things were coming along (i.e. they had it too long!)

It wasn’t just one incident that caused me to lose faith in the practice of lending books. It was a couple of instances that occurred a few years ago that made me realize that I didn’t need to be knocked over by a bookshelf to find out that the stress of lending my beloved books was more than I was equipped to handle.

Getting a treasured book back

Not only did I find out that loaning a book was a bad idea, but loaning a signed book was literally a sure path to disaster! I don’t know what I could have been thinking when I casually entrusted my cherished signed copy of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent to a friend. We ran into each other and I had the book with me. She commented on how wonderful she heard the book was – the next thing I knew I was insisting that she take it to enjoy. It was like I had been temporarily taken over by an alien - an alien who didn’t read. I calmed myself by reasoning that surely she’d see that it was returned to me safely and in a timely manner. We’d run

into each other from time to time and she’d mention that she hadn’t gotten around to reading much. I never had the heart to just ask for it back. 

The years passed and I finally had to say something to ensure the book’s return. “I’d love to meet for coffee” I said, “I have a signed copy of The Red Tent for you, so we can make a switch.” Yes, I had emailed Anita to tell her the story and she sent a signed bookplate for the copy I was to give my friend. My treasured copy is now safely home in an honored spot on my bookshelf.

The meanings of lending and borrowing

Let's review. To lend: to give or allow the use of temporarily on the condition that the same or its equivalent will be returned. To borrow:  to obtain or receive (something) on loan with the promise or understanding of returning it or its equivalent. It seems pretty clear to me. If I lend you a book, you return it. Ah, if only things were that simple!

Things often occur in threes, but in the case of the wandering books, I learned after the second go-round with a perp who will remaind anonymous (person #2 might still live in RI and I’m not one to name names). She borrowed a few books (yes, signed as well!) and has had them for years. I placed a few calls requesting their return, wrote a note and even went so far as to send a pre-paid envelope complete with charming note of directions for proper insertion of books into the padded envelope! Nothing. Ruby, by Rhode Island author Ann Hood, was one of the victims. Ann has been a guest several times on “Reading With Robin.” We talked about this affront to book lovers everywhere and she shared the story about one of her favorites - also so far from its proper home. Ann graciously signed another copy of Ruby, and in the inscription she reminds me not to loan this one out! Lesson learned.

Shakespeare said it best

Who more appropriate than William Shakespeare to punctuate the sentiment of this article? 
”Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” Not sure about the husbandry, that might be another article, but the reasoning as it applies to the loaning of books is unequivocal. Lending is best left to those agencies that are commissioned to do so - libraries! Some may think Mr. Shakespeare was referring to money - but I think he had enough foresight to know that one day many books, including his own, would be generously lent out – never to return to their rightful owners.

A favorite Seinfeld episode centers around the subject of not returning library books. Mr. Buchman, a library cop, comes after Jerry for not returning a book he took out years earlier. That may be one solution. How about publishing a list of offenders? Public humiliation is effective in highlighting other offenses; why not include abducted books? If anyone would like to email me with nominees, please send to [email protected]. It’s doubtful that I’ll ever publish it, but you just might feel better!!

Robin's angst-saving tips for book lending:

1.    Never lend out books with sentimental value
2.    Consider person’s track record  - if they have one.
3.    Think ahead about where on your “TBR” (to be read) list the book falls; if it's in the top 10... don't lend it.

Reading enthusiast and all around "book-pusher" Robin Kall can be heard live Saturday mornings from 7-8am on Reading With Robin WHJJ 920AM. Also streaming live at www.920whjj.com. Follow on Twitter @robinkall, and Facebook - Reading With Robin.


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Great advice and I don't know many people whom I would lend to either! I don't even remember the last time I lent a book out!

Comment #1 by Emily Allison on 2011 05 30

Loved this aritcle -- especially the Shakespeare quote! I hope I don't have one of your books...

Comment #2 by Monica Anderson on 2011 05 31

you were raised well,emily!
monica -you are TOO funny!! you are not one of the culprits and if you were -it would be fine!

Comment #3 by robin homonoff on 2011 05 31

Right on, Robin! Not to mention the book that someone returned to me with HIS notes in the margins! (and that as an author, we need everyone's support--er, sales!)

Comment #4 by lynn schnurnberger on 2011 05 31

oh,no-lynn! the things we endure!funny-was going to mention the sales aspect in the piece but didn't ...

Comment #5 by robin homonoff on 2011 05 31

Great article, Robin. I'll be going through all my book shelves immediately to be sure that a "loan" hasn't become a "gift." By the
way, even though you may not loan your books, you are still one of
the most generous people I know!

Comment #6 by Kathy Sherry on 2011 05 31

Sounds like good advice, Robin! Although I do lend my books to a few friends and they always come back in a fair amount of time. Your column has reminded me to return a book that I borrowed from a friend and has been sitting on my desk at home for a little too long!!

Comment #7 by Susan Enzer on 2011 05 31

right back at you,kathy sherry!!find anything interesting on those shelves?
sue-am so glad this piece has set you to action.lol!!thanks for reading!!

Comment #8 by robin kall on 2011 06 01

Great article!!

Rob, exactly why I try to stay away from books all together. Too stressful. However, as I understand it, if you lend a book on a Kindle it automatically returns to the lender in 14days. In fact, it becomes unreadable after 14 days only to be made readable again by the lender. Pretty cool!!!

Comment #9 by debra fitch on 2011 06 02

deb!good point and i appreciate the comment!! it is pretty cool!

Comment #10 by robin kall on 2011 06 02

Hi Robin,
I think all readers have learned not to lend your favorite books out. I have some books that are signed that I really didn't like but I don't lend them and keep them in my plastic bin for signed books. Signed books are very special-what's mine is mine! Hope I don't have any of your books but please let me know! Love your column.

Comment #11 by Loretta Neill on 2011 06 02

thanks so much for your comment,loretta!good to have a bin filled with signed books! you are too funny -you don't have any of mine smile
thanks for reading!!

Comment #12 by robin kall on 2011 06 03

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