People who borrow books are different from people who buy their
own books. I learned this from hard experience in lending out my
books. My books are my treasures. Each book contains a world of
knowledge and insight, and each author is a friend who fulfills a
need. People who ask to borrow my books do not seem to share this
perspective. To them a book is no more than a broom or a fork,
just a convenience for getting something done.
My experiences in
book loans took place mostly during my college years. For example,
I had a friend who was an older student. He was doing research
and he noticed some relevant books on my shelf. Could he borrow
one or two? He would bring them right back. In those days it was
difficult for me to say no to a friend. So, he took home five of
my books. It made me a little nervous to let go of my treasures,
but I naively thought that my friend loved books as much as I did.
He never returned
the books. The weeks went by and the end of the school year was
approaching. I developed a new assertive skill and told him that
I needed my books back. He did not even remember having borrowed
them. He was very casual about it, and asked me if I remembered
which books he had taken. I didn't. He suggested that in the
future I make a list of any books I lend out. Duly noted. He
told me to choose out any five books I wanted from his shelf,
and we would let that close the matter. I took five books home.
It took more than
one experience for me to really catch on to the psychological
dynamics behind book-borrowing. One day, I was talking to another
friend about a couple of books I was reading and how much these
books were helping me with a class project. She was excited about
the ideas I shared with her. Could she borrow the books? She
would read them over the weekend and bring them right back. Well,
she brought them back as promised. But each had ketchup and
mustard stains all over the cover. I wondered if she had used my
books as placemats for her take-out food.
After that I stopped
lending out my books. Those yucky stains gave me the mettle to
be impolite and say no. I began telling people that I really
needed access to all my books at all times for reference. I gave
myself the right to be selfish and to protect my financial
investment in books. I did not spend money on books for other
people to ruin. I did not have to be anyone's private librarian.
My books are mine. Mine, mine, mine!
My books are highly
personal, like my jewelry or perfume. I never ask to borrow
anyone's books. If I hear about a good book, I buy it or I check
it out of the library. If someone offers to lend me a book, I may
or may not accept it. On those occasions when I accept, I then
return the book within one week and in the same condition that it
was given to me. I am not comfortable with taking responsibility
for other people's belongings.
Borrowing books can
be an expression of passive-aggressive behavior. My so-called
friends who borrowed my books knew my personality and how I
cherished everything that books have to offer. Looking back on
those college days, I now see that I encountered others' indirect
expressions of anger. Not returning borrowed books, or returning
them damaged, is similar to other forms of tardiness and
forgetfulness which are typical of passive-aggressive people.
My rule not to lend
books worked well for several years. Most people understood.
The few who pressed me for a book loan, despite my answer of no,
were people who were not really friends anyway. My books stayed
on my shelf unless I took them down for my own use.
Then I weakened. A
friend was going through a difficult time. In addition to talking
with her, I recommended a book that related to her situation.
Could she borrow mine right now and read it tonight? She was in
such distress that I lent her the book. Same old story. She
never returned it. Weeks went by. I felt selfish and guilty to
place the return of my book above her welfare. But I also felt
disquiet within myself, knowing that my generosity had not been
Once again, I pulled
together the assertive skill to ask if she had finished my book.
"Oh, yeah," she exclaimed in surprise at my inquiry. She
had finished reading it and enjoyed it so much that she lent it
to her sister. She would get the book the next time she visited
her sister. A few days later she returned the book: crumpled and
dirty. I have bought used books in much better condition. If I
had owned that book the rest of my life, I could not have managed
to destroy it so badly.
I did not own the
book for the rest of my life because I threw it in the trash. I
bought myself a new copy. I learned a final lesson on the
financial and emotional considerations involved in making friends
with passive-aggressive people. I do not reject all such people
as friends, but I maintain an awareness of the possible obstacles
and how to protect my own lifestyle.
descriptive details in this essay were modified to prevent any
identification of real persons and situations. This essay is based
on personal experiences which may be unique to the author, and is
not intended to make a general statement on the character of all
individuals who borrow books or lend books.]
Until we meet