Friday, 18 September 2015

Don't Force-Lend Books

I never lend my books. Never never never. Don't even ask, I'm serious. As they say in shops, a refusal often offends, and I am willing to offend the hell out of you before I will lend you a book.

I think we all know, don't we, why that is. You lend a book to a trusted friend, a person for whom you'd go through fire and water, a person you would trust to go away for a weekend with your husband, a person you would trust with your life savings or your just-completed manuscript or your dog.

And then you wait. You wait and wait, telling yourself that this time it'll be different.

But it isn't. You will never see that book again. Depending on how good you are at not resenting things, you may be able to salvage the friendship, but the book was gone forever at the moment you handed it over.

So, don't lend books you want to see again. You didn't need me to tell you that.

But if, despite all this, you are an inveterate book-lender, consider it from the other point of view. I'm going to assume now that the person to whom you lent the book did not actually ask to borrow it. People who casually ask to borrow your books, well even the most trusting and hopeful of us knows what that means. So, let's look at how it is for the other person, when you force-lend a book to him.

1. Your target, let's for the sake of argument call him Tom, is either a reader or he is not. Believe it or not, reading is not a big part of many people's lives. If Tom is one of them, being suddenly force-lent a book will baffle and irritate him. He may intend to read the book, since you obviously want him to, but consider - Tom's life is already full, and none of it is allocated to reading. Therefore, reading your book gets relegated to that mysterious category of 'when I have time'. This time will never come, because if Tom is not an habitual reader, bits of free time that he finds for himself will be spent on other activities, things Tom really enjoys.

Time passes and Tom feels more and more guilty every time he happens to see the book. He tells himself he must read it and give it back. Subconsciously if he's a nice guy, or consciously if he's a bitch, his resentment towards you grows. Why couldn't you mind your own business, he thinks. After a while, the book disappears under a pile of other clutter, or gets put 'somewhere safe' and is completely forgotten.

Do you see how this works? Tom didn't mean to steal your book. He had the best intentions. You forced him into this situation. If you have done this, you should blame only yourself for the loss of your book.

2. If Tom is, in fact, a keen reader and likes the type of book you have lent him (for if he doesn't, then for the purposes of this book he is effectively in Category 1 with the non-readers), he almost certainly has a big TBR, which is probably full of things he is actually looking forward to reading. He may in fact also look forward to reading your book, but just think what you have done. You have interfered with his reading plans. Over many instances of being force-lent books, I've noticed that somehow the lent ones always seem to jump the queue, because I want to get it back to the person. This is nearly always because I didn't want to read the stupid thing in the first place and for whatever reason was too polite to say so. If there is anything more arrogant than stomping into a person's mind and dictating what he is going to read next, I can't offhand think what it might be. Again, subtle resentment creeps in. Not everyone, of course, lets these force-lent books jump their reading queue. Why, indeed, should they? I only do because I've an obsessive horror of not returning them. That means there is always going to be something at any given time that Tom would rather read than your book.

People. Readers always have the books they want already. If they don't have it, there is the library, there is Gutenberg, there is Amazon.... we don't need your help. We really don't. If you keep forcing crap on us that we didn't want to read, sooner or later we'll snap and tell you a few home truths about your interfering ways. At the very least. We may or may not also throw your book in the trash.

OK, so there you have it. Don't force-lend books. You will lose your book, and possibly your friend.