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A Bibliophile’s Worst Nightmare

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PROBLEM: I lent a rare, precious book from my collection to a friend who loves reading and has a great library himself. I gave it with a little warning that I’d found the book after years of searching, and the shop I’d picked it up from no longer exists.

He took his sweet time to finish the book, and when he finally returned it, the binding was gone. The book was dog-eared, some pages had come off and the cover was shabby. Appalled, I didn’t say anything at the time, but now he wants to borrow another book! What do I do?

MM: Dear amateur bibliophile, Looks like you got off easy. Your friend’s dog could have chewed your beloved book to pieces or it could have been sold in the raddi during a cleaning frenzy. While you mourn your loss and nurse your injured book back to health I suggest you lay out a revenge strategy.

Firstly, dissuade the destroyer by saying all your books are being sent for rebinding (hopefully he’ll get the hint) and request to borrow a book from his library which you then pass on to another destroyer. I’m assuming you won’t have the heart to do it yourself, but it’s the most effective way to prevent any future book exchanges.

LG: As The Bard wrote: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” You have had greatness thrust; in a world of careless book handlers, you have become the unlikely Protector of Other People’s Books.

Your superpower is saying, “No” (Or, “F#@? no” if you prefer; what kind of animal removes the binding?!) and explaining that other people’s books are sacred — if they are lent pristine, they should be returned pristine (or if not, then with a a groveling explanation); if they are lent dogeared with margin notes, they can be returned with a few additions.

If they are lent with pages, they should be returned with those pages. Because that’s kind of what makes a book a book (animal).
The world’s book-trust is in you. Which is a fancy way of saying just say no and explain you didn’t appreciate the condition in which your last loaner was returned.

 Oh, you weird subspecies of bibliophiles! Let’s focus on the joy of reading for a bit, shall we? Your book has this rugged look because your book-loving friend savoured every word of it. He probably took it with him on his commute, carried it with him on a holiday, fallen asleep to its lullaby, and read and re-read it.
And isn’t that the best fate a book could meet? Why, don’t you find chancing upon an old, inscribed tome in a second-hand book shop far more exciting than buying a crisp new one from Flipkart?

Every time you pick up that precious book, think of the bliss your friend experienced, all thanks to you! And if the book is no longer in one piece, just send it for rebinding.

SB: Dear book widow, it’s time for you to grow a spine to replace the one your book desecrator removed. If you have expectations from other people, whether that has to do with your books or anything else — communicate them.
While it does seem that your friend treated the book with uncharacteristic savagery, it might behoove you to start stating upfront how you want your books treated if you expect others to treat them as you would. A little feedback to that effect when your books are returned couldn’t hurt either.
Side-note: Do you still want to be friends with someone who has so little care for precious keepsakes?
LG: On an actual advice note (if we must), invest in e-books. Most e-reading apps allow the sharing of many titles over a fixed time frame — the best of both worlds.

First World Problems is a funny advice column wherein The Swaddle Team weighs in on their own and others’ ‘problems.’ Write to us at or tweet @The_Swaddle with a #firstworldproblems hashtag if you’ve broken a nail, felt a little blue, yellow or green lately, or had a strange encounter of the any-numbered kind. We’ll help you sort it out.


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