OK, it's time to get real about lending books to friends. I love sharing books with other people, but every time I lend out one of my own copies I'm filled with deep anxiety. Because face it: All too often when you lend a book to a friend, you don't ever get it back. In a perfect world, everybody would remember to return books right away, and you would never have to deal with the awkward situation of asking for your book back. But the reality is that people rarely remember to return a book of their own accord.
The thing is, usually people don't hang onto your books on purpose. There is no evil mastermind wreaking havoc by taking your books hostage. Usually your friend has simply forgotten to give the book back to you. And honestly, haven't we all held on to a friend's book for too long without meaning to? But even so, it can be hard to navigate the situation. So, what's the protocol for getting your book back?
Being proactive is a good first step. Next time you lend out a book, make an event in both of your Google Calendars for a few weeks later to remind them to give it back. You could also even keep a log of the books you've lent out in a journal or a spreadsheet, so you always know where everything is.
But of course, even then there's no guarantee you'll get your book back. So, what then?
First let's address the big question: what's the cut-off point for how long a friend should keep one of your books? How early should you start bothering them about returning your book? In my opinion, it's a good idea to follow the example of the public library and check in with them after three weeks. At this point, just send them a friendly text. like, "Hey, no rush, but are you still using my copy of The Kiss Quotient?"
(Of course, it's also more than okay to talk with them about the book before then — not just for the purposes of getting it back, but also because that's kind of the point of sharing books.)
OK, but let's say more than three weeks have gone by, and they still haven't returned your book to you. This is when you text them with a specific plan for how they can get their book to you. If they're a friend you see regularly, you can say something like: "BTW would you mind bringing my copy of A Place for Us along to the bachelorette party on Saturday?" But if it's a friend you haven't seen a while, this is a great excuse to make plans. Invite them to get a coffee or come over for dinner, and ask if they can bring the book along. And hey, while you're hanging out, you can chat about the book. Win-win!
If it's too hard to meet up, ask them if they wouldn't mind handing it off to a mutual friend, dropping it by your office, or even putting it in the mail. Good news: it really isn't that expensive to mail a book. According to Paperback Swap, a typical paperback costs about $2.66 to ship and a typical hardcover costs about $3.17. That's less than a cup of coffee.
Of course, things get harder if the friend in question moves away, or if you have a falling-out. Believe me, I am still enormously bitter about my copy ,of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that I lent to a friend days before we had an enormous fight five years ago. Can we all agree that every breakup (whether it's romantic or not) should automatically mean you return each other's books? Can we make that a rule, please?
So, even if the two of you aren't really talking anymore, I still say it's okay to (gently) ask them about your book. But, if it's too tough to talk to them, ask a mutual friend to reach out about giving it back. This is also the perfect situation to take advantage of the postal service, because then you don't even have to see them.
Or, if you don't have the words to ask for your book, you can always just send your friend a link to this article. Announcement: if somebody sent you a link to this article, that means you have a book they would like back, please.
So this is when you take a step back and assess. How important is this book to you really? Is it worth all the stress? More often than not, it isn't. Take a few deep breaths and treat yourself to a new book. I love books but in the end, it's important to remember that they're just ink on paper and you can buy another copy. Your friendship is much more important in the long run.