The Book Borrowing Etiquette

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Article: Michael Chmielewski – Editor-in-chief [Interim]

People have lost all fucking respect for books.

After more than a few heart-wrenching experiences, and a recent experience at a certain bookstore, I have set out to write this plea to you: respect books.

I was carefully shopping at the bookstore, picking out new volumes in pristine condition, and the best used textbooks desperate digging could uncover.  Both excited for the semester, and depressed for having to pay so much for the stack, I ambled over to the checkout. Hesitantly pulling my wallet out of my pocket, I stared in horror as the bookstore clerk carelessly slammed around the texts I had so slowly picked out. The unexpected violence shocked me, leaving me speechless, unable to protest.

After this beat down, the cashier tried to stuff all the textbooks into one bag without sense. I’d now regained my ability to speak, and asked for more bags. How could she do this? These are books that I am going to use for one semester, if not more. I want them in perfect condition, whether I choose to keep them, or to return them for some money (far too little, as you can attest, dear student). Once, as an optimistic and snot-nosed first year, I went to return a textbook almost immediately after purchase for some reason or another, and the ever careful return clerk at the bookstore noticed a small bend in the corner of my Political Science text after scrupulous inspection. A 100-dollar textbook was bought back for 70. I lost thirty dollars from the ordeal, hence my shock at my last visit to the bookstore.

Kyle Leitch

Kyle Leitch

It makes me wonder if the clerk’s blitzkrieg on my tomes was purposeful racketeering so that the bookstore could fatten its bottom line, or spite towards all literature and those who enjoy it, perhaps a heavy-handed coordination, or maybe the result of a bad day or something petty like that. In any case, some of my books may not be worth nearly their original value.

Awful, I know, yet not a soul is excused from such puerile behaviour, including friends, family members, and anyone else looking to borrow a book from my collection.  This experience brought back many heartbreaking memories. I have lost too many dear friends (books) to similar negligence on the part of my friends (people). For example, I used to own an amazing copy of The Communist Manifesto, which I borrowed to a friend interested in learning more on the subject. This particular copy was prized because it included forwards to all the different editions that were printed during the lifetimes of Marx and Engels–an invaluable resource, because the forwards were written either by one of the two, or sometimes both.  This placed the manifesto in specific historical contexts in their lifetimes. The thief still maintains that I have the book. Lies: that book was my private property god dammit and I want it back. It’s probably lying on a shelf somewhere untouched since taken by my friend after it was borrowed.

Another victim was my copy of Doctor Zhivago, whose cover is in worse condition than Zhivago’s heart because of a banana that was left in a backpack of the borrower for months, and managed to submerge the book’s spine and cover in a black, soupy, banana paste. A morose state for a book that just nearly escaped the grips of the savage regime that it details.

Call me…paranoid, but history will not be farce for this bookworm. Once, a good friend asked me if he could borrow my copy of my favourite novel, Moby Dick. I categorically refused, lest it end up destroyed and purposeless like so many before it.

Every book one reads and enjoys is internalized, so don’t let anyone mistreat books: not the bookstore racketeer, not your friends, not your superiors, not even whatever God you worship, and most importantly, never yourself. To the vandals: return books in the same condition you received them, and most of all, have something interesting to say about the text. The only thing possibly worse than a tarnished book is the unappreciated one.

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