One of my favorite aspects of being a reader is finding a book that I feel needs to be shared; whether with someone specific or just in general, giving the gift of a story is one of the best gestures that someone can extend. That being said, the question of how to bestow said book upon another person can have different answers. Some people give books as gifts, lend them to friends, decide to keep them on their shelves, or sell them to bookstores. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look into how I approach these actions and some of the reasoning behind it.
When it comes to the idea of sharing a book with someone, I prefer to buy a copy as a gift rather than lending; whether it is for a special occasion, or simply to share the book with someone who I think will like it, this seems the most fulfilling and least disappointing option. I once had a coworker who spoke English as a second language who asked me to recommend a book that would both keep his attention and help him with his reading skills. He told me he enjoyed the fantasy genre, so I went and bought him a copy of the first Harry Potter book; this was fulfilling to me because it is both a beloved series and was also easy to find a copy of. This year alone I gave a copy of The Outsiders as a gift for Mother’s Day and Casino Royale for my dad’s birthday. I wanted to get Folio Society editions of books for each member of my family, but my dad was only one I was certain would enjoy the present for what it was.
While giving books as gifts is beneficial for both myself and the recipient, it is also a practical solution to a problem I experienced in the past. I used to lend books, but in the last seven years I have lost one copy of I Am Legend, one of Brave New World, and two of Fight Club (though one of these was later returned to me via the mail with a letter of apology). It was after these few that I decided to adhere to William Adama’s rule for lending books: don’t. Though, like any generalized rule, there is the exception of Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a copy of which I keep for the express purpose of lending to others.
I will usually keep the books I buy for myself, regardless of how much or how little I enjoyed reading them, until I run out of room on my bookshelf or they become a general nuisance. When this happens, I go through my stacks and keep the books I think I will reread or want to possibly keep for my children (*future children; I am still a bachelor…ladies?…never mind). I only have multiple copies of a few: Mort, American Gods, Good Omens, and The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. The first two have special Folio Society editions and the last two came about through circumstance (coming upon an old/different copy in a bookstore).
When I do finally decide to lighten my literary load, I will typically sell my books to a Half Price Books store; I would love to give them as gifts, but I don’t personally know enough readers to benefit from it at this point. I want them to be read and enjoyed rather than stranded on a shelf to collect dust. Once I have given my book shelves a bit of breathing room and it is finally time to knock a title off of each of my three TBR lists, I will typically use Thriftbooks ; they have a wide selection that pulls from used bookstores around the country and I can earn free shipping after spending $10, which usually totals three or four books. I used to buy through Barnes and Noble, and then went on to Amazon, but I often got sick of paying top sticker prices for new copies of books I might not even end up liking. I do go to a local bookstore in Kansas City, Missouri called Prospero’s Books every once in a while, but those trips are typically taken to get me out of the house for a few hours.
Everyone has a different experience with lending and sharing books; I am sure there are those of you reading this with less examples of having never seen a book that you lent to someone again, and probably many of you with more. The important thing is that books get to those who need and want them. Feel free to give, keep, sell and buy books; this continues the flow of knowledge and ensures we don’t become hoarders or curmudgeons.