When reading borrowed books, put down the chips and salsa

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I love borrowing and lending books. But I have to admit: I don’t usually return books in the same condition I received them. Somehow, I manage to get water or food on the inside pages. Or I bend the cover. Or my cat, who loves to eat the corners of books, leaves her teeth marks on the book’s cover.

Fortunately, the people I often borrow books from don’t care when their books come back looking a little less new than they did when they lent them out. (At least this is what they tell me.) When I can, I buy my own books so I can add to my collection, write in the books and refer to them later in essays or stories. But borrowing is fun, in part because you can talk about the book with whoever you lend it to/borrow it from. The more you talk about books with someone, the more apt you are to know what types of books they’ll want to read and borrow.

I recently came across a blog post about “proper book borrowing etiquette” and it got me thinking about taking better care of the books I borrow. I was surprised to see how many hits I got when I searched for this term. The gist of these tips is that people shouldn’t eat while reading books they’ve borrowed, they shouldn’t write in them and they should return them in a timely manner.

The advice about not eating while reading borrowed books reminded me of a book binder who I interviewed in Dallas a few years ago. She said several customers had come to her shop asking her to clean the pages of books they borrowed. One man, she said, was eating chips and salsa while reading a borrowed book and accidentally got salsa all over the outer edges of the pages. He tried to wipe it off and ending up making even more of a mess. Whoops. He went to “the book lady,” as she was called, and asked her to make the book look new again. She did her best, she said.

I’m going to try to be better about taking care of books that people lend me. (Note to self: keep them away from my cat and don’t eat salsa while reading them.) When giving out books, though, I don’t mind if they come back to me in worse shape than when I lent them out. As long as they don’t have missing pages, I like seeing that they were a little loved.