You know how it goes. You’re chatting with a friend, and the friend mentions a book they’ve read, and you say, “Oh, that sounds cool/interesting/other non-committal-but-nice word here.” You go about your merry way. And then the next time you get together, your friend shows up with the book and wants you to read it.
“Oh, shit,” you think.
(I mean, I don’t know what YOU think, but that’s almost always what I think.) Do you HAVE to read it? How bad will things be if you don’t read it? Should you just lie and say you read it? (Well, no, that won’t work if your friend wants to talk about it.) How long do you keep it before you find a way to give it back unread?
Is there a solution to this problem that isn’t 100% awkward? Please tell me, bookternet!
It’s not that I don’t think my friends have good taste in books. Most of them have fantastic taste. And it’s not that I’m ungrateful for my friends’ book love. It’s just that my reading list is already stupid long (I’m betting yours is too), and I don’t like other people intruding on my they’re-a-mystery-even-to-me methods of picking what to read next. If the book you mention really does sound cool or interesting, I’ll make a mental note and get around to it eventually, or I’ll straight up ask if I can borrow it. If you make it sound irresistibly badass (like what Rachel does with Natsuo Kirino’s Out in this post), I’ll download or order it immediately and proceed to ignore you so I can read it.
In my perfect world, my friends would just tell me about books they love and leave it there. (And hey, maybe they will now that I’m writing about this on the internet! How’s that for awkward?) Until that glorious day comes, here’s how I decide what to do when an un-asked-for book is thrust upon me.
1. Is the friend just being nice? It might feel like all unsolicited book “gifts” come with an agenda, but sometimes people really are just trying to be nice. After all, I did say the thing sounded cool/interesting, and it’s totally possible they’re offering it to me out of nothing but niceness. If that’s the case, thank them for the offer and move along. If they don’t have an agenda, they don’t mind that you’re passing.
2. How close are you? This one is tricky. If I barely know the person–if they’re more of an acquaintance–I don’t worry too much about reading what they’ve handed me, and I know it might be a while before I have to see them again and dodge their questions about it. If we are VERY close friends (there are about half a dozen people who qualify for this level of honesty in my life), I tell them the straight-up truth, whatever it may be in the particular situation, and trust that they know me well and will love me despite my not wanting to read the book they’re trying to share. It’s in the middle ground that things get tricky, and, well, most friendships fall there. Is the person super-sensitive? Are they going to be offended if I don’t read the book they picked? Will they think I’m a snob? Do I care? (Not usually.) The calculus on this one is multivariate.
3. How important is the book to the friend? Here’s the one I think really matters, folks. If your friend loans you a book you didn’t ask for, and it’s a book that is super-important to them, you have to read it. Have. To. It doesn’t matter WHY the book is important to them (although talking about that is probably a good idea); all you need to know is that this is a book that changed your friend’s life or made them different in some way, and that is not an insignificant thing. If your friend is telling you this and you find yourself not caring, go back up to #2 and reassess how close of a friendship this actually is. If you’re not willing to give up a couple hundred pages’ reading time to a thing that really matters to your friend, well, you can do the math.
That’s my method. What’s your take?