Our Reading Lives

Our Book Lending Horror Stories

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Amanda Diehl

Staff Writer

Amanda Diehl escaped to Boston to get her MA in Publishing & Writing. Though she loves her new home in the Northeast, she will forever mourn the loss of Publix and sweet tea. As for Amanda’s voracious love of reading, she got it from her mama, though her favorite genres are romance, horror, and the occasional memoir. She reviews romance novels for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and when she’s able to scrounge together some free time, you can find her napping in front of the TV with the latest trashy reality show or scarfing down brunch-related foods. Twitter: _ImAnAdult

It goes without question that books should be shared with the world, but when it comes to our own personal libraries, some of us can be a bit sensitive. We know the sorrow of lending a book, never to see it again. Maybe we refuse to lend any more books in the future. Or perhaps after being burned before, we’ll only let certain books out of our sight. Regardless, many of us have a horror story or two of a book we’ve given to a friend or coworker to borrow, only to realize we’ve made a terrible mistake. So let’s pour one out for the books we’ve lost. Below are some of our stores:

goblet of fire new coverI was in eighth grade and everyone was working up to the next Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – which meant that lots of people were doing rereads of the series. A girl in several of my classes asked to borrow my copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because she didn’t own it and wanted to be ready for when the fifth book dropped. Figuring it was safe because she was in two of my classes, I let borrow it. Big mistake. She and her boyfriend had a fight, which is a pretty laughable sentence since we were all around fourteen years old. Her boyfriend got so incensed, for whatever reason, that he wound up ripping up the book. She gave it back to me in shreds. Shreds! I think we can all agree that this dude, wherever he may be, is a monster. Amanda Diehl 

My very best friend throughout high school and college was almost as avid a reader as I was. We had similar tastes and often bought each other the same books by accident for holidays. And again, this was my BFF. So I thought nothing of letting her borrow my signed first edition copy of Outlander, which I’d gotten autographed when Diana Gabaldon was at a local bookstore. I stood in line for two hours for that autograph and my thirty seconds of getting to chat with her. When it was returned, the previously pristine dust jacket was ripped almost in half and taped together with black electric tape (seriously, what the hell?), the spine was shattered, and the pages were falling out. THE PAGES, people! Including the one with the autograph. I won’t say that was the death knell of our friendship, but we didn’t remain close after college. And I never let her touch my books again. Not with a ten foot pole! –Kristen McQuinn

colorI took my copy of Victoria Finlay’s Color: A Natural History of the Palette with me all over Portugal one summer. By the time I came home, the book held grains of sand from northern beaches, coffee stains from my afternoon meia de leite with accompanying smudges of chocolate, verb conjugations and strange phrases pencilled into the margins. Every dogeared page had an associated memory. An explanation of ochre interrupted by the American philosopher couple who asked for directions and then took me out for wine and olives and a chat about Foucault. The story of Van Gogh’s roses rapidly folded and shut when caught by a sudden rain in the Jardim do Serralves. A history of Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli mines that I had to stop reading during a nauseating van ride into the valley of the Côa River to look at prehistoric cave paintings. Because of the subject matter (and because it had become special to me) I insisted on lending the book to a close artist friend. That was ten years ago. It has yet to be recovered. I am assured that it may be located somewhere between Atlanta and Los Angeles. –Bronwyn Averett

One day, I decided I wanted to reread Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return. I searched my bookshelves, first casually, then with growing agitation, but did not find it. I worried I’d thrown it out, having recently Konmari’d my possessions; but no, I knew that I would have never tossed a book I’d loved so much. Over the next three days I drove my family nutso asking them if they’d seen the book, and turning my parents’ house upside down looking for it. STILL, NOTHING. Finally a faint trickle of memory seeped in: “Did I loan that book to your friend?” I asked my mom. “Oh, maybe,” she replied. “And she still hasn’t returned my McCallum DVDs.”

Turns out said friend had married a hoarder and put all her stuff in storage because he refused to move moldy newspapers out of his house. Or at least this was her excuse. I texted Madame X–name changed to protect the guilty–asking if she would check to see if she still had the book. Weeks passed. Finally my mom went out to lunch with Madame X, who reported that she’d finally gone to her storage unit and seen the book, as well as the DVDs! Yes, she had seen them, but did she bother to grab them and return them to us? Did she think I was texting her about it out of mild curiosity, or what? I WANT MY BOOK BACK. Something tells me that’s not going to happen. –Tasha Brandstatter

cats eyeI keep my collection of Margaret Atwood books in a separate shelf. This collection of books have grown over the years, and I’ve moved them from my hometown, to the country where I went to graduate school, to where I live and work now. I touch clean and dust this shelf every weekend, and touch their spines for comfort. When I was in law school, a friend had noticed my love for Atwood and asked to borrow my first edition copy of Cat’s Eye. This was acquired at a used bookstore few years ago, and the story is, as you can guess, very close to my heart. I refused the first time. Second time. And the third time!

Several months later, when I returned home from law school for vacations, I noticed that this book no longer occupied its place on the shelf. I was aghast! My mum said that my friend had borrowed it during my absence and that she would return in a few weeks’ time. I was angry and anxious (anxiety is my superpower!) – the friend assured that it will be returned in top condition. Weeks later I was still asking her to return it – and there was no end to her excuses.

Later she told me she had misplaced it while moving houses, and when I told her that it was first edition, she told me, rudely, that I should get over it, because it “only a book!” ONLY A BOOK!?
Needless to say, this friend is a friend-no-more and I plot her murder every waking hour! (I bought another copy of Cat’s Eye, but I couldn’t find a first edition.) –Deya Bhattacharya

On Writing Stephen KingSince college I’ve owned The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne and On Writing by Stephen King. By owned I mean they’d been stacked near my bed everywhere I’d lived and had been heavily highlighted, scribbled in, and looked like they lost a war against an army of post-its. So you can imagine my surprise when I went to look something up in Dufresne’s book and could not find it. Then I noticed I couldn’t find King’s book either. I searched everywhere. I searched in places they wouldn’t even have fit. Then I called. Emailed. IM’d. Texted. Everyone I could think of who would want to borrow writing books from me. Nada. No one even knew what I was talking about.

Eventually I bought new copies. In most cases this is fine, but I knew the entire time that even if I re-highlighted, re-jotted notes in the margins, and used post-its to make the books look like it had swallowed a piñata I had forever lost the thoughts of the girl reading them for the first time in her first creative writing class. Sad I know. A few years after having bought new copies I was talking on the phone with a friend who was dating a writer and somehow my books came up. “Oh, I have those,” she said, super cheery like having moved across the country with someone else’s books and having said nothing about it for years, YEARS, was something to be cheery about. She found the entire thing hilarious. I debated whether this was enough to terminate a friendship. (I’m kidding. Mostly.) She promised to mail them back. And she did–even MORE years later. –Jamie Canaves 

What books have you loved, lent, and lost? Tell us your book lending horror story!