Our Reading Lives

Social Anxiety for Book Readers: Etiquette Questions

Nicole Froio

Staff Writer

Nicole Froio is a Brazilian journalist currently based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She writes about feminism, human rights, politics, mental health issues, pop culture, books and the media. She was born in São Paulo but moved a lot as a kid, which hinders her ability to root down in only one place in adulthood. Her favorite genres of book are fantasy, YA fiction, romance and any book that requires the main character to find themselves. An avid intersectional feminist, her tolerance for bigotry is extremely low. Blog: Words by Nicole Froio Twitter: @NicoleFroio

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety, as I have written quite a few posts about it here on Book Riot. Only people who suffer from anxiety can identify with my panic attacks and anxious episodes, but I feel like all of us have some level of social anxiety (no? just me?). Because my brain goes a bit weird whenever I am trying to figure out what the proper way to act in social events, it also goes a bit weird when I am thinking about book etiquette and if people around me feel the same way I do about books and how to treat them.

I have a huge collection of books that some of my friends treat as a library. I am always happy to lend most books and I love recommending stories to people who don’t know what to read next. But is it weird that I won’t let any one touch my Game of Thrones collection even though I myself haven’t touched it in years? Is it weird that I just want them to hang out together forever? (Sidenote: explaining this to non-bookish people is really, really hard and I’m pretty sure I came across as snobby.)

Social anxiety sucks, but I often think “I can’t be the only one who wonders about this stuff…” so here is a list of bookish social anxiety thoughts I’ve struggled with before.

  1. The sacred books: As much as I love recommending books to people there are certain books I can’t part with or let people ruin with their apocalyptic book habits. Game of Thrones is one example, but also The Color Purple by Alice Walker and anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are absolutely sacred in my bookshelf. Is this weird? Have you ever had to explain this to someone? Is it materialistic or are books exempt from such a classification?
  2. The borrowing anxiety: This is somewhat related to the previous one: if people are as weird as I am with books, for how long can I borrow their books for? Is there a limited time? Should I ask? Of course there’s no rule of thumb about this (borrowing books can either mean ‘keep it forever’ or ‘give it back when you’re done but don’t rush’ or ‘I need it back in a week,’ in my experience) so that’s why I have so many questions!
  3.  The ‘socially accepted’ number of books: Libraries are amazing, reading books for free is amazing – I think we can all agree on this. But if my library allows me to take out x number of books, there is no rule as to how many is socially acceptable to take out. If I take out too many, will the librarian judge me? What about requesting books – do I come across as obnoxious if I request too many? LIBRARIANS PLEASE DISCLOSE: do eager readers annoy or enchant you?!?!!
  4. “I can’t go out tonight, I have to finish a book.” If this is not an acceptable excuse to bail on social encounters, it should be. I always wonder what people think about this as an excuse – is it on par with the obviously fake “I’m washing my hair tonight”? Or does it make me seem like an intelligent person? I have a 40 book reading challenge I am trying to achieve this year, I can’t waste my time with human interaction!
  5. The shared reading experience: For how long is it acceptable to read over someone’s shoulder? Is reading something together an acceptable form of (minimum) social interaction or should we all be loner readers?

How about you? Do you have any social anxieties about books? Comment below, I am definitely curious!