Dear Book Maven: Forget About the Price Tag

We hope you enjoy this column of bookish advice, penned by our own Executive Editor Bethanne Patrick. Patrick also happens to be the author of An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy (National Geographic Books), the Foreword to which was written by that icon of etiquette Judith Martin, AKA Miss Manners.


Dear Book Maven:

I borrowed a friend’s book and spilled coffee on it. Clearly, I need to replace it, but if she’s already read the book, is a new copy of the same book really the best idea? I am wondering if either a gift card for the value of the new book or a gently used copy of the same book are better choices. What should I pick?


Java Jitters


Dear J.J.,

You are to be commended for actually realizing that simply returning the book in its current caffeine-stained state isn’t an option. If The Maven only had a nickel for every book she loaned that came back with dog ears, sand in the pages, or a ripped jacket, she’d have enough cha-ching-cha-ching by now to save publishing.

Alas, not everyone is like us. People like you and me? We just want to make the world dance! You want to be sure you don’t simply replace a thing your friend no longer has use for when you might provide her with a delightful new experience. We actually consider what’s kindest, not just what’s most even-steven. That old Hammurabic Code “a book for a book” stuff went out of style centuries ago, right?

Right. Except for one teensy thing: You have no way of knowing what that particular volume means to your friend unless she’s specifically said, “I really don’t care about this book at all and will not just never read it again but will probably throw it in the trash (Ed.: GASP!) after you return it to me.” Usually, such a statement comes not before a “loan,” but before a “take this off my hands, please.” Just because your friend has read the book doesn’t mean she won’t want to re-read it. Or shelve it. Or loan it to someone else. Even if she wanted it back for the sole purpose of correcting all of the typos and mailing it back to the publisher, it is her book.

Thus, Your Maven would counsel simply buying a new, untouched copy of the book and writing (hand-writing) a note specifiying that this is not the same book that was loaned out (see above: for all you know, she might have stashed a microchip containing world secrets in the spine. Yes, I read too many spy novels). No use crying over spilled java, or over being out a few bucks.

New Hardcover: $25

Old Friend: Priceless

HTH, FWIW, and Happy Reading!

The Book Maven

P.S. Yes, you could just ask your friend which of the alternatives you proposed would be most to her liking. However, it is so dignified to do the right thing.