How to Get Your Books Back Without Using Violence

getting your books back from bad borrowers by Melinda J. Irvine

Last week I was having coffee with a new friend, and she was suggesting things for a newbie to do here in Iloilo City. Museums, galleries, historical sites … the type of stuff to help you get to know a new city.

She  lamented that she could not show me a fabulous book of hers which explains the history of the city’s development and culture. Alas, she’d loaned it to a friend more than a year ago and it still had not been returned.

BORROW: take and use (something belonging to someone else) with the intention of returning it.

Oxford Dictionary of English

I instantly flashed back to the seemingly hundreds of my books (and other things) lost or still MIA — last seen with the people I had loaned them to on a whim. I saw very clearly a scene from the early 90s; one of my co-workers walking to the commuter bus station with a whole bag of my books on natural healing and herbal therapies under her arm. She was smiling as my poor books were taken into captivity never to be seen again. And then the science fiction novels — another sad story.

This blog is about a subject close to my heart. Books. My books. Your books. Our books. And having the courage to stand up for them and get them back when they have not been returned. Here’s my 6-step strategy for never losing another book. Let’s go.

Melinda J. Irvine -- how to get your books back

1. Return stuff you’ve borrowed

If you’re serious about never losing another book to an unscrupulous borrower, the first thing you need to do is return any stuff that you’ve borrowed yourself. This little bit of karma sets a right intention, after all you can’t expect people to promptly return your things if your own abode contains a heap of borrowed items being treated with the same sort of disdain.

And apart from the karmic aspect, just think about those borrowed things for a minute (skip ahead if you’ve never borrowed anything in your life). When you first borrow something it feels borrowed, it feels not yours. You keep it out, and apart, and away from your own stuff. But if you have it too long after a while it starts to seem familiar. It’s feels a bit yours. Then one day you find yourself putting it on a shelf or in a drawer next to your other stuff. After a while it might even seem so much like ‘yours’ you might begin to resent the thought of ever returning it.

If this sounds even remotely familiar, GIVE THAT STUFF BACK IMMEDIATELY GOLLUM (and stop borrowing things).

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2. Don’t offer your books

Now that you’ve stopped borrowing stuff, you have full permission to completely own your own things. Empower yourself by no longer offering your books out for loan — ie, if someone wants to borrow a book of yours, make them ask.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made over the years is actually being the one to offer out my books. Have you ever heard yourself saying ‘I’m reading this fabulous book at the moment, you simply have to read it. I’ll lend it to you when I’m done‘. Huge mistake.

In some cases your friend might not even want to read that book (or they don’t have the time) and only take it to be polite. A year later (still unread) it gets mixed into their annual garage sale, or the Au Pair takes it back to Germany. If this sounds all too familiar, you can probably screen out a heap of missing book cases (no pun meant there) every year by simply making people ask to borrow.

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3. Be clear it’s a loan

Step number three is a clincher. Be really, really clear to your ‘friend’ that this a loan. The last time I loaned a book (about a month ago) I actually said ‘xxxx now this is a loan, I am not giving you this book, it must be returned‘.

And exactly like that too. Like I was the Nurse Ratched of the book borrowing ward and things could become unpleasant if an overdue notice ever had to be issued. If this feels awkward here’s a couple of tele-prompters to commit to memory for later use.

  • I really really love my books and read them many times, I’m going to need this one back. Just being clear that this is a loan only.
  • I know this won’t apply to you (but I’m gonna say it anyway), please don’t be like others who have borrow my books and never returned them. Because I will nag you A LOT until it comes back.

Practice by reading them aloud now. Feels great doesn’t it? Really empowering.

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4. Set the terms of the loan

Now you’re clear this is a book borrowing and not a book gifting, establish the exact terms of the loan. Things like:

  • Can the book be taken on holidays to Bali?
  • Can the book be sub-let to the Au Pair?
  • Can the book be dog-eared or have it’s pages folded?
  • Can the book have any of it’s pages (or pieces of the cover) torn if Baby Friend should get hold of it?
  • Can the book be kept for more than 6 months?

This is also an awesome time to remind your friend that the book will have to be replaced if lost, stolen, broken, or left in Bali.

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5. Write it down

If you haven’t already written your name in the book, go ahead and open it up (in front of your friend) then write your name on the inside front cover PLUS the title page. Now get your notebook (or your favourite App) and record the name of the book, your friend, and the date. Have your friend sign it, or take their photo (holding the book) and upload to the App. 

Maybe this sounds a little extreme, and it probably is — but you want your friend to know that you have an obsessive love of your books and you will act without restraint to get them back. It’s absolutely the worth the effort. 

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6. Ask, ask and ask again for it back

Start asking for your book back after about 4-5 weeks. You can start subtly ‘how are you going with the book, are you loving it?’, if they return with ‘yeh, I’ve been so busy with Uni I’ve only read the first chapter‘ you might consider saying ‘maybe just return it for now and I’ll lend it to you again when you have more time‘.

Then keep asking, and asking, and asking, and asking until it is returned. If you have to stage an intervention — ie, go to their house, knock on the door and say you aren’t leaving without your book — don’t have a glass of wine then weaken and let them keep it another year.

BORROW: take, take for oneself, help oneself to, use as one’s own, abscond with, carry off, appropriate, commandeer, abstract …

Oxford Dictionary of English

Books are wonderful — every single page you’ve turned, cover you’ve opened, and page you’ve dog-eared (yeh it’s completely ok when you do it yourself) carries a lingering memory. I’m sure you recall the place (date and time) you bought just about every book in that book shelf. They bring so many smiles and such joy to us.

So when you loan out another book be prepared to follow it up, and follow it through. Honour your self-worth, and claim back your memories. After all, they are yours.


Never lend a book to your boss (awkward), your co-worker (my naturotheraphy books vanished when my workmate never came back after annual leave), someone you’ve just started dating (obvious now but never at the time), friends of friends (how you gonna get it back), repeat offenders (never loan books while drinking wine).

PS: and if you still can’t get your books back after all, this just move all your reading content over to Kindle. So much easier.

get your books back by Melinda J. Irvine v1

No spam, just real writing.

2 responses to “How to Get Your Books Back Without Using Violence”

    1. Melinda J. Irvine Avatar

      just love my books.