The debate: should you lend books you love to people?

Do you lend books with the benevolence of a librarian, or do you keep your prized tomes well-protected? Two Penguin.co.uk writers hash it out. 

Alice Vincent and Stephen Carlick
Is it ok to stop reading books you don't enjoy?

From: Alice Vincent
To: Stephen Carlick

Subject: Some expectations

Hey Stephen,

How’s it going? Nice to catch up on Zoom the other day. 

I know it seems daft that I don’t have a copy, but after abandoning Great Expectations half-way through my degree course a decade ago, I seem to be without one. After our animated conversation about Pip et al, I wondered if I might be able to borrow your copy?

It’s a bit of a pickle getting hold of books at the moment, you see. And besides, if I have as poor luck with Dickens this time around, there’s no point having a great big tome cluttering up my bookshelves.

Perhaps I could trade you one of my favourite classics in return! What lockdown larks.

Yours hopefully,


From: Stephen Carlick
To: Alice Vincent

Subject: Re: Some expectations

Dear Alice,

A lovely Zoom call! Sad that it froze *just* as you were sneezing, but it made for a very nice screengrab.

And, speaking of very nice... so is my copy of Great Expectations. It's a beauty – a lovely clothbound classic and all. It's not that I don't trust you to take, um, great care of it, but I've made it something of a practice not to lend books to people, even friends. Too many times I've lent out one of my beloved books, only for them to come back looking like Mrs. Havisham's dress, if they come back at all. Books are beautiful things, to hold and cherish, and it often feels like people don't treat them that way.

It's not personal. To be honest, I don't relish the idea of borrowing a book of yours, either – what if I creased the pages? Cracked the spine? I'm as careful as anyone, but accidents do happen.

Maybe you could find a copy elsewhere and we could do a sort of lockdown book club, reading it simultaneously? That's my kind of lockdown lark.

Carefully yours,


From: Alice Vincent
To: Stephen Carlick

Subject: Re: re: Some expectations


Oh, ok. I get it. Those clothbound classics are very nice. Having not properly read Great Expectations, I’m afraid I don’t understand the reference to Mrs. Havisham’s dress, however I infer that this is not a desirable outcome.

I know what you mean about lending books. To borrow a half-quote from Peep Show, books can be ‘like lending someone less than a fiver. You can’t really ask for it back.’ In fact, I’m not sure any book I’ve lent to a friend has ever come back at all, let alone in a good condition.

Of course, this may seem a good reason to never lend books. We are not, after all, librarians. But there’s so much more to be taken from the giving – because, frankly, that’s what happens when one ‘lends’. To send a friend off on their travels with a couple of well-loved books is to wish them more than a bon voyage and share their journey. To offer a trusted tome to a friend that needs cheering up, or solace, can say far more than words ever could.

Books can be gorgeous, cherished objects, but they’re also, let’s be honest, just books. A cracked spine adds character. The best things in life often end up dog-eared out of love.

And there are other benefits: I tend to lend so frequently that I end up buying multiple copies of the same, especially good paperbacks – often because I can’t find it on my shelf at the pertinent time – it’s already with somebody else.

This isn’t, of course, to persuade you to lend me your precious Dickens – I can see you are quite fond of it – but rather to encourage you to consider the beauty of sharing books?

Yours open-mindedly,


From: Stephen Carlick
To: Alice Vincent

Subject: Re: re: re: Some expectations

Hey Alice, 

YES – it's totally like lending a fiver! Though as I write those words, I'm realising that pettiness akin to Mark's in Peep Show isn't exactly aspirational, is it?

You're right that lent books never come back quite in the same shape, but you also make a strong point that they communicate so much as a gift. Maybe that's the best way to think of lending a book: knowing, on some level, that you are likely giving it away. Not the worst fate for a book, I suppose. I don't exactly need the fiver back, so why fret over £7.99?

That said, surely you have some special books you'd never lend, for value reasons or, even more, for sentimental ones? I still would never lend a book someone gave me with a meaningful inscription, or that meant a lot to me as a child.

But, I'm coming around. I wasn't about to tell you this, but I still have my university copy of Great Expectations, the paperback one that made me fall in love with it in the first place, and which inspired my partner to buy me this clothbound copy (and which you! abandoned! halfway! through!). The paperback doesn't have the lovely inscription my new copy does, but it does have my notes from class in the margins – I wrote my big paper that semester on Mrs. Havisham's dress, so you'll be privy to plenty of notes on the way it symbolises attachment to an idealised way of life. (Somehow, that feels pertinent to this discussion.)

If you'll take my dog-eared and, now, Dettol-wiped copy, I'd be happy to leave it out front for you to pick up. Book club starts two weeks from now, yeah?

Yours generously,


From: Alice Vincent
To: Stephen Carlick

Subject: Re: re: re: re: Some expectations

Seems most people are probably a mix of borrowers and lenders when it comes to books.

Because you are a bit right: there’s a 1920s copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on my shelf, given to my grandmother by my namesake, which I barely let anyone open let alone borrow. Some things are sacred.

Thank you for generously loaning me your beloved paperback – I promise to take good care of it, truly. As for whether keeping one’s university notes is a mortifying endeavour or not, we’ll have to discuss another day.

In the meantime, I wonder what the bulk of our readers are: lenders, or keepers?

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more