From the trouble of a book given away as a gift


Our reader is annoyed by a relative who simply passed on her book. And rightly so, says our columnist.

My brother-in-law borrowed a book that I greatly appreciated. He was so taken with the reading that he ordered two copies on the Internet. After I had received the book back in a bag, I later found out while unpacking that it was by no means my own as good as new book, but a yellowed, dirty copy. When questioned, he offered me his Internet copy, which, of course, contained the name of the previous owner. He had simply given away my book. Is it still possible to meet such a person in a friendly way?

Anna, read

Admittedly, your brother-in-law was miserable and extremely insensitive. Books can become life companions. They may become beloved objects that belong in a household like old heirlooms. If you borrow a book, you should treat it with great esteem. This does not rule out the possibility that it may show signs of use at the end.

But even a fat red wine stain would not be an occasion to simply buy a new book. One would have to explain to the owner how this happened, ask for forgiveness and ask him if he prefers a new copy or if he prefers to take back the damaged book. At best, this should be returned with a good bottle of red wine. Here we are talking about a small accident, which is unattractive, but can happen.

Your brother-in-law, on the other hand, was monstrously out of line by not caring which one he gave away and which one he kept for himself. It was not clear to him that even books can have a soul, so they are not simply interchangeable. They really have every reason to be angry.

But to add the matter to the brother-in-law forever is not a solution either. You would also suffer from it yourself if you met in the family circle. It would be better to seek a debate. Make it unmistakably clear to him that this special book meant a lot to you, and what a huge loss it means for you personally that he simply gave it away.

Tell him that after this experience you are happy to give him further book recommendations, but that he can order them right away on the Internet, so as not to be tempted to sell your property to other people in the first place. Once this has been made crystal clear, you should be friendly to him again. One should learn from mistakes, but also be able to forgive them.

Please send your questions by post (Der Tagesspiegel, “Immer wieder sonntags”, 10876 Berlin) or mail them to: [email protected]


About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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