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Miss Conduct

Advice: How do I stop friends from foisting books on me?

To illustrate her answer, allow Miss Conduct to introduce you to Paige Pusher.

What do you do or say when a friend loans you a book that you have no interest in reading? He or she usually thinks it’s a great book and wants you to share the experience. Happens to me often enough to wonder about the proper etiquette. I imagine I’ve done it to others as well.

J.E. / Marblehead

Approach a friend carrying a new book as you would a friend with a new dog: with a neutral expression, no direct eye contact, and the back of your hand facing out with your fingers curled inward.

I’m being completely serious. Because once the tome is in your hand, the book is lent. Paige Pusher isn’t going to take it back, even if she said she only wanted you to look at that marvelous photograph on Page 87. Do everything in your improvisational power to avoid touching the book physically without rejecting it verbally. Because if you tell Paige you do not like Icelandic murder mysteries, she will argue with you — not an argument either of you can win on objective grounds, but Paige enjoys talking about Icelandic murder mysteries and you don’t. If you tell her you don’t have time right now for an Icelandic murder mystery, she’ll find it harder to argue with — and if she tries, you get to complain about how busy you are, which most people seem to like doing. Maybe ask Paige if she’s reviewed the book online and would she send you a link, so that you can put it on your reading list.

If you’ve already succumbed to a drive-by bookfoisting, keep the book for six months, like Persephone in the underworld, and return it with an excuse about your mad schedule. By this point Paige will have lost some of her initial fervor while retaining enough fondness for the book that she’ll be delighted to have it home again. It’s easier to remember to do this if you keep all the books lent to you on a particular shelf, not that I’ve ever had to do that.


This advice is intended for a Paige Pusher whose only goal is to (over)share books she loves. A Paige who is trying to reform or better you against your will, and is using books as part of that campaign, requires a more direct approach.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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