Am I the Literary Asshole? When to Mute Your Friend on the Internet


Hello again! It’s time for the latest installment of that magical column, Am I The Literary Asshole, a place where alcohol and advice come together to shake hands like the very best of friends. Teamwork makes the dream work!

We’re just coming off St. Patrick’s Day, here, and yes, I’m still imbibing. It’s like I’m in a new and improved adult relaunch of a Dr. Seuss book, except there’s way fewer green eggs and ham and a lot more green beer. Tongue out here looking like it’s coated with a fresh layer of Irish Spring. Absolutely an incredible time to crack open my email and answer a few of your burning questions!

So let’s suds up and get started, shall we? No time like the present (and every day with you all and this advice column is truly a gift).

Round one!

1) My questions are about the etiquette surrounding book lending. Is there a nice way to ask a friend to return a book they borrowed? Is there a statute of limitations on how long they can borrow a book? Can you expect the book to come back in the same condition as when you lent it out? Some people seem to view book borrowing as a trivial act, and it sometimes seems petty and not worth an uncomfortable conversation to ask for a book back. My tactic to date is to silently build up my resentment… if feels like there should be another way.

I’m a librarian with an MLIS who has worked in a number of libraries, so I feel as though I should be especially equipped to answer your question on lending. How to get books back! It should be easy, right? Well… maybe not.

Sharing is caring! You have something you love and you want to show it to someone else, a friend that you know might love it, too. You imagine fulfilling conversations with them afterward; time spent parsing what exactly made that book so damn good. And it makes us feel good, too, doesn’t it? Sharing things with other people makes us feel connected; larger than just ourselves. Art brings people together, and that’s a deeply beautiful thing.

Return of said item is a different (and sometimes difficult) animal to handle. Because we love the book, we obviously want it back in our possession at some point. So, I’m going to go ahead and give you a few rules to follow so it doesn’t turn into a passive-aggressive free-for-all with your friends. Because NOBODY wants that (except maybe… *drumroll, please* …an asshole).

One: Don’t lend out books with special-to-you strings attached. That means books that are signed and personalized from your favorite author, books that you’ve had since you were a child, or books that are irreplaceable to you as a reader and artist (ie you’ve read them so many times they’re quite literally falling apart).

If that book is something that belonged to your beloved Grandmother? No. If it’s a book with a million important notes scribbled inside it and you’ve underlined phrases throughout? Absolutely not. If you’ve told even one person that the book in question makes you cry whenever you think about it because it’s that important to you? Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. If it’s meaningful art that is also a meaningful object, please do not lend out that item. Consider it an archival piece; one that must not leave your personal library. Simply give your friend a recommendation to grab a copy for themselves.

Two: Treat every lending experience as though you’ll never see that item again. Shit happens, we all know this. Even your very best friend—who has the purest of intentions when it comes to you and your favorite things—might encounter a mishap where they either lose the book or spill some green beer (oops) on its treasured pages. If it helps, think of it this way: whatever you lend is no longer your property the minute it passes out of your hands. And hey, if it finds its way back to you? Consider that a happy (and lucky) surprise.

Three: If you lend a book to somebody and you really do want it back, give your friend a deadline for return. Hey, libraries do it all the time and nobody gets mad at them! It’s not a big deal to say, “Hey, I really love this book—could I get it back from you by XYZ date?” Also, nobody who’s nice and cool is going to be upset if you point-blank ask for your stuff back after the allotted time has passed. Most people (I’m including myself here) simply forget to give things back! I love a nudge-nudge reminder from a friend, because then I can feel less like an asshole myself when I finally return it.

Best of luck, gentle reader. Go forth (and get your shit back from your friends)!

Are my teeth looking a little green from all this beer? Ah well, let’s have another sip regardless and peruse our second question of the day.

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2) I have a friend who has made not having a book/getting lots of rejections for their manuscripts the foundation of their online literary personality. The thing is, they now have a book forthcoming, which you’d think might be a positive, but now all they do is complain about their second manuscript getting rejected.

How do I gently tell them (beyond hoping they read this and recognize themselves) that they will be much better off celebrating their own successes and those of others than being a constant literary Eeyore? We get it, it’s hard, we all get rejected, but seriously, friend, you need to stop.

Oh buddy, everybody LOVES a bit. Especially online! Take, for instance, this column you’re currently reading. How many ways can I drunkenly answer advice questions and simultaneously make a funny joke (results may vary)? People habitually turn something annoying into their entire online persona. Open up Twitter (I refuse to call it that other name, no one can make me) and you’ll see plenty of people doing exactly that. It’s meme culture, and it’s not going anywhere.

I say this with love: if this person has made being an Eeyore their thing for this long already? There’s probably nothing you’re going to be able to say that would deter them from their (admittedly exasperating) path. I mean, yes, you could send them a politely worded message, urging them to focus on publicizing their upcoming book (which would be an undeniably worthy and much more helpful endeavor), but I’m fairly sure—and I think you probably are, too, when it comes down to it—that they would not take this suggestion the way that you hope. They’d likely just spiral about it, and quite possibly use your well-meaning message to construct a flurry of even more complaint-heavy content.

I’m going to offer up a solution here (a time-honored one, at that): mute that person. Quietly; no muss, no fuss. You could unfollow, too. They likely won’t even notice. But if they really are your good friend and you want to have a continued relationship with them outside of the internet, muting them will honestly be enough. The button is there for a reason! Simply shut it down and carry on with your life. Your days will be a lot more enjoyable after the fact, I promise you.

Speaking of green beer, it looks like we have an AWP question for our last of the day. Chug-a-lug! Onward!

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3) So, I was returning from AWP a few years ago and saw one of my favorite authors waiting in the airport like we all do. At the time, I was reading someone else’s book. This, however, did not deter me from asking for an autograph in the book I was reading which, as a reminder, was not his book. He politely declined. Am I the literary asshole? I kinda think so because I’m cringing as I write this.

Buddy, that doesn’t make you an asshole. It simply makes you a person who was a little enthusiastic in the moment so you made a slight (and I do mean SLIGHT) faux pas. If someone had handed me another author’s book to sign in an airport, I would have done what this same author did to you—politely refuse. As writers, we know that creating a book is a real labor of love. It would be akin to scribbling our signature on someone else’s child (or on someone else’s beer mug). It’s just not done.

However, I’d like to reassure you (again) that this doesn’t make you an asshole. The fact that you recognized this author out in the wild (it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think), then approached them to (ostensibly) shower them with praise and compliments? That’s a really nice thing.

If you’d been in a different situation—say, holding a piece of blank paper instead of someone else’s book—it would have a been a perfect interaction all around. I guarantee you this author simply remembers the fact that you were so overjoyed to see them that you were willing to have them sign anything in order to get their autograph. It will be a nice memory for them. Let it be a nice memory for you, too.

And that’s it for the day! Join me next time when I answer even more questions (and drink beer that’s not the color of a four-leaf clover). Remember to send me your anonymous questions!! I’m nothing without you, friends. Until next time!

It’s Not Easy Being Green,
Dad

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Are you worried you’re the literary asshole? Ask Kristen via email at AskKristen@lithub.com, or anonymously here.

AM l THE LITERARY ASSHOLE



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