Sharing Is Caring? I Think Not.

This post's topic was actually suggested by Diana, which is embrrassing as this is an issue we have navigated for YEARS and yet somehow I never thought about it as a book-related thing, but a sister-related thing. But really it's both.

Here's the issue: Diana is a bit…possessive…about her books. And when Chestnut picks one up that she finds on the table, for instance, amid a pile of books, Diana gets a wee bit testy.

I have not had a whole lot of patience for this, I must admit. I figure, unless it's a book that you're actively reading (in which you'd better keep your dirty mitts off my book or there will be hell to pay), books are for everyone (don't I sound so nice when I write that? Like I smile a lot more than I actually do). But if it's something you're not reading, I figure that what's the big deal? I mean, go off and read it, and that's that.

Diana would beg to differ. And this past week on vacation she finally was able to make an argument to me that I could sort of understand. In her view, if you are able to declare your very best toys off limits to your sister without asking (and this is true in our house, particularly true for Chestnut of a very special unicorn), then logically you should be able to declare your most favorite books off-limits. And in any case the sibling should always ask.

Chestnut just sees all the amazing books that Diana brings back from her weekly library trips and has a hard time keeping her hands off them. Let's face it: Diana has excellent taste in books, and by god she's the older sister and still has the magical power to imbue all she touches with desirability.

I am divided. I see Diana's point, but I also feel like books are different, and not so much about ownership, and that the feeling that the house you live in has all its books open to you is worth a lot to me.

So what's the deal? Do you feel possessive of your books? Do you let others read them? What about your kids? Am I crazy?

13 thoughts on “Sharing Is Caring? I Think Not.

  1. NO! You are not crazy. I, too, feel that unless you are actively reading a book, it is up for grabs. I also have a bookshelf in my bedroom that is for my children’s books. They have their own shelves too, but I bring all of those lovely chapter books that are not being read into my room, so that they are community property. (They also don’t get lost in the underbed of the abyss. Although they did lose MY copy of Stewart Little, and I am still a bit peeved by that.) IF, however, a book is on their shelf in their room, it is just like anything else and needs to be asked to read. (I do tend to be an advocate for the ask-er though.) As for library books, we have a basket in our living room where they live. This is mostly so they do not get mixed into the hordes of books we own, but it also gives a “community” feel to them. Now you probably think I am the crazy one!


  2. Library books belong to the library, so they are open to anyone in the family imo. That said, the original finder of the book gets dibs. Nothing is worse than going to read a book and finding someone else’s nose in it. Such a disappointment!
    Personal books are different, though. Those are personal possessions to be shared at will.
    That’s how it shakes out at our house anyway.


  3. I agree that personal books are personal possessions. We are only adults in this house so it doesn’t really come up, but I have a few books so important to me that when friends ask if they can borrow them, it gives me an almost physical pain to say yes. I let them, but– this is true, and it makes me sound crazy– I am a little antsy until I have them back. What will I do if I can’t just walk over to the shelf and read “The Earl of Louisiana” at will?!


  4. We are just entering this age of book ownership issues in our house. Traditionally, picture books are considered family books and anyone may pick one up and read it. This is clearly starting to change, though, as my eldest is starting to determine his favorites. Our compromise is that if a book is left out – it’s fair game (we have this rule for toys as well) for anyone else. If it’s put away (in a bookbag, backpack, or by your bed) it’s being used and no one else may claim it without asking first. Library books are stored in a family bin by the front door, they are technically fair game for anyone unless someone is actively using one of them.


  5. Books are personal possessions but one of the best things about books is sharing them with others. I love to lend books but it does make me nervous and I always worry I’m not going to get the books back. And sometimes I don’t, and I try to tell myself that someone just enjoyed it so much they couldn’t part with it.
    Some of the best books I read as a child were assigned reading for my 4-years-older sister, and if she hadn’t let me read them I would have been so sad and stuck with books at my own reading level thanks to a crappy school library, and how sad would that have been? Try to tell Diana that she is opening Chestnut’s eyes to a whole world of things she might not be able to find otherwise, and that in 20 years she will remember fondly the sharing of the books. 🙂


  6. I believe that most books should be shared, although library books are primarily for the person who borrowed them so if they want them they get dibs no matter who is reading. However, In our family, there were always a few “specials” that each person had, which were off-limits unless you asked VERY nicely, and if the owner said no that was that. You could save up and buy your own copy or go to the library. I think that’s fair, especially if another member of your family tends to lose books or drip juice on them (ahem, mother-in-law who is otherwise splendid but will never borrow another Italo Calvino book again).
    Nowadays, I will freely lend out almost all of my books except for the Jonathan Carrolls and the E.F. Bensons, because Carroll’s books are sometimes out of print and hard to find, and because I cannot live without the entire Queen Lucia series in my possession. It is seriously like a disease with me. My husband wanted to read the first book and I made him download it on the Kindle because he wanted to read on the subway. And THAT after I had been bugging him to read it for years! So I guess you could say I see Diana’s point.


  7. Oh, and I need to add – there also needs to be a rule that while books are common within the family, any family member who would like to lend a book out to a friend MUST first ask the person who owns the book if this is okay. It is polite and it keeps the owner current on who has the books, especially if the lender or lendee is absentminded. I am looking at you, husband of mine. I have lost at least 5 books to unknown people because of this bad habit of yours.


  8. Hmm. I’d think wanting a younger sister to ask is reasonable, but what if Diana’s not home? Then maybe mom should be able to grant “in-house borrowing privileges (damn; took 4 tries to spell that)” until the owner returns. But if she won’t bend, I guess they are her books. I’d probably then mention that if she couldn’t be convinced to share, I wouldn’t be convinced to buy.


  9. well the rule my two older brothers and I had was that an unfinished book was the property of the person reading it but once read through it was up for grabs. There were no sub-rules about finishing a book then starting right over again but this was deemed unfair and unsporting so I (usually) waited to re-read a book I’d fallen in love with. I do lend my favorite books now but may stop someday as they rarely come back and I miss them!


  10. As the oldest sister in my family of three girls, I can definitely say that as a kid, I felt the same way Diana does. My parents were very egalitarian in many ways, and as such I was required to share many things (including playtime with friends of mine from school) with my sisters. Reading, however, could be completely my own, and I was a very avid reader. My books felt very personal to me and, as someone above mentioned, handing them over to less-than-careful hands gave me flutters of panic. To this day my sisters will “rough up” books I lend them (food stains, water damage, sand in the pages) and though I now understand that this abuse is secondary to the story within the book, I will not lend out anything I can’t bear to lose.


  11. I was the oldest, and I don’t remember feeling that way about books. When I was done with them, I was done with them, as long as I could read it again later (i.e. it didn’t get lost). My sister on the other hand, was crazy about keeping the bindings of her books pristine. I still think the reason I have not read all the Narnia books is because I was afraid I’d break the binding of her books. For the most part, books in our house were shared (though my parents have two copies of tons of books since my dad had a habit of accidentally dropping books in the bath).


  12. All that being said, my sisters and I had such different book tastes that I am not sure my sisters were EVER interested in reading my favorite books. I read their books all the time, though.


  13. My kids don’t give much of a thought to book ownership. They all just read out of the same piles. Now if someone gets a new book, they do seem to feel that they should get to read it first. And likewise if they pick something from the library, although I have heard some arguments along the lines of “Let me read it first, I read faster than you and so I’ll finish it quickly and you can go second.”
    I’ve got to say that I don’t buy Diana’s argument. If you justifiably think that your little sister might WRECK or LOSE your book, that’s one thing. And I can see drawing the line at letting her take it to school or the park. But I can’t see how allowing someone else to read your book when you aren’t reading it can be harmful in any way. Mind you, I am never much concerned with books as physical objects. I don’t care if they have creases in the spines or dog eared pages. I only want what’s in them. I know some people feel quite differently about this, so that may be why Diana has this view.


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