The Help Desk: I ruined a friend's treasured book. Why don't I feel bad about it?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

A friend loaned me a book. I wasn’t really into reading it — it was kind of a self-help-y thing. I only took it from her because it was easier than refusing. Figured I’d give it back after a good amount of time passed.

Long story short, the book wound up under a potted plant, and I overwatered the plant and I ruined the book. And because, like an idiot, I didn’t open the book until after I ruined it, I didn’t realize the author—now dead—had inscribed the copy to my friend.

So she’s mad at me now for ruining her irreplaceable book, and I feel bad that I don’t feel especially bad about this. I wish I hadn’t hurt her feelings, of course, but maybe don’t loan your most treasured book to people? Am I failing at basic human decency, here?

Viola, Fauntleroy

Dear Viola,

For someone who cherishes books, lending out a personal favorite is the purest act of friendship, on par with giving your best friend your child's kidney. Yes, this even includes self-help books, which as we all know are like cultivating an ultra-sentient crystal collection to tell your aura how to behave at dinner parties.

It's okay that you don't understand the emotional weight your friend places on books. (My best human friend's hobbies are French kissing her own reflection and buying pants in the wrong size. I don't get it but I'm smart enough to never hog her mirror.) Perhaps if you'd read that self-help book you would know better than to leave someone else's possession under a potted plant, which is unacceptable under any circumstances. That is what you should feel bad about.

The question here isn't whether or not she should have lent you the book – the fact was, she did and it was your responsibility as a decent human being with manners to return the book in good shape. You failed. Worse, you seem to feel no guilt over hurting your friend, which according to my crystal whisperers makes you a bit of a psychopath.

My advice: Go hug a rose quartz until you can drum up enough contrition to apologize for being an ass. Then buy a nice card, apologize, and ask her how you can make it up to her.