A person once asked me if librarianship is lonely work. I had to say that it is not because we spend a great deal of time surrounded by books. I see all books as potential friends because each has its own ideas, voice, and character. Of course the best thing about having books as friends is that you choose when to start and end the conversation. This idea is interesting to me because I’ve recently realized how differently some people see the nature of friendship. Yesterday a companion (let’s call her Jill) and I were discussing a mutual friend of ours (Jack, of course). Jill was speaking of Jack rather critically and said she often found Jack “sarcastic, pretentious, and disingenuous.” I could not help but think, “but that’s what we like about him, right?”
The problem here is that Jill and I have two opposing views of friendship. Jill sees friendship as a tool for comfort. She needs her friends to confide in; to offer her advice and support. I see friendship in a somewhat different way. I see my friends as competitors who should push me to ensure I do not get lazy. If a friend of mine mentions an author or philosopher I’ve never heard of, I will feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed and immediately learn more about this unknown source. What’s great is that if you make friends with books they can provide both comfort and competition. The Mississippi Library Commission even has books that explore the nature of friendship.
One of my favorite books on friendship is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is an excellent example of how society’s idea of friendship has changed. Carnegie first wrote this book in 1936 and we can see that era’s principles reflected in the chapter titles. Chapters on “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People” or “Six Ways to Make People Like You” accurately show how he saw friendship as a means to gain financial success. These titles may seem strange now (“handling people”?) but his book only reflects the time in which it was written.
Another interesting book on friendship is The Norton Book of Friendship edited by Eudora Welty and Ronald A. Sharp. This book contains poems, stories, and essays that explore the meaning and value of friendship. One of my favorite passages comes from Francis Bacon in his essay Of Friendship. Bacon sees friendship as primarily a tool for comfort: “For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more, and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less” (88). Obviously, this statement goes against my definition of friendship but it is beautifully written. Welty and Sharp’s book is mostly positive and contains several examples of how friendship makes the human experience more pleasant.
Regardless of how you use friends, the nice thing is you can always find a new one at your local library.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Sharp, Ronald and Eudora Welty (eds.) The Norton Book of Friendship. W.W. Norton & Company, 1991