I borrowed a coworker's book ( don't know this coworker super well) and spilled coffee on the book. Should I just go online and buy a new one or try and explain/apologize and return the book?

  • 93
    Personally, I’d do both.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 1:45
  • 27
    Why don't you tell them what happened and ask them what they'd like you to do?
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 1:46
  • 9
    Depends... how much damage? and how valuable of a book? If it's a couple drops and its a cheap book? vastly different response than entire cup on a first edition of something rare...
    – WernerCD
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:50

4 Answers 4


Personally, I would just give the book back, plus a bookseller's gift card covering the current price of a new copy of the book, plus any tax & shipping.

Of course, the book in question could be out of print, so you'd have to check its availability and its current price on the website of your chosen bookseller.

Then, the recipient can decide what to spend the gift card on. If the recipient says he doesn't need to replace the book and tries to give you back the gift card, just say "Then use the gift card on something else."

I say this because I would really be annoyed if someone spilled coffee on one of my books. But at the same time, I would be really annoyed too if someone tried replacing a particular book I no longer cared for.

In my case, since I live in a country served by Amazon, I'd probably just buy an Amazon gift card (assuming my co-worker wasn't militantly anti-Amazon), this way, my co-worker wouldn't even have to buy a book if they didn't want to. They could just buy a bunch of flowers for their mom/significant other, or buy a box of chocolate for the office, or just re-gift the gift card to their babysitter or something.

  • 14
    That's what I thought too. Being able to buy something new probably is more joy for the person than having two identical books of which they perhaps don't read either of them any more.
    – puck
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 6:50
  • 5
    This is a good solution but at the same time it might not work for books out of print. In that case I'd actually offer to order it for them because the last thing I'd want to do if someone stained one of my books is actually having to go through the hassle of finding and ordering a new used copy!
    – Neph
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 11:23
  • 7
    I don't like this. Speak with the person first, we do that rarely enough anyways. Then you can decide, what the other personl likes best. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:18
  • 2
    A gift card might be slightly more socially acceptable than cash (even though there's really no logical reason) and sometimes more appreciated than replacing the book, but gift cards always carries the risk of the recipient not really having a use for it (assuming they don't feel the need to replace the book) and them finding themselves somewhere between taking something they won't use or appreciate or giving back something they feel entitled to. I'd much rather be asked what I prefer. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:51
  • 1
    @ugoren, If you really valued that book, by all means, replace it. But if on the other hand, the coffee-stained one is more than good enough, just order a box of chocolate with that gift card (or whatever would be appropriate for your diet) and share those chocolates with that coworker and your other co-workers. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 23:55

Should I just go online and buy a new one or try and explain/apologize and return the book?

No need to guess: just apologize and ask: "Hey Alice, I'm really sorry but I spilled coffee on your book. Can I just buy you a new one? "

And then Alice will say something like

  1. Sure, that will be fine
  2. Don't worry about it, I don't mind coffee stains
  3. What book, I totally forget about this
  4. Let me take a look
  5. Something completely different, who knows ?

Just let them tell you what they want to happen and if it's reasonable, just do that.

  • 3
    +1 from me. Provided it's accompanied by a sincere apology, then given the choice between second-guess this person's desires and ask them what they want, I'd favour communication every time.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:27
  • 13
    +1 don't attempt to read minds (poor communications kills), but also be aware people may say "it's fine, don't worry about it" without actually meaning it, to be polite. You may need to offer a few times before letting it go; see @Gregory Currie
    – obscurans
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:45
  • 1
    That wording is so beautifully perfect and concise. I wouldn't change it. Well, only if the person's name is not Alice.
    – Mohair
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 14:02
  • 1
    @Pingcode There is no need to micro-optimize language.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 15:08
  • 1
    Asking if you can buy them a new copy puts the onus on them. Now they have the option of A) sure, thanks or B) no, that's ok. In case A they will feel bad because your question can be seen as a way for them to let you know the book doesn't mean much to them. Then you buying a new copy is almost like them asking you to buy a new copy. They may weight this and choose B, then feel slightly wronged. By giving them the original book and a gift card you completely accept responsibility and try to make it right as best you can. They will leave them with the best view of you. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 15:49

I would just buy them a new copy AND explain the situation as you hand them the new book.

You don't want to put them in a situation where they feel compelled to say: "Oh, that's alright, don't worry about it." But where they are actually annoyed and carry a resentment.

I would actually be annoyed that someone put me in a position where I would be obliged to be polite and insist the book didn't need to be replaced.

  • 15
    I (very respectfully!) disagree with this point of view. I've seen many cases where Bob gets needlessly tangled about something that Alice actually doesn't care about. Or even worse: Bob tries to do at great pain what he thinks Alice wants, but he guesses wrong and it comes across as patronizing and condescending. This does depend on local culture though: directness of communication varies a fair bit across the world
    – Hilmar
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 3:10
  • 9
    Maybe it's a cultural thing. If I borrow something, I return it the same condition. That's how I was raised. I mean, this is a book we are talking about, not the lost sea scrolls. You go onto Amazon, you buy it. Takes 5 minutes. Granted, if it was a very expensive item or difficult to replace, I would certainly have a chat with the other person. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 3:14
  • 14
    A similar situation happened to me a few years ago. I lent a colleague a book (which had some monetary and sentimental value to me) and he managed to somehow rip the cover. He apologised profusely and offered to buy a new one. I would have felt like a jerk saying "Yes, buy me a new book", so I said "no, that's fine, don't worry about it". The ideal situation would have been "I tore your book, I'm sorry, here's a replacement". It would have been a small matter to either accept or reject the new book with minimal fuss.
    – user124851
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 6:42
  • 13
    Do NOT just give them the new copy and keep the old one! Maybe they wrote notes into it, maybe it was a gift from a special someone, maybe it was a special edition you can't buy anymore and the new edition looks different. I'd be very angry if someone not only stained my copy but also kept it, even when traded for a new one!
    – Neph
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 11:18
  • 7
    @user253751 You have to weigh up the cost of replacing the book, vs the chance the coworker will get annoyed at you. As I explained in my answer, some people will be polite and decline to have the book replaced, but will feel resentment. See Snow's comment for an example. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 12:11

I would not simply buy one, as this could be a waste of money - depends if she even cares about the book anymore.
But definitely tell her you are sorry and that you will buy her a new one - and do so if she doesn't stop you from doing it. So don't ask if she wants a new one, but say you will buy it, and see what she says.

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