Dear Ann Cannon • I have a friend who I think is in a toxic friendship with someone. While I understand I have a skewed view of their relationship both because I’m not part of it and also because all my information comes from her, the interactions she describes to me sound emotionally manipulative and selfish, and like her friend is taking advantage of her kindness. How do I talk to her about this — or do I talk to her about this? — without risking our own friendship?
— Not a Mean Girl
Dear Not a Mean Girl • You know what? If you were asking about this woman’s love interest, I’d urge you to proceed with caution. When people are involved in a romantic relationship, they’re often unwilling to accept criticism of their significant other — and, in fact, they’ll often turn on the messenger.
But a friendship is different. Your friend may be able to hear what you have to say without becoming too defensive. In fact, she may even feel like you’re validating some of the complicated feelings she’s no doubt experiencing herself. Why do I say this? Because I was once involved in a toxic friendship. When other people pointed out that some of the things happening weren’t OK, I felt empowered to redraw some crucial boundaries.
How should you proceed? Kindly, of course. Don’t make your friend feel like you’re attacking her taste or her judgment or her strength of character. Tell her that you love and admire her precisely because she is so kind. Then share your concerns with her. You might even ask her to respond to what you’ve said. Let her know you’ve brought the subject up because you care for her and believe she deserves to be treated well.
In the end, you can’t extricate or rescue this woman from her problematic friendship. She’ll have to do that for herself. But by speaking to her, you might be able to shine a light on possible paths for her ahead.
Dear Ann Cannon • How do I know whether or not I should put down a book I’m reading if I’m not enjoying it? I always get worried that it’s going to get good if I stick with it, and as a result end up wasting a lot of time reading books I don’t like!
— Worried Reader
Dear Worried Reader • Excuse me for a minute while I get personal here.
In 1989, I went to an American Library Association meeting held in the Superdome in New Orleans. I am not exaggerating (not very much, anyway) when I tell you that the entire venue was filled with publishers promoting new titles ... for the upcoming season alone. And even though I love to read, the sight of all those books filled me with something close to despair. So many books, as they say, and so little time. What’s a reader to do?
There was a time before I went to the Superdome when I felt obligated to finish any book I started — even if I didn’t like it very much. I took literary commitment very seriously in those days. I couldn’t just date a book. I had to marry it. But now that I’m older and (let’s face it) running out of time, I feel free to play the field. I give a book 30 pages, and if it doesn’t do it for me by then, I thank it for the nice dinner, wish it well and put it back on the shelf.
Not that you asked, but the last novel I really fell for was “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, which is about a Russian aristocrat who’s sentenced for the rest of his life to house arrest in the Metropol hotel across in the street from the Kremlin after the Russian Revolution. As the count’s physical world grows smaller, his emotional world expands. This is a lovely, life-affirming book.