“Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me.” So said Nobel literature laureate Anatole France, and quite rightly. Looking through my own bookshelves, I can count more volumes than I’d like to admit that I’ve passively pilfered, even if I swear to myself that one day I really am going to track down that friend from third grade and give him back his copy of Goosebumps.

Now, the ancient tradition of shelf-sharing has been extended to the e-book. Barnes & Noble revealed their Nook yesterday afternoon, confirming, among other things, the presence of a “lend” function. Users will be able to loan out their e-books to a friend for a period of 14 days, but, as with p-books, they will be unable to access the title during that time. And since the lending period is capped, there’s no worry of your purchase becoming a permanent fixture on your buddy’s coffee table or lost somewhere behind his washing machine.

The feature, as well as a color screen, gives the Nook a bit of a leg up over the equally priced Kindle, and it’s good to see a viable competitor enter the market for what could quite possibly be the future of reading. Now that one more difference between traditional books and their electronic counterparts has been struck down, I think we might see some bibliophiles getting more comfortable with the idea of biblio-files. The New York Times is reporting that people with Kindles are purchasing, on average, over three times as many titles as they were before the switch, so the format clearly isn’t going away anytime soon.

It’s interesting to see e-books working backwards to approximate the experience of real books, trying to find a happy medium. Maybe soon readers will come equipped with must-emitters that periodically spray the combination essence of yellowing paper and attic mildew into your face as you read. One can only hope.

What do you think? Does the lending feature make you want to give in and buy an e-reader, or are you happy to stick with the comfort of the original, paper cuts and all?