Books given and received for Christmas, in 2019 – sorta

Regular readers here will know that on my Boxing Day I usually publish a post on the books I gave and received for Christmas. However, this year I’m doing something different. I’ve just read a link that Paula (Book Jotter) posted in her latest Wind-up Post. It’s from The Guardian and is about the challenges of book gift giving. If you give books, as most of you are sure to, you will have confronted or considered the issues involved, so I thought I’d share them and, along the way, include some of the books I gave or received this year.

Elle Hunt, who wrote the article titled “I thought you’d like to read this”, writes that books as gifts are “thought to be less personal than jewellery, but far more telling of the giver (and what they think of the recipient) than anything that comes in a turquoise box from Tiffany. Not to mention infinitely more likely to be passed on.” She then offers a few rules:

  • always save the receipt, the reason being that if you have chosen a book you’ve thought to be the perfect present for someone, so probably have others. Fortunately, my mother had saved the receipt for the book she gave me this Christmas, Helen Garner’s Yellow notebook, because I already have it (albeit as a review copy, not a gift.)
  • never write an inscription in a book, unless you’ve written it yourself. Do you write inscriptions? I used to once, but gave it up long ago, because it does mean the book can’t be returned (or re-gifted), if the recipient has it. The article discusses the pros and cons of this issue, from different angles, but the suggestion is that it’s probably safer to write your sentiment in a card.
  • Book coverchoose for the recipient rather than what you think they should read! Now this, to me, is a no-brainer. Surely the aim is to give your recipient something they’ll enjoy and remember you fondly for! I’m really hoping my toddler grandson likes Pamela Allen’s Mr McGee. And I was very confident that my lexicographer-grammarian mother would like John Sutherland’s How good is your grammar. The article notes that giving books can signal your own taste, and touches on the pros and cons of this and of giving books you love. It suggests if you can’t overcome the influence of your ego when choosing books, ask the advice of a knowledgeable (often independent) bookseller! Good suggestion. This year, as in most years, I gave some books that I’ve loved – like Tim Winton’s The shepherd’s hut to Son Gums and Amanda O’Callaghan’s This taste for silence to Brother Gums’ partner – because I think the recipients will like them. But, I have also given books I haven’t read, for the same reason. Horses for courses, as they say.

Others have written on the subject too, like the Book Riot blog back in 2015. Their “10 Rules for Book Giving” post takes a slightly different tack, including offering a few suggestions on how to find out what books your recipient might like, particularly if that person is a non reader. Hmm … given their first rule is “don’t be an evangelist” for a book you’ve loved and give it to everyone “regardless of whether they’re interested in it or not”, I’m not sure we should be going there? Do you want to antagonise the non-reader, do you want to guilt them? I think there are better times to encourage non-readers than at gift-giving time, but maybe that’s just me! (Of course, I’m not talking about babies here: give them books, books, and more books I say, so they are readers from the beginning.)

Book coverThe Huffington Post also wrote on the topic in 2012, “How to pick just the right book gift”. The writer Roxanne Coady starts by commenting on the trend towards gift cards. “I get the ease and even the appeal,” she writes, but then suggests that “it results in missing an opportunity. The perfect gift to receive or give is one that reflects an understanding, an appreciation, or a quirk of someone. In the razzle dazzle of the pace of our lives, why miss the opportunity to show someone that you took the time to think of them — took the time to think of what might delight or surprise them?” Yes, there it is, the most important thing to me about gift-giving – showing someone that you took the time to think of them and to think about “what might delight or surprise them”. I’m sure this was behind Brother Gums’ gift to me, a book of poetry and paintings, The voice of water by Adrienne Eberhard and Sue Lovegrove. Brother Gums loves to promote Tasmanian culture – and this book is by Tasmanians – but he also knows that I love beautiful books that are a little different from those I usually read. You will hear more about this book in the coming weeks.

Like the writers of two previous articles, Coady also suggests asking booksellers for advice as an option, but she makes some other interesting observations, of which the most interesting to me was to take into account your relationship with the recipient. What an excellent point. Even if you think you know someone’s likes or tastes, you might want to think about the message you are sending about yourself and/or about what you think of them in the book you choose – see Elle Hunt above. This could be a minefield, if the relationship is not a close one.

So, what about you? Do you follow any rules or practices when choosing books as gifts? Or, do you think the gift card is a safer option?

63 thoughts on “Books given and received for Christmas, in 2019 – sorta

  1. Even before I read this I know I am going to agree- we have just had Christmas together as a family, far, far from home, and we are now off to buy a new suitcase to get all the marvellous books home!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Whenever I give books I always choose ones I think the recipient will enjoy and if the recipient is my husband and I might enjoy the book too, all the better! I never write inscriptions in the book, though I have given books as gifts personally signed by the author. These, of course, are by a favorite author of the recipient.

    • Haha, Stefanie. I should have added that point too. I certainly have had that idea – ie that I might love the book too – when giving gifts (such as to my mother as we like many of the same things).

  3. I’m an inscriber, and I’m invariably told off if I forget. Given that I too often give the same book in consecutive years this can be expensive.

    I gave Ms 16 Aurora, which came up.on an earlier post of yours. I think she was pleased.

    • Oh, I’m so glad that a book I wrote about provided inspiration and you followed through Bill. Hope she likes it.

      Re inscriptions, I love that you do that, and that your recipients love it. You must write good ones. I think though that you need a spreadsheet, like I have, to prevent duplicates.

  4. We inscribe books when we’ve picked them out for close friends and know they will like them and don’t already have them. One of our favorite inscriptions has always been “pre-read for your enjoyment” because that means when the recipient finishes reading, there’s someone to discuss it with!

  5. I have just received a gift card/coupon for Dymocks. And how glad I was. No one could possibly buy me a book which (if they know my preferences) I haven’t already purchased. Even my wife tried to do it – failed – a mix up in what she was asking me about has resulted in the book in question going to her big brother. Please always the coupon/gift card. Other friends through the years have tried – but never inscribed the books because that would have been just plain silly!

    • Haha, Jim, I love that it would be just plain silly for people to inscribe books to you!

      I have a problem with gift cards in that I so want to use them for something really special that I don’t use them at all. I’m training myself to be sensible about that.

      • I can understand that – and forgetting them – not having them with you at the shop – whatever it be for – though mine are always for books and I write inside the cover that it was from whoever gave me the card – my mother, sister-brother-in-law, friend…In such a manner 40 years ago while undertaking a French refresher course at the Institute of Languages at UNSW I gained a New Cassell’s French Dictionary (Eng/Fr – Fr/Eng) for my 30th birthday. From my mother. Which came in very handy just three years ago while translating part of a memoir being written by a Lao friend who had gained his PhD at the Sorbonne – all of whose education had been in French. The reason I mention this is because to-morrow he’ll be in Sydney so that I can read the memoir in its entirety – the parts written and which I edited in English as well as that translated from the French – before it goes to print. Very exciting. Lao friend now in his mid-80s – was a former Minister for Planning and Finance after a period as Director-General of Education… My ability in French (thinking the Lady Prioress of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – whose French was after the school of Stratford and unknown in Paris – is a little after the school of Tamworth High x five years of study more than half a century ago till that refresher course in Sydney with Mme Schwarzer – whose father was one of the curators at Versailles – such a provenance – gave me confidence in pronunciation and a basic conversational fluency (?) – that last word might be a step too far – but the confidence is still with me as I leap into conversations whenever I meet persons from France!

        • Haha Jim… I need the refresher course after six years of French at several high schools decades ago too. The conversational part was the part I hated. Have always preferred writing to talking. Should have been a teacher… That would have improved my speaking confidence I reckon.

          PS I usually pencil inside my books who gave them to me and for what occasion when, though I think I’ve slackened off that in recent years. Must keep doing it.

  6. I never get books as gifts, my family and friends are generally of the opinion I have too many as it is, and few of them are ‘readers’. I buy books for my two middle kids who are readers, and I buy them what they enjoy. I also buy books for my young nephews and nieces, only up until the age of about 10-12 though, so far the older ones haven’t sustained any interest in reading sadly so a book wouldn’t really be appreciated.

    • Good for you Shelleyrae for maintaining the reading habit in such an environment. Maybe those older ones will come back to reading one day? Let’s hope so. I used to give books to our nieces, though I think only one is a big reader these days. I tried really hard to find books to enthuse them.

  7. My first response has disappeared! Well, please give me a coupon. I already have the book you think I might like! Honestly! The only exceptions are books written by friends who give me a copy. Hurrah! Otherwise – you inscribe at your peril if you choose to go ahead. Occasionally I will pretend (to not have to witness cries of despair) – and pass it on to some other friend who tells me that no they do not have it but would enjoy having it to read and keep -n or pass on further if they wish to. my wife (a mix-up in the conversation) ordered me a book she knew I would like – it’s on its way – she told – What? The Dalrymple book! Oh, no – I already have it in my e-book library! It went to my brother-in-law on Christmas Day – he was happy! (Shhh!!!). And please don’t inscribe it beforehand – not till you ascertain that the person does indeed not already have it!

  8. Would that I had the moolah for book-giving, ST .. but had I it (!) I believe gift vouchers would be my xmas pressie of choice. For I doubt that Jodie Taylor’s St Mary’s Chronicles would please anyone I know; although Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books .. nope, my tastes are far too lightweight, I fear. Sighh .. Which just goes to show how good a reviewer you must be, in order to keep me interested ! [grin]

    • I remain moved that you deign to keep reading me M-R. Don’t give up! A lot of people like lighter fare… There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I gave my son a hard-boiled crime writer last year. It was a bit left field for me but I thought it was up his alley. He loved it.

  9. For our bookclub Kris Kringle, we select the name of another member from a bowl, then later ask them to list three books they’d like. That means the book we receive is one of our choices, but it’s still a surprise, and everyone’s happy! (It also means that instead of having to buy a small gift for every member, we can put the money into a nice book!)

  10. Some good tips here, Sue, most of which I follow instinctively. I live with two Capricorns who make their preferred book gifts known, which takes the pain out of buying for me. I also buy gift books based on reviews and booksellers’ recommendations. I’ve ceased inscribing (unless signing my own books) though I really love the inscriptions in old books of my own, which remind me of the giver and how much they mean to me.

    • Thanks Angela. I sometimes give the family lists so they can choose a “surprise” for me. I know exactly what you mean by not inscribing any more but loving the inscriptions in our old books.

  11. I generally only buy books for family and a few close friends (and I never inscribe, and always include an exchange card). Alas, no one ever buys me books, not because they think I have too many but because they assume I’ve read it.

    I break all the rules above when I buy my husband his ‘annual book’- he doesn’t generally read for enjoyment (his work requires a lot of reading), but each Christmas I give him a book that I think might interest him/ that he ‘should’ read (the should being on the basis that it has pop-cultural significance/ relevance). Note that the book I give him is also one I haven’t yet read (so I benefit from the gift as well!). So, this year’s book was Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe (about the Troubles in Belfast) – it’s had terrific reviews and I suspect it is ‘nonfiction that reads like fiction’, which he’ll enjoy. I can’t wait to read it 😉

    • Haha Kate… Much of what you say goes here too, although now retired my husband is getting back to reading so I give him books for birthdays too how. He does like fiction though – is a Jane Austen fan – but is picky about the fiction he likes. Let’s face it, he’s picky about most things, which is why he chose me 🤣🤣🤣

  12. Hi Sue, I find giving children books easy, but teens adults not so. I do not inscribe in books. Most people give me gift cards, and I did receive a Christmas gift card for Fullers. I bought Possessed by Memory by Harold Bloom. One grandson ((14) began reading Aurora Rising before he left for Canada. He told me to read it while he was away. He said it was good so far. I found it okay. Before he left II gave him Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (he loves the gods!), and liked it.

    • A Melbourne writer – Rebecca LIM sent me a couple of her Young Adult fiction books to read – I found them hard to put down – The Astrologer’s Daughter 2014 and After Light 2015 when I contacted her wondering if she might be related to the Singapore writer educator Catherine LIN whom I met there nearly 35 years ago – her selection of short stories Little Ironies outstanding – one a lesson for teachers not to confuse teaching a subject – with education. In any event – though not related – LIM not unlike the common occurrence of SMITH or JONES or NGUYEN I suspect – her writing is cinematic, fast-paced and the two I received weaving some fantasy magic into the streets of Melbourne – essentially boy meets girl – some distaste – lots of adventure – decisions, reflections and character growth – and the by-now-hoped-for outcome does result. Jane Austen meets clairvoyance in the 21st-century down-under – and the characters are from a range of ethnicities – perfectly acknowledging our cultural diversity. I’ve passed them on to my wife whose tepid commentary includes “it’s all right” but “It’s not really my kind of book” so I might be reading as if still a reviewer for secondary school students. Nevertheless I have written to Catherine LIM that they would make excellent films. Is she in discussions about such a matter? I hope so.

      • Hi Jim, When my grandsons return I will ask them about the books you mentioned. This house is inundated with by books, and I would not know where to begin.Four bedrooms and all the other rooms in the house have books. Though the toilet has been banned! I will also check out Catherine Lim at my library.

      • I’ve heard of both those writers but haven’t read either yet. Will keep an eye out, though I wonder if my response would be more like your wife’s.

        PS My son is a primary school teacher, and I always ask him what he reading to his classes. He usually reads his favourites from childhood, the reason being that the current favourites many of the kids have read or will be given to read.

    • I know what you mean Meg, about buying for kids versus teens and older people. The rewards when you get it right though are something aren’t they.

      That’s lovely that you can still talk books with your teen grandson. And that he loved Penelopiad.

  13. The only rule in our house is that everyone gets a book and some chocolates amongst their Christmas presents. This year I gave a Honey-bunny a book she had already read so had to race out early yesterday morning to replace it.

  14. The Offspring’s Christmas present came, indirectly, via you, Sue.
    This year I started subscribing to the Library of America’s short stories that you’ve written about so often and though I don’t often read them, occasionally something piques my interest…
    And that’s how I came across The Offspring as you know is a pilot, and because that article so perfectly captures the awe that witnesses felt when they saw the first flights, I ordered the anthology from which the excerpt comes.
    He was delighted. He would have started reading it there and then except that he had to up sticks and flame the Christmas pud:)

  15. The family are disappointed if there is no inscription. To get around the problem of the book already owned, we keep the receipt and don’t inscribe until after the present is opened. And we don’t go for anything fancy, just the recipient, the event, the giver, and the date, though I might add a phrase or two if I can think of something appropriate.

    If I buy a book for me, I just write my name, where the book was bought (or where I was living at the time), the date. I also inscribe my games, like my books, including how much I paid. I’ve been getting a bit slack the last few years, and then I get irritated with myself when I wonder when I bought a game, and there is no inscription.

  16. This year I didn’t put inscriptions in the books I gave, but I regretted it. My sister tried a version, by putting a to/from sticker inside the book, which personalised it a bit. The anonymity of a book-gift with no inscription reduces its value to me, I get a lot of pleasure from looking at old books given and received and the messages of love in their frontispieces. We met a Dutchman once who went to extremes, believing that all his books a very personal and like a journal, and he writes in the margins often.

    • Thanks Moira. I’ve been tjinking about a sticker that you let the recipient stick in. That might be the compromise. Or us this what your sister did?

      I like the sound of that Dutchman!

  17. About forty years ago, I pulled a novel from the shelves of a used bookstore. On the first page was an inscription running, more or less, To Jeff From Molly, Love Forever, Christmas [year – 2]. I don’t think I had ever written in gift books before, but I certainly never did after that.

    And I don’t know they are that necessary. Of the books I have received as gifts, I can generally remember who gave them to me–though the list to choose from is not that large–a handful of friends and family. I remain grateful for them without the reminder.

    Clearly one has to consider the recipient. There are books that I think wonderful but wouldn’t give to this or that person, since the odds are overwhelming that I would be giving them 200 cubic inches of clutter.

    • Hah, George — and no-one wants 200 cubic inches of clutter!

      Re inscriptions, I think there are inscriptions and inscriptions. I agree with you re those that just, essentially, say To x Love Y, but I suspect those people who really love inscriptions like those that are personalised with some reference to why the book was chosen for them? However, I’m tending to agree these days with just not doing them!

  18. I’ve bought lots of second hand books, some of them with inscriptions, which means the recipient had probably died, or why would these things – often with beautiful colour plates – end up in an op shop? When my daughter was about ten we had a party for her with some schoolmates. One of them gave her a book. “Did you read it first?” said one of the other kids. It made me laugh, it’s what I’d have done.

    • You are probably right eatrichardson, though there’s also downsizing people do when they move into smaller homes later in life. You can’t take every thing. I love that a 10-year-old asked that question!

    • No, but what if what’s personal to you is more than you can fit into your new place? I have so many books, art works, pieces of furniture, not to mention china, glass, etc that have history and memories. Sentiment drives most of what I have in my house! I have, for example, very little new furniture – most of it has come from somewhere else.

  19. Items valuable to you can be worthless to others. i’ve seen boxes of it in auction rooms. Cardboard boxes…of diaries, love letters, books, post cards, souvenirs from somewhere or other, and photos – even wedding photos (framed, if you don’t mind!). And all this among knives and forks, gas bills, broken biros… And the owners? They’re dead alright.

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