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.
- choose 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.)
The 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?