Do you give books as gifts?
To everyone or only to select people?
How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?
Yes, but not exclusively. Yes, but not always. I love it, unless I don't like the book.
There are two kinds of gift giving. With one kind you give someone what you know they want because you ask them - 'is there anything special you want for your birthday... chanukah... christmas...whatever?' That's sort of parental gift giving (in-laws included, or in my case in-not-laws) . It's safe. It either comes from fear of disappointing someone, or a life-long habit of giving your children what they want. So on the one hand, it's really generous. The receiver gets exactly what they want, but they don't get a surprise, nor do they get one of the important by-products of the other kind of gift. I'll explain in a minute. Giving what you know the recipient wants is safe and generous, but it's unimaginative. Going to someone's Amazon gift list is a second cousin of this approach, there's an added surprise of which of the many things you want you will receive. Gift cards is another relative of this approach - the recipient can get themselves whatever they want whenever they want it, and these days, the buyer doesn't even have to get their lazy ass to the actual store. I saw cards for Barnes and Noble, Loews, Macy's, Starbucks, and who knows what else, all spinning on a rack at Staples, which is a mere block from my house. Granted, it's awfully convenient to shop this way, given how busy life can get.
The second kind of gift means the giver has to imagine what the recipient might like. Now this is Rorschach-like test of the giver, the giver puts themselves into the gift (there's that important by-product I was talking of earlier) because at the end of the day they only have their own taste, their own intellect, or the courage of their convictions, that this gift will be meaningful, useful, or appreciated. You are also giving the gift of reflection. You are telling the receiver what you think of them with your choice. That is an act of boldness, a risk taken for the person, which is itself a gift. (That, or you are one of those gift-givers who gives something you think will be good for the recipient. Yuck, is all I have to say to that! That's like inviting someone to dinner and feeding them a vitamin.) Another relative of this kind of gift is making someone something. With any type 2 gift, you have thoughtfulness and the element of surprise, but the recipient could already have one or, worse yet, have never wanted that hideous duck-shaped lint brush to begin with.
I do frequently give books as gifts because, let's face it, I like books. The receiver knows they are getting something that I, think is valuable and desirable. And when I do, I give a book I think the recipient would enjoy or find meaningful. If a child doesn't like to read, I might still consider giving what I think is a really great book in the hopes that they will. But I won't give a adult who I know to be a non-reader a book. That's just obnoxious. When I meet and get to know a person, one of the ways I characterize them is by what they read (if they are an avid reader). I know I am someone's friend when I know what they have read. And then I sift through my great reading experiences and think - of those, what would this person like? I am really asking how can I take a great experience that I had alone and share it with someone. And I cannot think of a better gift than that. Or sometimes I haven't read the book and I am asking them to have the experience for me by proxy. If someone reads I won't buy a book every time. Sometimes some music, a tin of tea, or those funky martini chillers just seem the right thing. But usually I will buy a book. For one thing, I can go to a bookstore, preferably a real, old-fashioned one with a door on the front and books on shelves. Although on-line ones with free shipping really rock with my graduate student's schedule. It also means I can avoid the hated task of waiting on line at the post office.
As for receiving books as gifts, I love them, except when I don't. That's the risk the giver takes. But I appreciate them no matter what. The real fun is getting a book I don't already have, that I never asked for (or even better, that I have never heard of) and loving it! I read On Beauty after receiving it as a gift from a friend. I got A Night at the Opera - which is a guide to opera plots, singers, and such, but written as a spoof. It's a hoot, and not only did I not know it. I would never have thought to buy it for myself. I have also received the book-equivalent of the duck-shaped lint brush. But not every gift has to be wildly imaginative. I love getting a gift card for a book store. I'm thrilled when someone takes a title off my wish list. Really. It's a gift. Bring it on - I love getting stuff. My birthday was just last week and I don't mind late gifts, but we already have a duck shaped lint brush, thanks.