Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book me

btt button

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.


Beth F said...

I didn't mention in my post that I give other things besides books. I do! Sometimes a non-book gift is just the thing, even for a fellow reader.

emmat said...

I wish more people would give me books that they just thought up themselves. I think because I read so much, people always assume that they wouldn't be able to get me anything that I wouldn't already have. But I LOVE being bought something out of the blue.

I am trying to buy less book gifts this year, but I have to admit the bulk of my shopping came in one box from Amazon.

SmilingSally said...

Is that a picture of your dachshund? I love doxies!

Back to books: I admire your writing style, and agree with much of what you say. I especially connect to the book gift that is until-you-read-it an unknown treasure.

Robin M said...

I dread going to stores during christmas time, so amazon is my friend. Thanks to all the book bloggers out there, I found some interesting books to give out this year. Ones I know the receiver will like but wasn't aware it was out there. Does that make sense. Anyway, I love receiving books. My hubby balks sometimes at buying stuff off my wish list for the very reason you said - it isn't imaginative.

Great post by the way.

Robin of mytwoblessings

Anonymous said...

I'm spending a lot of time matching books to their recipients, especially those who don't read much. I believe there is a book for everybody.

I’m a “piece of work” in terms of recipient of books. Over the years my friends have cringed from giving me books for my birthday owing to my eclectic taste. They also keep in mind that I’ve probably read some of the books they want to give me. Books do make perfect gifts, but by their very nature, books can also be a problem as tokens of affection. The delay factor is huge. Some books get a one-way ticket back to the used bookstore.

Ted said...

Beth F - Every so often that non-book item just calls out for someone - right?

Emmat - I get a smile out of someone buying something for me that I have read - especially if I have liked it. It means they have good taste and know me and I can always re-gift it without feeling guilty.

Sal - I wish it were my dachsund! My apartment doesn't permit dogs, darn it. Thanks for your compliment.

MTB - I do know what you mean. Fellow book bloggers are such a great source.

Ted said...

Oops, sorry Matt, didn't mean to leave you out! Your a piece of work, huh? Well, that's what used bookstores are for! Or we have the gift-bag in our hall closet, where things go as we decide they can become gifts (sometimes after a while, sometimes immediately after we've received them!) Some stuff works out really well but there are a couple of things in that bag that have been there for years.

Anonymous said...

I have three newphews and one niece and my secret vice is that I give them real books I think they "should" read instead of the comic books I know they "want" to read. The Swiss fellow just laughs at me when I go through a list of reasons why they will LOVE this new book and why its better than the latest Titeuf comic. Sigh. I know this is a horrible habit, but I can't stop myself. Last night we did most of our Christmas shopping and managed a compromise - comic books AND some wonderful fantasy/adventure novels with a heavy dose of illustrations. Here's hoping.