December 22, 2011

"I’ve always given books to friends and family for Christmas presents... books are the only gifts in the world that anybody would ever want to receive."

So says poet and novelist Jay Parini, one of the respondents to the NYT questions "What is the best book you have ever received as a gift? What are your favorite books to give to friends?" Parini recommends... oh, who cares? I like Jane Smiley's response:
I learned not to give books as gifts the year I turned 13 and very carefully and with much forethought went to the book section at Stix, Baer and Fuller, in Brentwood, Mo., and purchased a copy of “Six Crises,” by Richard Nixon, for my mother. My mother had been a newspaperwoman for many years, was politically vocal, and definitely was a Republican. When I placed the package under the tree, I was extremely proud of myself.

When she unwrapped it, she turned it over in her hands with a bemused look, and she was only minimally grateful. I noticed that when it got put on a bookshelf, the bookshelf was in my room. I doubt that she ever opened it.

Have I ever received a book? No one would dare. A reader's tastes are peculiar....

Therefore: The gift certificate is a giver's best friend...
Dare I recommend an Amazon gift certificate? Anyway, I told you 2 years ago: Don't give books! I said it back in '09...

60 comments:

Ben G. said...

Books are what my wife and I always ask for, for any gift giving occasion. Of course, we each have a 3 page listing of titles. Don't just buy us some new novel, that's just wrong.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Agree, you have to be careful.

Could be construed as advice, depending on the reader or the book.

Robert Cook said...

I love getting books as gifts...if the giver has picked from a list I have provided listing my desired books by title, author, and ISBN number.

edutcher said...

I usually have a specific one in mind and ask for it, but I can pretty much divine The Blonde's tastes.

A sweater??

Man, that's a woman thinking.

PS Are we to be treated to Althouse's Greatest Hits on Bloggingheads during the upcoming year?

SMGalbraith said...

Well, give books to people if you know their tastes.

My brother told me a few years ago he liked John Keegan's book on WWII. So, I gave him Keegan's "Mask of Command" for Christmas.

Which he already had gotten.

Yeah, don't give books.

Gift certificate to a bookstore. They'll know.

Synova said...

I've gotten books for teenagers when I know *particularly* what they want.

I got the son of a friend a couple of the Percy Jackson books (after checking with his mom if he had them). I've bought books for my son a number of times, most recently a couple Terry Pratchets.

The books I GET are generally things I'd never read... Chicken Soup for a MOther's Soul, fer example, from my sister in law. What I've decided from this is that this is probably the type of gift she'd like to receive, so she's gotten at least one women's devotional from me.

I wouldn't buy books for my husband. We like similar things that are different in undefinable ways... we don't read the same science fiction. I would never get him the right thing.

He got me a Nook.

m stone said...

Never give books. Peoples's tastes are peculiar.

Books as gifts are also burdensome as you feel compelled to read the book as much as you hate it in the event the giver asks.

Rob said...

A dissenting view:

Friends know I love to read and have often given me books. When a book is given to me I always read it (or at least give it a good try). As a result, I have read many books that I would not have picked out for myself. I tend to be close-minded about what I want to read. Gift books get my out of my comfort zone.

bwebster said...

My sister Deirdre and I have the rare gift of being able to buy books for one another -- though with the advent of Amazon, we usually have to check to see if the other has already bought said book. My mom and my daughter Salem can successfully buy books for me (and vice versa). Almost no one else can (my wife doesn't even try).

I used to buy a lot of books as gifts for others, but now it's just gift cards and electronic gift certificates.

Psychedelic George said...

I guess this means my children will be bitterly disappointed this Christmas.

Probably the best solution to this quandary is to slip money into the book.

And see if the recipient ever notices.

MadisonMan said...

One year, my brother and I gave my dad the same book. He donated the extra book to the library.

Henry said...

My mother has a habit of giving me obscure scholarly art books. Sometimes they're right on the money. Sometimes they're very mysterious. But I've definitely read things from her I would never ever read otherwise.

I generally tell people -- my wife's relentlessly gift-giving relatives for the most part -- to just give me something I can drink or socks.

Ambrose said...

To me, there is nothing better than giving or receiving a book. Especially if the giver had vetted it - "I read this book and thought of you. I think you will enjoy it as much as I did."

Chuck66 said...

If you are a man (or woman, or in Madison, Womyn) of modest means like me, your best bet is Half Price Books. A new book is not a good investment. But a gift card to Half Price Books will lead to at least double the value for the dollar.

Or go to Amazons used section. The deals can be good. You also see people who price their books with the attitude that says "well, yes, my price is ridiculus, but I only have to sell a couple at that price".

purplepenquin said...

One of the many volumes of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is usually a pretty safe bet when it comes to giving a book...


...and yes, they ARE available at Amazon. :D

Jaske said...

Books are wonderful when expected, my sister and I trade favorites of the year, and discover.

ricpic said...

I wouldn't mind receiving a Teddy Bear.

Jose_K said...

And see if the recipient ever notices unlike Senfield´s father

Icepick said...

Books as gifts are also burdensome as you feel compelled to read the book as much as you hate it in the event the giver asks.

Oh, HELL no! If someone gives me a crappy book (something like "Bush at War", I'll thank them for it, but I won't read it. That's too much.

Something one can do that's better than giving the book as a present is to loan someone a book. A friend recently came down with some health problems that have left him laid up. I took him three books that are well outside his normal reading range. IF he reads them (and I can't know that he will) he will end up being amazed by at least two of them. The third one may or may not amuse, no idea.

But by loaning him the books he doesn't have to store them indefinitely he can hang onto them for a while without having to return them to the library, and if he doesn't have to worry about unloading them.

bagoh20 said...

Yea, I agree. I don't even read half the books I buy for myself. If I can't pick one, you sure as hell won't get it right.

knox said...

Oh, HELL no! If someone gives me a crappy book (something like "Bush at War", I'll thank them for it, but I won't read it. That's too much.

Precisely why you'll never see me join a book club.

grgeil said...

Other than a coffee table type of book, I believe it is rude to give books, because you are taking it upon yourself to allocate hours of someone else's time.

Coketown said...

I agree with the gift card sentiment. It seems there are very few readers who are happy and eager to read anything, and that most people have an internal clock that determines what kind of book they're interested in at any given time. Unless you're synced to that clock you'll probably end up giving garbage. Or at best giving something they'll be interested in later in the year.

A few times I've written short stories as gifts. They take about two months to write so its definitely time-intensive. Then I hand-write them into a small journal. They're always wildly popular and the people receiving them do treasure them. It's a good feeling.

Christopher said...

Me, I'm focusing on that Mom, reacting that way to a gift from a 13-year old. Mom fail.

Paula said...

23 years ago when I was first married I was a fan of a certain author and loved her books. 23 years later my husband still buys me her books and I have soooo outgrown them. But, I thank him sweetly and after Christmas take them to the used book store for credit.

I would rather have the gift card.

Kathy said...

What Christopher said.

I enjoy receiving books, and I do give books but I really think about what the other person would like and generally only give books that I've read myself. Books given with thought can be a boon--some books I love were gifts.

Jimmy said...

My favorite gifts as a kid were the Hardy Boy series (only the semi dumbed dow 1970's version) always these were welcome. Have an inkling that the new Stephen King book will be around this Christmas.

Ben G. said...

I must disagree with the "loan" someone a book idea. I've spent too much money replacing books that were lent and lost, kept, or re-lent by the lendee. I know I've bought one book four times. But then I've always re-read my books, mostly non-fiction. My wife's mostly a one read and done deal. To make her mad, I started to Dewey decimal all my books, with labels on the spines and all, so when the kids finally move out, I can have a proper library in one of their rooms. I told her she could pick which room. Not amused.

EDH said...

If you don't know the person's exact taste in long form reading, a nice picture book or book of short, stand alone pieces can be a good gift.

Salamandyr said...

Normally I too request books for any occasion. But back in October I took a bad sword hit to the hand, and have chosen this year to ask for armor.

Paul Kirchner said...

Chuck66 said... You also see people who price their books with the attitude that says "well, yes, my price is ridiculus, but I only have to sell a couple at that price".

That's one of the puzzling mysteries of Amazon. You'll see someone selling books for .01, which I can't understnad, and at the other end you'll see a book that has ten used listings in the $5-$7 range, and an outlier asking $95 for it. What is the explanation?

Joe Schmoe said...

"books are the only gifts in the world that anybody would ever want to receive"

says a WRITER. I like his attempt at jedi-level supraliminal messaging, though.

Patrick said...

Gifts: Does a gift cert say you care? Gifts reflect what a person knows about you and how they think of you. A rote matter of fact gift is less valuable than a smile or a hello how are the kids.

One theory would be that if you find yourself giving someone a gift certificate maybe ask yourself if the transaction is useful to anyone at all?

I've valued books that people have given me where they have written a note on the insider cover.

And in terms of the quality of gift giving, if a gift cert is valid, a donation to the Salvation Army in the persons name would be much more valid. Surely they would appreciate that more. If not, just give them cash.

But gifts at Christmas are a good time to reflect on the big picture and copy the famous gift givers.

themightypuck said...

Books are great gifts because they can convey a lot. Unless gifting for you is a about utility in which place give cash.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Reminds me of the saddest gift I ever received. My grandmother when I was in college used to give me the Reader's Digest,

EMD said...

My father and I often get each other books.

He knows exactly what I want (on my Amazon wish list).

I never know what he wants, so I guess. I'm solid with Elmore Leonard-esque stuff and sports.

Icepick said...

I must disagree with the "loan" someone a book idea. I've spent too much money replacing books that were lent and lost, kept, or re-lent by the lendee.

Hmm, I confess I hadn't thought of that. But then, I do this with almost no one, and the one person I currently lent books to is now a one-legged man. So if I have to, I will run his ass down and get my books back!

Joe Schmoe said...

Gift-giving in general is fraught with peril regarding what someone would actually like. Hell, half the time I'm not even sure what I'd like.

I'm at a point now where I try to get something a person would like, but if I can't come up with a good idea, I give them something that's more representative of me. If they try it out they'll get a little insight into me, for better or worse.

Freeman Hunt said...

Children are the exception to the no books as gifts rule.

That said, I break the no books rule all the time. And the books have been read because the people talked to me about them later without prompting. Perhaps there is no rule.

Joe Schmoe said...

My grandmother when I was in college used to give me the Reader's Digest

Oy. My mother-in-law still does. I've decided its durability can be solely attributed to its usefulness as the ultimate bathroom rag. Just the right size to fit on top of a toilet tank; stories are short enough to be read during a single trip to the loo; and even though I hate the constant assault of old-people health & diet articles I at least read all of the jokes.

I really would not be surprised if editorial decisions about RD content are based somewhat on its usefulness as bathroom reading material.

Joe Schmoe said...

Perhaps there is no rule.

I was unaware of this rule and am currently in flagrante as I'm purchasing a couple of books for my wife's new Kindle Fire (premiering Dec. 25th). Do digital versions count?

Conserve Liberty said...

Huh. I expect there will be 12 or 15 books exchanged Sunday in my family of five. By New Year's Day half of them will be read.

I also purchased books at Stix, Baer & Fuller in Brentwood, MO. And at Toy and Record Bar and The Library Limited in Clayton, Paul's Books in University City, Left Bank Books in St. Louis (not so often - I'm not nearly a denizen of the left bank) and many others.

ALL are gone now, crushed by Borders and Barnes & Noble. Amazon is the second-order crusher and the Kindle is just plain meta.

How do you enjoy unwrapping a Kindle Gift Card?

knox said...

I got this for my husband this year. It's pretty cool. I gave it to him early, and he likes it. But I'd never get him a "novel" type book, even though our tastes overlap quite a bit.

DADvocate said...

My Dad would give me books. The books were almost always something supposed to be enlightening with a liberal tilt or worse with names like "The Dream of the Earth." They're still on my shelf of in a box some where. Unread.

I knew what he thought on every subject and the books always were a message he wanted me to hear. I wasn't interested because I knew what the message would be already.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

@ Joe. You know People is derivative of the single page of the same name in that 'Magazine if the Last Century,' Time. I always thought they could do something with the mag RD if they would just do the joke pages maybe interspersed with New Yorker cartoons.

Joe Schmoe said...

I did not know that.

Joe Schmoe said...

Conserve Liberty, I appreciate your conservative approach to conserving the experience of printed books.

What's happening to books is the same thing that has already happened to music. We don't buy Cds, records or tapes anymore; we buy non-physical digital copies. I haven't heard the same nostalgia for music media as I have for books.

who-knew said...

Our family is book givers all around. We seem to know each other well enough to hit much more often than we miss. When asked what I want, the answer is always books and music.

The Crack Emcee said...

I don't think you can ever go wrong with giving them music.

But that's just me,...

BJM said...

@Joe

I haven't heard the same nostalgia for music media as I have for books.

Mebbe it's a SF Bay Area thing, but LP albums have been highly sought after for years. Album covers are a lost art.

Dedicated books signed by the author are usually a big hit. I gifted P-Dub's cookbook this year to friends who cook and blog. I caught her on book tour and she signed a bunch.

ABOUT US said...

You've made up my mind. Thank you! I bought my uber-liber uncle a book based on recommendations. Turns out the author is a conservative British historian. Whoops! I'll give him a La Creusete pie plate instead. He likes to make pie.

David said...

My brother gives me books. He almost always gets it right. This year he have me John Lewis Gaddis' biography of George Kennan. I've read about half of it. Fabulous book.

Kennan was quirky, driven, brilliant, cranky, insecure, often wrong but profound in his knowledge of Russia and his insight into the Stalinist danger. FDR used Kennan but ignored most of his advice, but Kennan got to Truman and had a big influence.

Kennan was a profound thinker, a magnificent writer and fearless in giving frank advice. Obama could use the likes of him, but it takes humility to accept advice (which seems to be why FDR ignored Kennan to his detriment and Truman listened.)

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Canuck said...

As a child I received the Narnia collection. Wonderful gifts for children.

It's ok to give or receive books if the giver understands the taste of the receiver. A good sign is if the receiver can't wait to start reading the book on Christmas day after opening the present.

MarkW said...

I disagree. I've received many books. Sure, quite a few were duds that I never read, but some were really great books that I probably would never have stumbled upon myself. So I'm willing to take my chances receiving books as gifts.

Njall said...

I usally like to receive books, but this year I put the word out that I'm still backlogged from last year's reading, as well as my usual rereading of the books I have.

My wife has an uncanny ability to choose books that I love - it always interests me the things she picks for me, and I like to hear her account of the thougth process that resulted in that particular book.

Book-giving can go awry, though: my brother is very into military history, and I once found him a very rare, first edition account by a German doctor captured at Stalingrad. He let me borrow it soon after receiving it and never asked for it back.

roesch/voltaire said...

If you know folks well and give books that are light on texts, they make wonderful presents that can be used for years. This year Road Side Dog, by Czeslaw Miosz for philosophy major, Curious George to grand daughter, Kafka's Soup to daughter who loves to cook, Dada montages to son/artist and Grunge to photographer son-in-law. I would not give Corrections or Gravity's Rainbow-- even thought they are popular with some :)

Paco Wové said...

"...it is rude to give books, because you are taking it upon yourself to allocate hours of someone else's time."

What's even ruder is writing the damned things in the first place.

Freeman Hunt said...

Okay, I say there is no rule.

My husband received two books from his business partner for his birthday today, and we're both excited about reading them. They're very obscure and specific. Perfect fit, extremely thoughtful.

Maybe books are okay as long as you know what the person wants to read, and you're giving something the person would want, not something you think the person should have.

bgates said...

Me, I'm focusing on that Mom, reacting that way to a gift from a 13-year old.

A pretty obviously thoughtful gift from a 13-year old.

wv: gafeyep. Was that a gafe by Mom? Yep.