I’m a serial book buyer, both for myself and as gifts for friends and family. The vast majority of presents I give, for birthdays or Christmas, include at least one book. One Christmas I was working at a (now-defunct) book shop – never before has a staff discount been so thoroughly utilised!
There’s something lovely about receiving a book as a present; a real, physical, dead-tree book. I’m all for e-books, they’re incredibly practical, but I still much prefer reading an actual analogue book. One particular friend of mine reads everything on her Kindle now, to the point that she replies in percentage terms when asked where she’s up to in a book! I take great pleasure in buying her physical books as presents, if nothing else just so that she has to put her Kindle down once in a while.
I got thinking recently about buying books as presents, surprisingly enough because I was doing exactly that. It struck me that books pretty much make the best presents possible. I’m aware that I’m biased in this, but hear me out. Here are just a few reasons why books make such good presents :
They reflect the person giving the present as well as the person receiving
To me, a present should reflect the tastes and interests of the person you’re giving it to, but it should also represent you, the giver of said present. As a big reader, giving someone a book as a present is relevant to my tastes as well as theirs, and the fact that you’re buying them something that you read and loved is like saying “I read this and thought of you”.
Buy a book relating to something you know the person likes, and it’s twice the present
Buy someone a book you think they’ll like, and that’s a really great present. Buy them a book about their hobby, a part of the world that they particularly love, or a subject that’s close to their heart, and that makes it all the more special.
They can open up whole worlds to the person receiving the present
Have you ever read a book that you loved so much, you were left feeling both elated and sad that you’ll never feel quite that way again? Or a book that set you off as a fan of an author whose books have had a big impact on your life? Well, giving one of those books as a present is opening up that person to exactly what you felt, and all the joy that comes with it. (For me, an example of this would be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. When I finished that book I was completely and utterly in love with it, but at the same time heartbroken that I would never be able to read it again for the first time.)
They can be shared or passed on, extending the gift
It’s a lovely feeling, passing on a book that you’ve loved to someone else. I’ve recommended, loaned or given Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch to so many people, and every single one of those has loved it, and recommended it to other people. Any time you buy someone a book that you absolutely know they will love, you can be sure that they will lend it to their friends and family, or recommend it to others, thus extending your gift even further.
Books can be kept and re-read, reminding you of the person who gave them
If, like me, you enjoy re-reading books and spending time with characters who have become almost old friends, then every time you re-read a book you remember at least something about where it came from or how you acquired it. I have memories attached to so many of my books, whether they be of the person who gave me the book or where I was when I bought it or first read it. Re-reading a book brings back those memories; if it was a present then it reminds you of who gave you the book, and so extends the gift even further.
You can write a nice little note – the ONLY time it’s ok to write in a novel
I don’t approve of writing in books. I know some people write their name on the inside cover, or highlight or underline passages that they find particularly interesting or enlightening. I disapprove, for to sully a beautiful book with one’s own writing is tantamount to heresy! I jest. Mostly. The only situation in which I feel it’s appropriate to write anything in a book is when giving one as a present, as you can write a short note on one of the first pages with the date of the gift as well as a little dedication. I always enjoy reminding myself of these little dedications when reading or re-reading a book given as a gift, as once again they bring back memories of the present giver.
They’re items of beauty as well as being practical
Okay, some books have pretty awful covers. I’m looking at you, pulp sci-fi and fantasy! Dire covers notwithstanding, books in general are lovely to hold, and to look at. Hardbacks especially, although some paperbacks can be bewitchingly attractive (see The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas for a beautiful example). When you give a book as a gift, you are offering the recipient not only the enjoyment of reading the book but also the sight of it on the bookshelf for many years to come, and the pleasure that comes with it. No house is complete without bookshelves, and while most of us don’t have stunning shelves filled with leather-bound tomes worthy of the British Library, there is much enjoyment to be gained from the sight of a well-stocked shelf.
So there you have it, just a few reasons why in my humble opinion there is no gift so great as a good book. Personally I am always grateful to receive a book as a present, and this year I received for my birthday two books which were especially great presents. The first was Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, a mind-blowing companion for anyone even remotely interested in the art of writing, especially within the fantasy genre. While I haven’t read this cover to cover, it sits beside my bed and is consulted regularly, accompanied by many an exclamation of wonder. The second was Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, a review of which can be found on this very blog. I won’t repeat myself other than to say that this is a most wonderful book full of inspiration that in my opinion everyone should read. Between those two books I was most assuredly spoiled this birthday, so once again many thanks to those who gave them to me.