Giving the Gift of Literature

[23 December 2008]

By David Pullar

For a family of avid readers like mine, books are an obvious choice for gift-giving times.  It’s a fairly sure bet that it will be appreciated and there’s even the joy of watching your relatives skim through the first chapter later in the afternoon, within hours of receiving their new volume.

Certainly, there are challenges and potholes, as with any gift.  A book calls for a fairly significant investment of time and the last thing you want to do is curse someone with a book that they loathe or that they simply will never read.

Successful book-giving requires a good knowledge of your recipient.  What do they normally read?  Do they have favourite authors or genres?  If so, what do they already own? Are they open to new experiences and styles? 

Once you’ve answered those questions, you might still be left with a problem: what if you can’t bring yourself to buy the books that would give people the most pleasure?  This obviously suggests that you’re an enormous snob, but it might also be mixed with a sincere desire to share great works of literature with your loved ones.  After all, the ideal present says as much about the giver as about the receiver.

A few years back, I read some sage advice for the discerning book-giver.  Take what you know that your friend, partner or relative would choose for themselves and then picture something of higher quality, or more aligned with your tastes.

For example, if your father loves nothing more than a pot-boiling airport novel, it’s not a big step to introduce him to the subtler pleasures of John Le Carré or Graham Greene.  Just about any genre has its pinnacles—and with a little thought and investigation, you can find them. 

Of course, if you’ve left your shopping to tonight, you should probably just get them a voucher.

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