Books as Gifts

by syaffolee

I’m going to just come out and say it: giving books as gifts is a bad idea. The only exceptions are when someone explicitly has a wishlist of specific books and says, “I want to get X, Y, Z” or when you know someone so intimately well that you are absolutely certain that what you pick will be well received. If you want to give books as gifts but still have a fuzzy-wuzzy  feeling for what the recipient will like, get a gift card to a bookstore and they can pick whatever book they want.

The reason I say this is that I’m kind of annoyed by people who insist that everyone needs to read so-and-so book. And the so-and-so book is almost never an academic textbook that at least has a veneer of objectivity. It’s always some pop culture fiction or memoir or self-help book or the Bible. But even if they were suggesting an academic textbook, I don’t think it’s going to change my life. Because I’m one of those weirdos who don’t think that a single book has changed my life. And if I’m on my deathbed, one of the things I’m not going to regret is not reading a particular book. There are things in life that are way more important than getting obsessed with one book.

Even so, I still think reading is very important–I just don’t believe in getting hung up on one book or even a set of particular books. I’m more interested in the process–in digesting the words, engaging critical thinking skills, and using the imagination. Certain subjects do intrigue me more than others and that’s where my reading tastes come in. And to be honest, I don’t really think anyone really knows my reading taste truly. While I do sometimes mention what books I’m reading or do an occasional review here or there, I do not meticulously record all  the books I’ve obtained for all to see.

(One might argue that my LibraryThing account is a document of my reading tastes, but I would say it’s only partly my reading tastes since I haven’t updated that in years and even when it was “current” it was only a list of books I’ve reviewed at one time or other–not the entirety of my actual reading diet or the entirety of my actual library.)

Well, that was a long-winded way to say that I would rather people not gift me books even though I’m a reader. It’s been a rare thing that I actually enjoy a book that someone has deliberately given me. Recommendations for me have also generally fallen flat. Most of my favorite books have been found through serendipity more than anything else. And perhaps  that’s part of the journey–that I discover these books myself rather than having them handed to me without any effort, wrapped in a bow.