We’re heading into Christmas, and everyone’s wondering what to give Aunt Clara. While there’s no shortage of fruitcakes, perfumes, and bad sweaters, I like to give books. They’re essentially consumables, so it’s hard to have too many. They’re fairly cheap, at least compared to fruitcakes and sweaters. And finally, they give several hours of enjoyment that will remind them of you, months or years after the gift was received.
But which books to give? That’s the tricky part.
If it’s someone I know well, particularly if I know they’re a big reader, I will usually have access to some kind of wish list for books. That way, I am able to give them precisely the book they are eager to read. That’s fulfilling, but it’s also a little impersonal. They’ve made their selections, narrowing it down to their particular tastes, and all I’m doing is clicking on the right button. It’s not quite down to the level of “run down to the store and pick up some milk”, but it’s in that direction.
The next thing to try is to select a book that I think will interest them but that they don’t have on their wish list. This can have a great payoff in that if I’m lucky, I’ll find some new author or new take on a subject/genre that they love, and it will open whole new worlds of books to them.
But there are two easy ways for this to go wrong. First, if it’s in their favorite sub-genre or about their favorite technical subject, they may already own this book, but I suppose that’s no worse than giving them that second toaster oven. They can return it, re-gift it, or even hoard it as a spare. But the second downfall of this approach is that I can get something that they are quite familiar with but hate. After all, it’s their favorite subject/genre, and they’ll have strong tastes. Imagine buying the Twilight series for an Anne Rice vampire purist.
Finally, there’s my personal favorite. I like to give people books that I like. Yes, these books are selected according to my taste and interests, not theirs, but in giving them that book on atomic history, I’m telling them something about me. “Hey, I like science history. It’s cool. If you can understand that, we’ll have even more to talk about.”
Plus, since I believe I have decent taste, the stuff I really like will be the best of that particular subject/genre, so if the recipient can have an open mind, they just might enjoy something totally new and unexpected. I give them the chance to discover that after all these years of staying away, they really do like cyborg thriller mysteries.
But do exercise caution on this last approach, because while Aunt Clara has always been “the fun aunt”, she might not be ready for Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe I should send her some Sookie Stackhouse first.