If you give a person a book, what are your expectations about the person reading it?
I have a couple of gift-giving guidelines: Don’t give me anything from Bed, Bath and Beyond regardless of a stack of 20% off or $5 off coupons. Never, ever, give me anything alive. Please don’t give me Chinese themed clothes/items just because Chinese Studies was my husband’s major in college. My most important gift giving advice-a book is the best gift of all. I give my family books every year and at least once every Christmas morning, when they unwrap one of them, I ask “what’s the best gift?” The victim dutifully answers “a book.” Now that my kids are teenagers, I look away immediately to give them the freedom to roll their eyes.
I already have a list of books I want for Christmas. As soon as I check it twice to make sure which ones are worthy and which ones are nice, I’ll e-mail it to my husband and my kids. My husband has survived enough cold Christmases (like the one where he was so excited about the frying pans he gave me that he forgot to give me the coat I had been pining over until the night of the 26th, see the first rule above) to appreciate all the help he can get. Plus, he and the sales clerk at diesel bookstore become best friends over the phone every December and each book comes beautifully wrapped, by diesel. My daughter is iffy, she appreciates the help and loves book but has some particular ideas about what I should be wearing, especially now that we can share clothes.
My book list is comprised of books I usually wouldn’t buy for myself. If there is a book I’d devour in an afternoon or a book I need to read for a discussion or author talk, I’ll buy it. But there are lots of books I want to have to someday be able to pick up and peruse. I want to know they’re there for a quiet afternoon or to delve in a topic. I usually start reading them while we’re still away on Christmas vacation but when I get back home and the list of what has to be read gets longer, these books find cozy locations on my shelves. They’re not forgotten, in fact they are friends. Probably 15 years ago at Christmas, my husband gave me When Nietzsche Wept. I still haven’t read it. I want to read it, I intend to read it, but haven’t yet. But every time I see it on the shelves, I feel a warm glow remembering that Christmas morning when he told me how he described me to the bookseller and she suggested he give me this book.
Two years ago, my son gave me four books. I’ve read one of them. He asked me over and over when I was going to read the others. Finally, about August of that year, he said he wouldn’t give me any more books until I read the ones he already gave me. I reminded him that I read a lot of All Art is Propaganda, a volume of Orwell essays, and that the second volume would be out for Christmas. He gave me the second volume, Facing Unpleasant Facts, last year at Christmas. I’ve read much of it. I know when I mention my list of wanted books, he’ll remind me, by name, of the three I haven’t read yet.
When I give a book it is with the hopes that the recipient will enjoy it. But, I wonder if part of giving a book is the interchange about it afterward, especially if the giver has read the book and wants to discuss it. Maybe I should be more diligent about reading books I’m given. I would love to hear other perspectives. When you give someone a book (because it is the best gift), do you have expectations about when the recipient should read it?