There is a lot of talk this year about encouraging people to buy books in order to save the book industry. Now, there’s nothing wrong -- ever -- with buying books. But there are so many terrific reasons to buy books, we don’t have to go very far afield to find them.
A book makes the perfect gift. Unlike a refrigerator, freezer, a barbecue or even something relatively small like a carpet shampooer or a ferret, books are quite painless to give.
A book -- even a big one -- fits neatly into a symmetrical package. The flat sides of a book make it easy to wrap -- even an inelegant book looks elegant when it’s nicely packaged up -- and easy to stow until the time comes to give it away. All of this makes it a painless present to store, prepare and -- finally -- to give.
Simplicity in wrapping is not, of course, the only criterion for a good gift. (If that were the case, we'd all just give each other cutting boards and boxes of soap.) Though gift books shine in the ease of wrapping department, as well. A simple unassuming package, sure. Easy to operate and maintain. No special instructions or tools required. But what a gift! Worlds and lives and entire universes can live between those modest little covers.
So what makes a good gift book? That’s easy: it must be just what the recipient wants, needs, desires or -- at the very least -- one that will amuse. And just as there are millions of people with differing dreams and interests, there are also millions of books reflecting all of those dreams, addressing all of those interests.
The gift of a book can be extremely intimate, demonstrating your love and affection with your choice. Or it can be the most generic present in the pile -- a beautiful coffee table book that says: I don’t know much about you, but I like you well enough to get you something good.
Then there’s the fact that, when times are lean, and you’re cutting back on a lot of big ticket items, a book can be a delicious self-indulgence. As in: okay, let’s not get that new car until next year. But, man: am I will not deny myself that Selden Edwards novel I’ve been wanting.
And, sometimes, the very best gifts are the things we buy for ourselves.
Note: The Santa at the top of this piece is a detail from an original illustration by my partner, David Middleton.